Like our old friend the Suzuki Jimny, this little fellow seems to be a very long lived and stable design.
To my eyes it looks like a vehicle derived in part from the basic architecture of the Fiat 127, launched in 1971. A bit of research reveals that its designers wanted to create something equivalent to a Renault 5 with four-wheel drive. Its inception is credited to a call from the USSR’s political leadership for a utility vehicle for rural areas. Readers may be surprised to
learn that the car is credited with being the first mass-production unibody, four-wheel-drive and independent front suspension. The fact it looks a bit like the package of the Fiat 127 and that Fiat had a link to AutoVaz, suggests that the car was derived from that start point.
So, perhaps the fact it is a unibody has something to do with expediency and practicality as much as engineering bravery. That practicality of outlook does not detract from the fact that the formula was a good one and a successful as this car is still in production.
The engines offered since 1977 have not been numerous: four. The current one is a Peugeot 1.9 XUD diesel and a 1.8 litre petrol four, designed by AutoVaz.
You might be wondering why there are not more photos. When I took the photos I had just cycled to the highest point in the Fichtegebirge mountains and was a little low on energy. Ideally there’d have been some interior photos – fatigue killed my work ethic and I went instread for a refreshing shandy.
I can report the interior is a spartan affair with those shiny, waxy plastics one found in Beetles and cars of the 1970s. That makes eminent sense as this is really a workhorse car and nice plastics don’t make any sense when mud and labour are involved.
A side bar to this is a link to the 1972 LZH-14 concept car:
You can see it has a very different front end treatment and is lower to the ground than the Niva. It seems to have different proportions than the Niva, suggesting to me that after some intial efforts to prepare something from the wheels up, the engineers turned to some existing work to proceed.
The Niva has it indicators on the front of the bonnet, over the lamps while the LZH 14 adopts a more industrial-design aesthetic not far from Land Rovers Rangie of 1971. The LZH has a pleasing congruence of shutlines and grille and puts me in mind of Dacia’s current Duster:
That would be convergent evolution in operation.
Now called the Lada 4×4, the vehicle has something of the same appeal as the Jimny, Pinin and Land Rover Defender, and if we widen the scope, the Renault 4 and Citroen CV. This crop of vehicles show that a focus on utility leads to very stable designs with a long product life.
Of course, all were updated to varying degrees, yet still retain their essence and essential rightness. This car is certainly Lada’s best product and they are themselves probably quite proud of its enduring competitiveness. They say “LADA 4х4 is a legendary vehicle which cannot live without strong emotions. It stormed the North Pole and Everest, participated in rally Paris-Dakar, domesticated the Antarctic. It is known and loved on all continents. It is strong, enterprising and low-maintenance.”
AutoCropley write: “The Niva was never the best of road cars, but off-road, with its minimal 1210kg weight, narrow tyres, low-ratio transfer gearbox and diff lock, it was formidable across the mucky stuff. And when you had got both it and yourself covered in mud and goo, you could fling open the doors and hose out the interior.” And this is not much different to what they say about the Jimny. Like Suzuki, Lada have spotted a good formula and will stick with it.