Does anyone remember the Lada Niva 4×4?
Well, I sure do since it feels like it was yesterday I was 12 and in the family Oldsmobile heading to the dealer to test drive one with my father. I’m still not 100% sure but I think I got my Dad curious to go for the test drive by explaining the amazing price point and reinforcing my argument by saying the Niva was a modern day International Scout with a cold war twist. As my Dad was a travelling salesman who leased a different car every two years I did my best to influence what car/vehicle would be brought home and this time I was focused on getting Dad interested in the little Niva.
A well used Niva in the Soviet motherland
During the test drive on a Southwestern Ontario back road, I remember thinking how awesome the Lada 4×4 was and how it would be “perfect” for our family. Unfortunately, while I was thinking that, my father was nowhere near as impressed and was down right shocked with the unbelievably low level of quality from the Soviet automaker. In fact, I do remember the interior looking a bit like a Sputnik spacecraft so I know he was not way off base. Suffice it to say, Dad and I did not drive home from the dealer that day in a new Lada. Nevertheless, the impression was not lost on me and since then I have always had a bit of a soft spot for the infamous Niva 4×4.
The Niva was built by Soviet/Russian automaker AvtoVAZ, which brands all their vehicles under the Lada brand. According to Wikipedia, the Niva was originally described by designers as a Renault 5 put on a Land Rover chassis. It was AvtoVAZ‘s first non-Fiat based model. However, much of the vehicle’s mechanicals were carried over from the Fiat based Lada models, except for the body, four-wheel drive system, and front suspension which were specifically designed by Lada. Production of the Niva began in 1977 and continued for 34 years as the last Niva just rolled off the production line in September 2012. Quite a successful run for the little gutsy 4×4 from the land of the iron curtain.
In terms of engineering highlights, the Niva was one of the first mass production off-road vehicles to feature a unibody architecture with an independent front suspension of which most of today’s crossover/SUVs follow as their suspension set-up.
Factory stock Niva
The Niva’s standard powerplant includes a 1.6-liter overhead cam, four cylinder, gas engine producing 72 hp and 93 lb·ft of torque, matted to a four or five speed manual transmission, and full-time four-wheel drive. A 1.7-litre gas engine was introduced later in production, as well as a single-point fuel injection supplied initially by General Motors. Since 2004, a multi-point fuel injection system designed by Bosch was also used and in some markets a 1.9L Peugeot XUD diesel powered powerplant was available as well.
The four-wheel drive system employs three differentials (centre, front and rear), similar to the manual transmission of the Toyota FJ Cruiser. With the Niva, the transfer case consists of a high/low range selector lever and a central differential lock lever while low range can be selected with the centre differential locked or unlocked.
The Niva had a maximum speed of approx 130 km/h (80 mph), and could cruise at 90 km/h (56 mph) while fuel efficiency was a solid 8.25 L/100 km (28.5 mpg). The towing capacity was rated for up to 860 kg (1900 lb) which was generous considering the size of the engine.
Lada in snow
Apparently, President Putin is a fan too as seen in this 2009 pic of his heavily modified model including lift kit, camo paint scheme, winch, lights, brush bar and snorkel exhaust.
Although the Lada Niva 4×4 never won too many production quality awards it remains a very unique and interesting vehicle and it certainly captured the heart of one Canadian 12 year old boy many years ago. Earlier this month, Lada announced it intends to replace the Niva with the below XRAY concept car
New Lada Protoype
So who knows, maybe the new version can capture the hearts of the next generation. Only time will tell.