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Test Drive the last Aro 244 Crosslander

A Tough Little SUV With a Troubled Past -"From the mountains of Dracula to the off-road trails of America!" says a moderately giddy Sorin Dumitru Ducaru, Romanian ambassador to the U.S.

Test Drive the last Aro 244 Crosslander

Ducaru has just driven the Cross Lander 244X, the Romanian SUV that the Miami-based Cross Lander company intends to import. "We're very proud of this vehicle," he says, "It's a reliable car because you need reliable in Romania. It's a legend there.


And it will be here, too." Actually, it already is. The 20-year struggle to import the SUV has reached legendary status for all the wrong reasons, and the story isn't over, but it may be drawing to a close. At a ritzy private resort in Key Largo, the brand's 148 dealers drove the first U.S.-spec Cross Landers. It was the first time many of the dealers had seen a Cross Lander in person.



A little earlier, they had listened to speeches given by Cross Lander executives, as well as Ducaru and U.S. Assistant Secretary of Commerce William Lash, whose presence suggested that Cross Lander has at least one friend in the U.S. government.


"Going off-road is an American tradition," Lash told the audience. "I mean, there wouldn't be an America if no one went off-road!" The president and CEO of Cross Lander is John Perez, a 58-year-old, Cuban-born businessman who immigrated to America at age 12. Perez told the crowd a story from the early 1970s, when he was working for a Pontiac dealer in Atlanta.


A distributor for a fledgling brand, Honda, drove up to the dealership in an early production model, looking to sign up dealers. Perez says he was interested, but his boss wasn't, and so the Honda employee went to the dealership across the street. That dealership is now a big Honda store.


The Pontiac dealership where Perez worked no longer exists. The unspoken point: Vision, and the willingness to gamble, can pay off big. How the Battle Began Perez's role in this particular battle has been ongoing since 1990, when he helped open a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Romania and was impressed with the near bulletproof sport-utes he saw there made by a company called Aro. The company has built more than 360,000 four-wheel-drive vehicles since 1957, many for military duty.


Perez figured that a moderately modified version could be sold here, cheap. Since then, a seemingly endless list of problems and false starts has stood in Perez's way. Actually, the problems predate Perez. A company called Roman Motor Corp. tried to import the vehicle in the mid-1980s, as did two other companies. Multiple problems — not the least of which was the violent uprising in Romania in 1989, during which longtime leader Nicolae Ceausescu was executed — torpedoed the projects.


Then, in the mid-1990s, two companies — East European Imports (in which Perez was involved) and Aro America — claimed the importation rights to the Aro. East European showed up at the 1995 National Automobile Dealers Association convention with three vehicles on display, including the four-door Aro 24, ancestor to the Cross Lander 244X. Suggested price of the 1995 Aro 24: $9,223. In the end, the deals went sour leaving investors, including Perez, holding the bag for $17 million. Eventually, Perez and Cross Lander bought the plant in Campulung, in the Transylvanian Alps 60 miles north of Bucharest. Perez paid $187,500 for the 8.5-million-square-foot factory, which is nearly triple the size of the newly enlarged Mercedes-Benz SUV plant in Alabama.


The Cross Lander plant employs 1,100. It built 303 vehicles in 2004 and 661 in 2003, according to the Romanian Automobile Manufacturers Association.


Part of the deal Perez negotiated was to assume a debt of $11.4 million, and make investments of $15 million, according to The Economist Intelligence Unit. Missed payments, extensions and fluid deadlines continue. Getting It Through the EPA Back home, government certification tests were never-ending and expensive. Not to mention frustrating.


Perez says his attorneys advised him to be patient and polite with the EPA testers. One day an EPA representative called and asked, "Does your car have a reverse gear?" "Yes," he replied. "Yes, it does." Perhaps the most confounding part of the process was the "shed test," where, Perez says, the vehicle is locked in an ovenlike shed and exposed to heat for an extended period of time, during which the hydrocarbons emitted by the plastic and upholstery inside the vehicle is measured. Initial tests suggested the Cross Lander would fail miserably.



The only alternative was to strip a car and test the interior bits and pieces, one by one, and find the offending parts and replace them. It took four months, Perez says, and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Only after this process was well under way did an associate tell him how some of the major manufacturers handle the shed test. They take the test cars, park them in the desert for four months, during which period the hydrocarbons dissipate. "Then they submit the vehicle for testing," Perez says.


