Will the Lada Niva make a comeback?

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.

When we speak of robust, this ad just about sums it up:

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!



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  • Last I heard….a few years back when someone was selling LHD Nivas in the UK was that for minimum orders of 500 units the factory would restart a right hand drive assembly line. The 4 door wagon version looks impressive as do the Urban and Bronto….they look well finished compared to the earlier models. Mine was a 1997 model 1.7 single point injection….I was very fond of it.

  • The little Russian Range Rover with its full coil suspension, live front axle and for $12,000 AUD – are you kidding ??? I would rush out and buy one YESTERDAY !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! BRING IT ON!!! I’ve even been chasing Lada in Russia to see if they can get or want an importer here that’s how keen I am !

  • The little capable Russian Range Rover – full coil suspension, live front axle and all for $12,000 AUD – are you kidding ? I would buy one YESTERDAY !!! even if dearer than that !

  • We had our Lada for five years great little truck easy to park go most places you pointed it at probable one of the toughest vehicles I have owned not to bad to spinn your spanners on used and abused one vehicle that is genuinely missed

  • This is a must for Australia! I’ve owned 2 of these and have enough stories to fill a small book. Very few bad experiences. Great vehicle and so many great adventures were had. As strong as a tank, if they weren’t I wouldn’t be here to tell you about it.

  • ABSOLUTELY! Bring in on! I’d buy one in a heart beat. Australia needs a cheap, tuff, simple and highly capable 4X4, our continent is absolutely perfect for this trooper. If its good enough for a Siberian winter its good enough for me.

  • Bought mine new in 1991 and kept it for just over 4 years and 327,000km. It was dark green and my kids named it Kermit. Never got bogged no matter how deep the snow or how slimy and deep the mud. Never failed to proceed it was the most fun I have ever had sitting down. Would love to have another one.

  • Loved mine. Dad and I shot thru to Cape York and had a ball. She struggled with the Corrugations and the sway bar got loose so we tossed that. when full of juice you could smell the petrol while driving until she used up a bit. um the heater wouldn’t turn off sometimes and the driving seat felt like you were facing the quarter window. When I got back home she just carked it. I loved that car.

  • I loved mine. Dad and I shot thru to Cape York in one and had a ball. The corrugations knocked her about and the sway bar on the front came loose so we got rid of that. When she had a full tank of juice you could smell it while driving. The drivers seat sort of didn’t sit straight so it felt like you were facing the Quarter Window. The internal heater wouldn’t turn off when it was turned on (cable operated?) and when I got back to Canberra she just died on me!!!! I loved that damn car.

  • my husband had one for 10 years, had very little trouble as some have stated, went everywhere, beach and bush. The people who hated them the most ,didn,t own one. Paid $ 10, 000 value for money. Although a very basic vehicle, we went places more expensive couldn,t.

  • Once bitten, twice shy!
    I bought a new Lada Niva in the mid eighties – my first brand new car. After spending a bit to get it looking nice – alloy bullbar, side steps, sun roof, wider wheels and all terrain tyres. Here’s a list of some of the repairs that I didn’t count on from a new car; driver seat breaking away from the floor,
    foot well filling up with coolant,
    headlights filling up with water while crossing a creek, gas struts needing to be replaced on rear door, and the big one was the front passenger side wheel hub disintegrating causing the wheel to fall off while I was driving home from work.
    I can’t help but have a bit of a chuckle when I hear the Lada Niva described as a ‘tough little car’.

  • Had one of the original Lada 4x4s . Was great on the beach, managed to get to 100kph downhill, and for a non mechanic like me easy to tinker with. Mini tank survived a collision with a horse and completed trip.

  • I was a lada. dealer at the time. The niva was good value for money . They had their idiosyncrasies,but were well accepted by those who chose to use and service them in a reasonable manner.

  • My mechanic mate worked on a few for customers. He jokingly called them Gorbachev’s Revenge . But you could tip one over on to a spare out in the bush and work on the underneath . I saw it done several times on outback rallies . They’ll sell at the right price

  • Owned mine for 9 (mostly reliable) years, never had to use the crank handle to get her started!! The car was tough and my ego had to be tougher with all the Lada jokes directed at me. Had great times and car was unstoppable in low range with centre diff locked.

  • I believe they were very popular with NZ farmers particularly stations in the Sth island. preferred to the heavier 4x4s for 2 reasons: much lighter, so they didn’t sink in to the mud etc as much, and cheaper.

  • I had a Niva Lada in the seventys apart from the hopeless electronic ignition which I swapped for a botch it was a great little car that went everywhere

  • The Niva was the most unreliable vehicle ever imported into Australia. This fact from RAC, RACQ, RACV, NRMA brakedown figures

    • Get your facts straight!!!!……that applied to the truly aweful sedans and coupes ( the regular roadcars – made in different factories!!)

      The Niva was a great constant 4×4 drive that was very low geared and could climb up cliffs almost, unbothered by holes with its big 18 inch with super chunky almost military bar tread tyres.

      They were, towards the end, imported by Peter Brock – who threw away the electrics and fitted Bosch, replaced the tyres with 16″ Pirelli Scorpions…. and ……I believe a Polarizer may even have been offered,…. well …..maybe.

  • I owned a Niva ute for ten years. Many people are not aware that the mechanicals are Fiat. The body finish, door closing etc, was poor but the ride was very comfortable. Even maybe too soft. Even though Fiat gets some bad press, the engine and transmission in mine worked very well, no problems at all. I owned a Fiat 132 in the 1970s, so I was very familiar (and happy) with Fiat mechanicals. Fuel consumption was heavy because everything on the vehicle was heavily built. In my experience those who criticise them out of hand, are making fools of themselves.

  • Hopefully they have fixed up the issues that I had with my olive green Lada Niva. Gas struts ripping themselves out of the back door as they were too strong for the flimsy metal, gear selector snapping off inside the gearbox and punching a hole so all the oil could spray out all up the back of the car, and need to turn up the radio really loud so you could
    hear it over the road noise from the rock and snow tyres when you had the windows open driving on the highway due to the lack of air con. Still be interested in a new version especially given the price,

    • I have got 3 of these things, mongrel brakes, dodgy starters, manky Aus. polution control thingys and why is the alternater down under the engine, at least parts are reasonably cheap out of Crimea and believe it or not I bought two master cylinders from Repco. And the clutches are so heavy. The electrics leave a lot to be desired too, even Pav. from Lada-power says a lot of things just don’t work from day one.

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