A new Lada Niva? Russian off-road icon overhauled

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Words: Matthew Hansen
26 Jul 2021

Top Gear UK once crowned it as the only half decent car ever produced by a communist regime, and Lada’s diminutive, drop-dead-simple off-roader model, the Niva, is still alive and ticking today.

The Niva survives, although in its home market that’s no longer its name. Instead it’s simply referred to as the Lada 4x4. The Niva nameplate has been passed on to Lada’s other compact crossover models. But, I digress.

Lada has confirmed something of an update to the Niva. I use slight trepidation when dropping the word ‘update’ because the model has scarcely been touched by Lada since it debuted in 1977, well over four decades ago.

The Niva’s latest update largely concerns the cabin. A new pair of seats are more comfortable than those in the outgoing model, and come heated. There’s a new instrument panel (although it isn’t exactly going to scare the ‘Digital Cockpit’ in your mum’s A3.

Lada also boasts that the model features an “improved noise and vibration isolation package”, meaning it’s presumably easier to live with on a day-to-day basis than before, and a touch softer and quieter.

There are two Niva trim levels; the base Luxe and the Prestige. The former has painted bumpers and wheel arch extensions, and all-terrain rubber. The Prestige meanwhile throws in black plastic bumpers, a different grille, and side-sill protection.

Inevitably, the 2021 update changes none of the model’s exterior. Nor does it alter anything under the bonnet. There the model retains its 1.7-litre petrol four making 61kW of power and 129Nm of torque.

It’s not much power, but it’s enough to make it an off-road dynamo. Four-wheel drive is standard across the range, with low-range and a five-speed manual box.

Lada has graciously given the updated Lada some mechanical changes that should further help in this arena. The rear axle has been beefed up, front and rear locking diffs have been added, and the reinforced suspension now comes with 240mm of ground clearance.

Although it’s a legend in its own right, there will still be those who scoff at the Niva. It’s worth remembering that its local equivalent rival, the Suzuki Jimny, is one of the most popular new models on sale, with a waiting list that lasts months and months.

The Niva was briefly offered on sale in New Zealand several decades ago. I get the impression that, if it were on sale here today, it would sell like hot cakes.

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