LADA NIVA REVIEW
Cool classic car or Russian rubbish?
Yes, I know it’s a Lada and nobody likes them etc. But I tried it out and it isn’t that bad at all.
Yes, it finished third at the Dakar in 1981
So, what is a Lada Niva? Well, in 1971 Lada engineers were given a task to create a small, tough, cheap, and rugged off-roader for the villagers of the USSR. To be honest, they made quite an advanced car for 1970s. It had a monocoque structure (instead of a separate chassis and bodywork), it used coil springs at the front, but the Fiat engine, sadly, wasn’t the most reliable one, but surely was easy to fix. The first generation even had a crank handle in case your battery was flat. The car was thoroughly tested and even put up against Land Rover and Range Rover Classic. The off-road capabilities of this car were just uncanny. And you can see why. It was light, had a very wide selection of gears and good tires. So, if Niva was this good, there was no need to change it, the Russians thought. In the 1990s it got a little bit more powerful engine and a 5-speed gearbox and a few weeks ago a 122 HP engine. The new model (Travel) has electric windows, mirrors, heated seats, sat-nav etc., and all that for about £10 000. And if you like the classic looks, you can still buy the old one brand new for about the same price as the Travel.
I tried the 2008 model and it just won me over. The second I got into it, I started smiling. You feel like the car is asking you to smile. Yes, everything rattles and after you go faster than 50 MPH, it feels like it is going to fall apart. And every time you press hard at the brakes, you press the accelerator, which is good for heel-and-toeing, but taking your car to the red line on a set of traffic lights is a bit embarrassing. But frankly, you don’t care. The ride is a bit weird though. At a normal road, the car feels rubbish, but the bumpier the road gets, the better the car feels (you will understand it after you drive one). You can literally do 30 MPH through a bumpy field and be able to eat. The gearbox feels good, the transfer box enables you to climb incredibly steep hills (officially, it can climb 58% climb without any problems), the steering is super light, it’s got a diff lock and a sidepipe, which looks quite cool. For me, the Niva genuinely is a beautiful car on the outside and it even started being a bit of a cool car. In my town at least, if you drive a Range Rover, everyone looks at you like if you were a mafia boss, but if you drive a Niva, the children wave at you, the elderly smile because many of them owned Nivas and you just start to feel good.
Well, I like this car very much. I’ve just completely fallen for it and every little fault makes it better for me. Every time I get into it, it makes me happy. Yes, the RPM gauge shows you just that you are somewhere between 0 and 7000 RPM because it just wobbles all the time, the tires are loud, it rattles, the gearbox is super loud, and the top speed is 80. But frankly, you don’t care, because there is no off-road track this car couldn't drive round and you just enjoy every single minute in it. And the fact that it outlived the USSR shows how good it is. It isn’t a fast car, neither quite an economical one, but is has a heart and soul. In fact, I would say it’s one of the most soulful cars I’ve ever been in. And it just wins people over and makes them smile, which for me at least, the cars are all about.