Lada’s tough little 4X4 hasn’t been seen new in Australia since 1998 or thereabouts, and the design is over 40 years old. A child of the 70s, the Lada 4X4 (as it is now marketed), was a Soviet government-sponsored answer to the original Jeep and Land Rover: a tough car for rural areas (‘Niva’ translates to ‘Field’ just like ‘Gelände’ translates to ‘Terrain’ for the G-Wagen). Built to withstand the frozen tundras, boggy forests and vodka swilling mechanics, the solid axle rear and independent front suspension basically wrote the manual for all the smaller 4X4s like the Suzuki Sierra.
We last saw them back in the 90s and with a paltry 70 kilowatts and 140Nm. The 1.7-litre petrol four-banger wasn’t renowned for, well, much in the way of performance, and a nifty five-speed manual gearbox that is as robust as the rest of the drivetrain… at least the brave little soldiers were straightforward to repair… if you could get parts! They are very capable off-road, even taking a couple of places in the Paris Dakar rally of the early 80s.
X Marks the Spot
Fast-forward to current day, and we’re now seeing the Lada 4X4 Vision. A concept car with a strong family presence to other recent Lada productions, the 4X4 Vision features bold ‘X’ styling in the side panels, radiator grill and headlights. A far cry from the Niva, the interior is flash and modern, with more of the ‘X’ styling as well as GPS navigation and digital instrument cluster and some very bold accents. From an off-road point of view, short front and rear overhangs are impressive, as is the ramp over angle. The 21-inch rims and road tyres are a bit of a miss but at least they look better than the old steelies of the Niva. With a length of 4.2 metres long, negligibly more than a Sierra ute, it should be as nimble as anything else on the market today, if not better.
Whilst researching for this article, we had a look at Lada pricing. In Russia, the top of the range off-road pack 4X4 ‘Bronto’ is worth around AU$12,000; that’s a lot of play 4X4 for your money, and check out the factory 15” rims and mud-terrain tyres.
Lada are rebadged and rebodied in the USA by Chevrolet for sale, maybe Holden will import the next generation Lada 4X4 filling the niche only shared by Suzuki’s Jimny? Holden is a full importer these days, and a small SUV with actual 4X4 capability would sit in their range nicely, like a mini Trailblazer.
Share with us your memories of the Lada Niva in the comments!