All The VZX 450.3-CN-90 (b) You Can Get Your Hands On

Our good friends at Automotive News reported that after 40 years in production the dear old Lada Niva 4×4 is being radically revised.

The new Lada Niva: source

If I had not seen one of the originals lately I’d possibly have ignored this news. And if I was not a fan of Suzuki’s gradualist approach to their re-working of the Jimny, I might not have thought too hard about this new design from Mr Steve Mattin’s team at Lada.

However I have thought about gradualism in the evolution of niche products like off-roaders, sports cars and luxury cars. And I have seen the current decades old Lada Niva. That means I think the decision to throw away the utilitarian heritage of the Niva was not really all that intelligent. Surviving four decades is not a sign of failure but a sign of success.

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Maybe I misjudge the regular people of Russia but I think this proposal is not what they need to do hard work in tough conditions. It is merely a rather overstyled CUV where no opportunity has been missed to add a tab, inflection, chamfer or elaboration of some type. There is very conceivably a market for some thing this over-cooked but I don’t think it corresponds to the people who wanted the useful, rugged and simple Niva of yore.

ANE cites Mr Mattin: “”The original 4×4 was created over 40 years ago and the world has changed since then,” he said. “You only need to look in the city to see how many 4x4s there are. That wasn’t the case 40 years ago. They were only used in the countryside.”

That makes me think that this car is not really any kind of a replacement for the Niva (or 4×4 as Lada now calls it) but is serving entirely different market. Maybe Mr Mattin isn’t clear on that. The customers who wanted a cheap and tough car are now being offered an over-styled CUV with way too much decoration on it. This is like offering a sheep farmer in the Western Glens a Range Rover Evoque in place of a Defender.  “It’s an icon and a legend. We have taken a lot of the design DNA and interpreted it in a modern way and incorporated it into our current design language,” said Mattin (as reported in ANE). Not so you can tell. Customers in the depths of Kriktuschikyai don´t give a stuff about design language and design DNA. They care about a car they afford to repair, can repair themselves and which won´t leave them to die in minus forty degrees by the side of the road.

2019 Lada Niva restyle 2 revised
I hastily removed the decoration. Basically, it now looks sensible.

I think Suzuki’s decision to hang on to the main ingredients of the Jimny shows a lot of confidence. Ditto Rolls-Royce’s slow changes along with Mazda’s MX-5 which is much the same as it ever was. It also makes me think that LR really ought to do as little as possible to make the Defender replacement compliant with modern standards. Will they go down the Jimny route or the Lada route?

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

56 thoughts on “All The VZX 450.3-CN-90 (b) You Can Get Your Hands On”

  1. Mamma Mia! It’s a full size Hot Wheels! And one that will certainly ruin the skirting boards…
    Alas I too feel that Land Rover will have already made the new Defender a customisable bling-box rather than a machine that can work on a fell side, deep in a mine or chopping trees and lugging stuff around difficult terrain.
    Sad for the Niva, very sad

    1. It wouldn´t be so sad if this pile of excellence was not being touted as a Niva 4×4 replacement. As a tinselly, life-style car it´s probably perfect for its actual customer base. As a vehicle for the citizens outside Moscow´s ring road, it´s probably hopeless. It´s a good job the current 4×4 is so robust. Lada have a decade to devise a proper Niva replacement. If you need a Niva buy two now and keep one in reserve .

  2. Seems like a sensible business decision if not ideal from a car enthusiast’s perspective. No doubt a new model is needed to keep pace with safety and emissions regulations while I suspect the potential market for the old model will be diminishing as Russia modernises and more attractive alternatives become available. For example, Russia and central Asian countries are now awash with used Japanese market off roaders, cars that provide genuine off-road capability with proven reliability and a bit of comfort too.

    1. It´s not a matter of one or the other but both. There´s a market for tinselly jacked-up cars (handled by this crock of brilliance) and another stready, ever-present market for tough work-horses. Unless the UN statistics show otherwise, Russia is not modernising in an even way – I think for many outside the main cities life is as it ever was: badly paved and cold and snowy or muddy and wet.

    2. Well, Richard, if you’re that upset about this update to the Toyota CH-R genome, I’d shoot Carlos Ghosn an email pleading for him to not let Mattin anywhere near Renault HQ. Alliance Rostec Auto B.V. is 83.5% owned by the Renault Nissan Alliance. There are lots of reasonable looking Ladas on their website, so this brainfarht concept may not get into production looking this way if anyone back in Paris or Tokyo puts their foot down. Then again, they churn out the sorry Versa, a more doleful looking little bucket on wheels would be hard to imagine, even if the back seat is huuuge.