"I said, 'Now you tell me!'" With EPA certification in hand, one of the final hurdles to clear, Perez says, is that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) requires front airbags on vehicles that weigh less than 5,500 pounds. The Cross Lander has no airbags, and it weighs a not-so-svelte 5,200 pounds. Perez has asked for an exemption, based on the economic hardship adding airbags would place on the company, and the fact that the Cross Lander is designed primarily for off-road driving. Some heavy-duty off-roading, he argues, can trigger airbags unnecessarily, so even if the company could afford airbags, it really wouldn't want them. And if he doesn't get the exemption? "We'll just add 300 pounds to the chassis," Perez says. How It Specs Out The Cross Lander is certainly no lightweight, with a massive frame and heavy-duty parts.


The U.S.-spec 244X version is a foot longer than the regular Romanian vehicle, with almost all that room added to rear-seat legroom. It's 178 inches long, 72.2 inches wide, and rides on a 102-inch wheelbase — dimensions roughly comparable to those of a Nissan Xterra, which weighs 4,382 pounds in its heaviest configuration.


The Cross Lander engine has variously been a Toyota and an international diesel, and is now a German 4.0-liter V6 sourced from Ford. Although the company is contractually prohibited from advertising that it's a Ford engine, it's the same V6 found in the Explorer and it's rated for 207 hp. Cross Lander matches it with either a four-speed Ford automatic or an Eaton five-speed manual. How much will it cost? "It will start at just under $20,000," Perez says, "but the top of the line will sell for just under $24,000."


We are sitting in a white Cross Lander with the automatic transmission. It's outfitted with a Clarion stereo, air conditioning, a big Warn winch on the front bumper and a welded-on trailer hitch on the rear. It's dressed up with chrome wheels, seven off-road spotlights, black aluminum diamond-plate metal sheets pop-riveted to the hood, and some ill-advised generic stickers. Some of the interior parts, including the steering wheel and instrument panel, are sourced from Ford.



All Cross Landers will be four-wheel drive, with the front axle engaged by manual-locking hubs. It's rustic, not particularly pretty, and some of the parts don't fit very well.


We are told, though, that these two vehicles have led a hard life and are not representative of what will reach dealers this October, give or take a month or two. Dealers seem impressed, especially when Perez tells them that the dealer profit margin on the Cross Lander will be higher than on any comparable vehicle. How It Drives On the road, the Cross Lander has a smooth ride, likely the result of fairly soft springs and the weight it carries. Brakes, while adequate, are taxed by the bulk.


The inside is spartan, with rubber floor mats. Perez would like to sell between 8,000 and 10,000 Cross Landers a year, a modest number. "It's a niche vehicle," he says. As we're about to leave, we ask Perez was there ever a time, though, during the past 15 years, when he wondered why he was fighting this fight for the Cross Lander? "Was there one time?" he says, laughing. "How about a hundred times? I'd do it again, though. I think it will be worth it. I know it will."



Author: AL
Source: Autolatest & Edmunds

Tags:
test drive aro 244, review aro cross lander, a romanian story, peugeot diesel engines, toyota hilux engine aro 244

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Test efectuat la: 2.07.2009 | 04:19 EEST

SPECIFICATII TEHNICE TEST DRIVE

Test efectuat la: 2.07.2009 | 04:19 EEST

  244pct
MOTOR/ENGINE ENGINEL4 Diesel Peugeot
DISPLACEMENT (cmc)2485
MAX POWER(hp/rpm)96/4000
Torque(Nm/rpm)205/1400
DIMENSIUNI LENGHT(mm)4225
WIDTH C(mm)1805
HEIGHT(mm)1840
MASS EMPTY (kg)1825
PERFORMANTE V Max (km/h)150
0-100 km/h (secunde)23
Average Fuel Consumption (liters)8.5
PRET Without taxes (euro)
With taxes (euro)
CAROSERIE Inside Space5
Quality of materials2
Standard Equipement2
Trunk Space7
CONFORT Confort7
Seats front/rear10/9
Air Conditioning Quality5
Sounds2
DINAMICA Engine Rafinement10
80-120 km/h7
Fuel Consumption9
Traction10
Braking9

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Ultimul test efectuat la: 27.03.2016 | 12:00 EET


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