Lada Niva : Little changed for the living legend at 45

(Photos: Lada and AvtoVAZ Group)
Head hung low, the once most feared, seemingly indomitable George Foreman, known as Big George, departed Puerto Rico’s Roberto Clemente Coliseum dejected and defeated into a long depression in March 1977. اضافة اعلان

Big George’s then only second loss at 28, the 12th round decision favoring underdog Jimmy Young appeared to end one legend, just as a different one was born in the Soviet Union the following month.

Engineered as an affordably compact, yet comfortable and capable people’s car for harsh Russian conditions, the VAZ-2121’s — or Lada Niva — was to become a testament to frugal functionality over indulgent excess.

Skipping to November 1994, an affable but paunchy now underdog 45-year-old preacher and low-fat grill pitchman makes history and proves that old — or middle-aged — can indeed be gold. 

Dropping 27-year-old Michael Moorer into a daze with a devastatingly stiff 10th round right cross to retake the title he lost to Muhammad Ali in Zaire in 1974, Foreman became the oldest world heavyweight boxing champion to this day. Meanwhile, having regained its familiar Niva nameplate, Lada’s small Spartan SUV celebrates its 45th anniversary this year as a little changed living legend.

An enduring icon of ruggedly analog minimalism and affordable motoring that can humble huge, high-tech SUVs costing multiple more, the Niva was ahead of its time, and predates modern SUV and “soft-roader” crossover fashions.

A conceptual cross between a Land Rover and a small city hatchback, the Niva is built on a car-like uni-body frame and independent wishbone suspension. High-riding with 205mm ground clearance, it however features a thoroughly effective four-wheel-drive system and a tough yet comfortable live-axle and coil spring rear suspension design.

Going strong since the last Cold War and into the new one underway, the Niva has become more comfortable, reliable, and capable through slow incremental improvements over decades, but its basic design, engineering, and character remain true, and still relevant today. Especially in demanding developing markets, where tough ability and low ownership and maintenance costs are paramount.

Re-dubbed the Lada Niva Legend last year, the latest iteration now gains better noise suppression, remote central locking, an alarm system, and a sound system with USB/mobile connectivity.

Available in basic and comfort specifications in perfectly proportioned 3-door or stretched 5-door versions, the Niva is also offered as a chunkier, more assertively styled off-road-oriented Bronto edition. Authentic and iconic, the Niva’s old-school aesthetic features low-slung circular headlights, rectangular running lights above, a clamshell bonnet, and a rearwards cabin orientation.
Engagingly fun on road, the Niva’s narrow 185/75R16 tires provide good feel, despite high-geared re-circulating ball steering.
With a low waistline, big glasshouse, thin pillars, and almost flat panels providing excellent visibility, the tiny Niva can more accurately be maneuvered than bloated, hunkered down modern crossovers, whether on narrow mountain trails, or tight car parks.

Last driven before the latest update, the Niva retains the same uncomplicated and low-revving but effective and proven 1.7-liter naturally-aspirated 8-valve 4-cylinder engine. Perky and responsive at lower speeds, the Niva produces 83HP at 5,000rpm and 129Nm at 4,000rpm, and provides precise throttle control. Aggressively geared, the Niva pulls hard and consistently from idle to redline, and accelerates through 0-100km/h in 17-seconds. Confidently versatile and reassuringly stable at speed, the Niva can however sound gruff as the pace of acceleration slows near its 142km/h top speed.

Engagingly fun on road, the Niva’s narrow 185/75R16 tires provide good feel, despite high-geared re-circulating ball steering. Agile and eager through winding road with its short wheelbase and light 1,285kg weight, the nimble Niva turns tidily into corners and is little susceptible to under- and over-steer, but also delivers sure-footed road-holding. Satisfyingly snicking through gears with a precise mechanical lever action and intuitive clutch biting point, working the Niva’s five-speed manual gearbox to extract the engine’s modest output is meanwhile a joy.

Proven in motorsport and on expedition over the years, the Niva is engineered for extensive off-road abilities. Effortless driving cross country, the Niva however features lever-activated low ratio gears for high power crawling pace off-road driving and steep inclines. Meanwhile, another lever engages its locking center differential for yet more demanding low traction conditions. Capable of fording an estimated 600mm in water and 1,000mm in snow, the Niva’s short wheelbase and low overhangs also allow generous approach, break-over and departure angles.

Supple yet settled over imperfect road and trails, the Niva meanwhile glides over bumps and potholes in a more forgivingly fluent fashion than most new cars, yet leans somewhat through corners. Little insulated inside, its well-packaged boxy design however provides good space utilization, for headroom, rear seats, and luggage. With a back-to-basics approach, the Niva uses plenty of hard plastics and lacks steering reach adjustment, but is comfortable, airy, and refreshingly unpretentious, with user-friendly controls and a powerful A/C.

Read more Drive
Jordan News