    3. Bill: I can say three things about this Lada. One, is that I could argue that the CH-R uses a quite different aesthetic principle than does the Lada. Two, even if they were fairly similarly ornate/overdone the Toyota got there first. And three, the Toyota makes no claims to about DNA or heritage while the Lada supposedly “updates” the Niva for today.
      I agree both cars are very in-your-face yet the Toyota goes about it in another way. The Lada looks to me to be about adding more and more details to a fairly conventionally constructed form. I think you could gradually strip away elements of the Lada and get back to a quite straightforward car. If you strip out bits of the CH-R you discover there are fewer and they work harder (as in they have more effect).
      I am glad you raised the comparison.

  3. The sheep farmer and the Mattin gobbledygook in the same paragraph – hilarious. I just imagined the car salesman advertising the new model to said farmer in this way…

    1. Have you seen the new Russian entrant in the limousine market? The company is going to learn the meaning of soft-power very quickly. Or maybe the US will. It is not so popular to be alligned with the US at the moment. There are also a fair number of dictators and authoritarians who would love a Russian limousine so as to ditch their Mercedes: Orban, the Polish PM, Erdogan.

      I can see the choice of state limousine as reflecting geopolitics. Presidents and prime ministers can pick a car depending on their nation´s strategic alliances. The Americans come quite badly out of this because not one of their manufacturers makes a car in the same league as Rolls, Mercedes, Toyota or now this Russian vehicle. While I don´t like it a lot it is probably more convincing than the best Cadillac can offer. The only choice is, of course, the Toyota Century which sidesteps all the problems of the other contenders.

    2. The last thing either Kaczynski or Beata Szydlo, his puppet PM, would want is a Russian limousine.

    3. Kris: you are quite right about the Polish PM and a Russian limousine. I wasn´t thinking. He has to have something else. Maserati? Cadillac (that might be a good one but then again Trump is not anti-Russian enough, is he). The funny thing about the Polish government is that runs the place with much the sam respect for democracy and the rule of law as certain other regimes a little further east.

    4. May I propose the Lincoln Navigator as a worthy alternative for those not wanting another S class, but still not posh enough for a Cullinan ? Probably a small cut above the Escalade…

    5. PJ: Arent´t SUVs in the role of state transport horribly like a president wearing a baseball cap? For many that relative informality might even be a bonus: “I am a man of the people. I have a baseball cap and a bomb-proof SUV just like you”.
      Personally I think a president and prime minister need something visually related to a saloon and not a work-horse car.
      It is probably necessary to say that I loathe baseball caps. Because I thought they were necessary for cycling I had one for that purpose and then discovered in 2016 that a Panama hat does the same job and gives 360 degrees of protection whereas a baseball cap makes one look like a duck.

  4. I’m not a dictator (I have a cat, so I don’t even rule my house) but I’d love to have an Aurus Senat. As for the new Niva, not in a million years.

    1. The Auras Senat is a classic bit of “Willy Waving” by Putin: Trump has The Cadillac Presidential Limousine, a.k.a. the “Beast”, so he needs something Russian, equally bespoke, only bigger. The long-wheelbase version of the Senat is 7m long, that’s 1.5m longer than the Beast. Interestingly, the Senat weighs a mere 6 tonnes, compared to 8 tonnes for the Beast, so it’s unlikely to have quite as much in the way of anti-terrorist protection. However, it is considerably less ugly than the aptly nicknamed Beast.

      Apart, of course, from those weird poverty-spec wheel covers.

    2. The Senat has a very short bonnet for a such a long car. Another 4o cm between the front wheel cut-out and the leading edge of the door would have been good.

  5. Mattin’s either extraordinarily convinced of his XXX styling scheme or he lacks ideas. What is certainly absent is any understanding of the Niva’s significance as, yes, a ‘brand icon’. I hate myself for saying this, but next to this 4×4, the Wagenerified Mercedes G appears almost dignified.

    Apart from the Niva’s value as Lada’s figurehead car, one should also take into account that this sort of car is still bought for its ruggedness and usability. Here in Germany, depreciation levels of Dacia Dusters and Nivas match those of Porsche’s sports cars – these cars are no second-hand bargain. Probably because they’re usually bought due to necessity, rather than ‘desirability’. Mattin, his underlings and superiors appear to have little understanding of this.

