There are certain off-roaders that will always have my heart—vehicles like the Jeep XJ, the LJ Suzuki Jimny, and the Lada Niva. But some SUVs only occupy the obsessed parts of my cerebellum for fleeting moments, and currently in the tiny space is the Romanian ARO 10.
A couple of years ago, a German Jalopnik reader named Andreas invited me to a wedding in Romania. So I asked Mazda to drop off a Mazda 6 wagon (diesel, manual, all-wheel drive, of course, of course) at my parents’ house (where I was staying at the time), and Andreas, his girlfriend, and I then took a roadtrip to the home of the epic Transfăgărășan road.
While in Romania, I fell in love with the ARO 24 Series SUV, a Land Rover Defender-ish looking truck built in Romania, and often found hauling heavy loads in the the nation’s beautiful countrysides. Here’s what I’m talking about:
Andreas is headed to Romania again soon, and I guess that got him thinking about AROs, because he just sent me this listing of an ARO 10 Series for sale in Germany for only €1,990, and I’ll be honest, it’s damn tempting. Just look at this incredibly little machine; it’s basically Romania’s first-gen Toyota Rav4:
It’s a two-door with tiny dimensions, body-on-frame construction, a squared-off profile, plenty of ground clearance, a manual transmission with a low-range transfer case, and manual locking hubs—what more do you need? (I’d like a solid front axle, but the fairly-advanced-for-the-time fully independent suspension is kinda cool).
Just look at how awesome the ARO 10 “Spartana” model was, with its convertible top and awesome half-doors:
The Aro 10, manufactured from roughly 1980 into the mid 2000s (ARO folded around 2006), was a tiny SUV. Compared to the current miniature off-road benchmark, the Suzuki Jimny, it’s bigger, but not by much. At 11.8 feet long from nose to tail, the ARO 10 is about about 4.5 inches longer than the Jimny, and its wheelbase is about six inches longer, but at only about 5.2 feet in width, it’s narrower by two inches.
As you can see in the ad below, the car was rated at a payload of 1,100 pounds, and can theoretically hold five people.
Though it boasted excellent off-road capability, the 10 was only powered by a 1.3-liter engine that made a hilarious 54 horsepower. Apparently much of the car was based on a Renault design, with Autocar describing its 1985 review of the Dascia Duster (as the ARO 10 was called in Britain):
“Chassis and bodywork are original Romanian design,” Autocar explained. “The engine suspension and running gear are effectively Renault 12 components made under licence.”
The tiny engine that lacked low-end grunt, that review said, did make crawling through rough terrain a bit tough, but overall, sentiments about the 10's off-road capability were largely positive.
As for the on-road bit of the review? Well, it didn’t go so well:
“It owes its low price to its Eastern European origins, and like some other products from that part of the world, suffers a little in lack of attention to detail in the quality of fit and finish.”
“Acceleration is quite pedestrian, with 60mph coming up 22.7sec after a lurching standing start. The standing quarter mile took 22.6sec, but we didn’t bother to time a standing kilometre because the Duster GLX stopped accelerating long before the kilometre post showed up…”
“The Duster is not a particularly easy car to drive. Though the pedals are light to operate, the gearshift is awkwardly notchy and the unassisted steering is very heavy at parking speeds...”