Lada Niva review

* Lada Niva driven * Price 10,974 * On sale now...

30 September 2011

Lada Niva review

What is it? Visually, the Lada Niva has barely changed since it was first unveiled in 1976, but after a 14-year absence, this relic from the cold war era is once again being imported to the UK.

It is still manufactured in Russia, and offers no-frills transport for those who have a limited budget but need a car that can handle rough terrain.

What's it like to drive? The Niva name comes from the Russian word for crop field, and it's apt; driving the car is best described as agricultural.

The Niva has impressive off-road credentials thanks to steep attack and departure angles, as well as a low-ratio gearbox and locking centre differential. However, as soon as its wheels touch Tarmac, the problems start.

The 80bhp 1.7-litre petrol engine (which can be converted to run on LPG for 535) is eager enough around town, but it has no finesse, and the clunky manual gearbox frustrates.

Faster trips are more fraught affairs because the engine doesn't really have the power to make cruising pleasurable, and overtaking on the motorway requires a lot of forward planning.

The combination of engine, gearbox and road noise also mean that any conversation quickly turns into a shouting match.

Still, at least the weak performance perfectly compliments the Niva's poor ride and roadholding. The ride is unsettled and there's severe body roll when cornering. The steering is reasonably light, but it's also slow and numb.

What's it like inside? There's precious little in the way of creature comforts.

Equipment is pretty much limited to an immobiliser and a heater; you can forget niceties such as a radio, electric door mirrors or even carpets. Safety features such as airbags, seatbelt pre-tensioners and ABS are also absent.

The Niva is available only as a left-hand drive, three-door hatchback, so isn't the easiest car to live with. True, the dashboard is simple enough principally because there's almost nothing on it but fit and finish feel like they're from another century, and some of the plastics have an alarmingly flimsy feel.

With no steering wheel adjustment and limited seat travel, you have to put up with the Niva's poor driving position, too.

The utilitarian front seats offer minimal support and rear legroom is poor. Its boot isn't big, either.

Should I buy one? Seriously, comrades, this is not a car you should consider. Its off-road abilities simply aren't enough to compensate for the major deficiencies in other areas.

Yes, it's the cheapest proper 4x4 that you can buy new, and it comes with a lifetime mechanical warranty, but you're better off looking for a second-hand Land Rover Defender.

The Niva may have been a cheap way to get workers around the farm 34 years ago, but now it just belongs in a museum.

For more information:

Suzuki Jimny
Land Rover Defender

What Car? says