    1. All this criticism could have been avoided if they said “Here´s our new contender in the mid-size CUV market… and by the way our lovable old-stager carries on in production because it´s so bloody useful”.

      Then we could just gape in wonder at the new X-shaped thing and criticise it on its merits and not for what it so patently isn´t.
      I think there´s a very good reason Mr Mattin is working at Lada. If I was him I´d save my earnings and come back to the UK and get a nice job in higher education somewhere.

    2. It´s slowly dawnning on me that this could be a contender for the most hopeless design of the present time. If you wanted an examplar of the misuse, misunderstanding and misapplicaiton of concepts like brand values, styling, design heritage, marketing and product semantics this car is the one to go for. In television terms this one jumps the shark (I had to Google that term when I first found it).

    3. No need to get your knickers in a twist – it’s only a concept after all, and there’s nothing here saying they can’t make a rugged production version of this thing. Will they want to though?

    4. Sam: it´s so hopelessly over-wrougt that even if they tone it down 50% it´s still not a a Niva-replacement. Why even show it as a Niva replacement? Luckily I will never see one in the wild.

    5. @Richard: do you want to say you nominate this car for the ‘Bangle of the month’ award?

    6. Dave: while I think Chris Bangle had some mis-steps, his errors are far from being so bad as to merit association with Lada´s lump of goodness.

    7. It’s still only a concept and the cue is in the name (‘4×4 Vision’, not ‘Neo Niva’).

    8. 4×4 is the current name Lada have for what we know of as the Niva so it means “Niva concept” when translated.
      I don´t think it´s all that concepty – it looks all too real to me.

  6. @Dave: I like your thinking. How about a Gorden(sic) of the Month award instead?

    1. Kris: the little red strip under the licence plate is rather lame. The standard bits seem at worse a bit ordinary but hardly vomit-inducing.

  7. There is more than a hint of the Niva buried within the 4×4 Vision’s silhouette which suggests an intention on the designer’s part to associate with the well regarded older design.

    Would it be uncharitable to suggest that at Lada, Mr. Mattin has finally found his level?

    1. I might have over-stated that. I see something in the C-pillar and the vent treatment. It is also suggested by the fact that the rear doors are supposed to be read as hidden. Apart from that however, there isn’t much to go on…

    2. Speaking of Mr Mattin, I’ve come across this sketch of his, which depicts what I can only describe as the most inept rear light arrangement by a professional designer I’ve ever seen:

    3. On the one hand, Mattin´s sketches are nice and bright with nice contrast. On the downside the A-pillar and mirro-sail panel is awful. The rear lamps are not that good either. I still wish I could render that well though. I never got the hang of that effortless way of showing surface changes. My own drawings always end up muddy and with lines I can only call hairy.

    4. Those rear lights almost unchanged:

      I always wondered what Benz managers had in their coffee when they signed this off for production…

  8. The scalloped flanks are way OTT at first glance, but it’s growing on me and actually looks almost acceptable on the second picture above (the one labelled ‘Styled’). I guess that makes it quite light-sensitive, and I’d hazard that it’s the styling detail most likely to be toned-down on the production version.

  9. That Lada concept – paint it mid-green and it would look like a jerry-can on wheels.

  10. Hi Dave. Yes, those taillights were really awful. I think it was a lame attempt to mirror the twin headlamp front end, or at least the inner lamps. No need to resort to Photoshop to fix, the facelift took care of it:

    Your picture reminded me that the W210 generation E-Class was a horribly flaccid lump, which was a real shock after the elegant W124. Fortunately, most have now rusted away to oblivion, thanks to inadequate corrosion protection.

    1. This generation of E demonstrated an unsuccesful attempt to apply rounded edges and large transitions to rectilinear, blocky volumes. The radii are not consistent. The car lacks the homogeneity of previous Mercedes. Quite rightly it’s disliked by very many.

  11. Don’t forget who Steve has to keep happy..
    LDVA is none too fond of unanimated space either, fortunately he has a good eye for stance and proportion.
    Also, Renault doesn’t need to worry about authenticity, we don’t care much for
    history despite the lukewarm anniversary thing this year. Despite 120 years of history, corporate amnesia rules the halls. Repeating the success of Alpine will be a fight..
    SM is no more guilty of aesthetic excess than any other chief designer. Graphic forms are easy to memorise, so the average cretinous journo can remember vaguely what he is scribbling about the week after another manufacturer sponsored binge to launch the latest yawnmobile.
    Public support for visual simplicity waned so long ago I care not to remember when it went off the rails.
    I fear that the time to create seminal designs such as the Series One Range Rover or Lada Niva has passed. Gerry made a bloody good job of the Velar, shame about the Plutocrat pricetag though.

    1. Renault has been very consistent about ignoring their heritage. There is no Renault look and its only with the eye of faith on really can see a bit of Renault 16 in some other, later cars. The 5 and Super5 pair were an unusual bit of design evolution and Renault was kicked over that so they never did it again. Poor Renault: forcing themselves to re-invent the wheel all the time.
      I don´t think anyone is designing cars to make them memorable for the journalist on the day of launch but they are designed to leap out (in some ways). In other ways, the current crop of cars is very much more about noise than signal.

  12. In a similar vein, the original Renault Laguna II taillights looked like this, a perfectly rational organisation of the different elements:

    Inexplicably, when they facelifted the car, someone thought this was an improvement:

    The oval (indicator) and circular (reversing light) clear elements looked very ill at ease within the overall shape and clashed with each other. This was particularly apparent when viewed directly from behind. Unfortunately, I can’t find a photo of this.

    1. To our more attentive, critical eyes definitely not an improvement, but to the average punter what registers is “something new” from last year’s model.

  13. Dear Mr Herriott, as someone who could not draw for toffee could you expand upon your “Hairy” drawings, please? I’m intrigued as to how such a idea pans out.

    1. If I was really properly good at drawing my lines would be smooth and unobtrusive. By the time I have finished a drawing the lines take on a thick and rough quality and I never achieve the bright and luminous look such as you see in Mr Mattin´s sketch.

  14. Ah. Laguna.
    The well-resolved one was an unreliable beast. Undeniably pretty, from the deft hand of Benoit Jacob with an interior by messrs Leng and Filippini.
    The facelift possibly by the late and missed Gustavo Fosco, during the period that marked the beginning of the decline of PLQ. Absolutely no reflection on the talent of the designer, more the apathy of management.
    It was a GOOD car, the facelift. A faded, faithful beauty.
    The replacement Laguna was doomed as much by the reputation of Laguna 2 phase 1 as by its styling.
    The clash of Patrick and Carlos G. made a monster that few could love, though those who drove it respected it. Try a Four-Control Estate and be blown away..
    I am guilty of the interior design. The floating dash, the stand-alone console and those lateral air vents. You were spared the Dali instruments and the hooded phallus gearshift..
    Really. Spared.
    This car and the Vel Satis tolled the bell for car production at Sandouville. The factory built to produce the Renault haut de gamme from 1965 beginning with the R16, a master stroke of design from the pen of Philippe Charbonneaux.

    1. Rob: that´s quite modest of you. On reflection, Renault have today a consistent-looking range of quite spacey cars. The only weak link is the poor old Talsisman saloon. It´s not a bad-looking thing. It does not have the futuristic style of the Clio or Megane. Even if not a top-seller, the Espace is a classy vehicle which I think does a better job of conveying style and independent thought than anything else now available. I wish to goodness it had a rear-centre arm-rest (I have said that before) because at that price and size you´d expect rear-seat passengers to be better treated vis a vis comfort.

    2. Out of interest, I googled 2008 Renault Laguna interior and the results bring up lots of other Renault interiors. The data is so mixed up that one is not 100% sure of finding the interior. I found the Laguna III coupe interior, as seen from a useless side view.
      The exterior is a bit of a turkey which puts the Talisman in a good light while also making one ask what happened in between Mk2 and Mk3. That was some form of commercial death-wish not unlike Ford´s anæmic current Mondeo. Given the importance of the market and Renault´s previous success at selling cars in this class, the Mk3 is a peculiar result indeed.

  15. The Niva is still available!
    I was reading the latest Autocropley with a review of the new Jimmy. Right at the end where they compare rivals, the Dacia Duster took honours and in fifth place sat the Niva. Imported to the UK by a fellow named Mark Key. Costs around £11k.
    Eighteen grand forra Suzuki: or eleven forra brand new Niva?
    A mini Gelanderwagen or a comrade in a time warp?
    I need a stiff drink to help decide

    1. Der kleine Geländewagen gets my money. Purely because the brand new Niva is actually 40 years old and I would regret not having shelled out on the Jimny after about 5 miles in the Lada. But it does have a certain appeal doesn’t it?

  16. After nursing a few oloroso I saw the light and plumped for….
    Some more sherry.
    The Lada does have the red flag version of je sais ne quais in, well, buckets.

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