19 May 2012


Speak of great 4x4s and off-road cars, Land Rovers and Jeeps will spring to mind. The Lada Niva is one of the unheard greats and hail to some Soviet steel.

MANY of us love 4x4s and SUVs (Sports Utility Vehicles). The commanding driving position, acres of space, plenty of seats. Due to their ruggedness from the size and weight make them popular with Mums on the school run. Giving them the notion of safety.

But 4x4 and SUVs are also very popular. Not just with school Mums, but also with celebrities and WAGS. Despite this, I have a massive gripe with a lot of people who own one. They will never use them off-road. 

This leads me to asking myself these questions. Why do people buy them if they will never be used off-road? But it’s not just the owners of the cars, manufacturers like BMW, Porsche and Mercedes-Benz make these pseudo 4x4s. The Chelsea tractors that weren’t built for climbing mountains. Besides them, there's also the ever popular crossovers (e.g. Nissan Qashqai and Volkswagen Tiguan). They're not 4x4s either, and they're nothing more than jacked up hatchbacks.

However, the breed of no-nonsense 4x4s still exists in this day and age. You know, the ones that were built to take on rough terrains rather than school runs. The rugged, utilitarian greats like the Land Rover Defender and the Jeep Wrangler.

But there's another great utility 4x4 from Russia. Remember the Lada Niva? Don't laugh, and not I'm mistaking it for the rehashed old Fiat 124 - that was the Riva. The Niva's been around since 1977 and you'd be forgiven if you thought it's been killed off. Mind you, it hasn't been on sale in the UK since 1997. It isn't, and still going strong as ever. Though, they are being imported and recently back on sale again in Blighty.

A tough, simple, no-nonsense 4x4 that was built for purpose just like the venerable old Land Rover. Having a stiff chassis, permanent four wheel drive, a low-ratio gearbox, differential locks and plenty of ground clearance. Not only that, they are dirt cheap. It was one of the first 4x4s with a unibody construction, independent suspension at the front and coil springs in the rear. Which is what most modern 4x4s use today.

The Niva is also a lightweight for an off-road car. Most off-road cars on average weigh around 2.5 tonnes. The Niva on the other hand is around 1.2 tonnes, which is the average kerb weight of modern hatchbacks.

There are obvious advantages to the Niva's low weight. Firstly, not just performance and fuel economy. Along with its short wheelbase, this also helps greatly when it's taken off road. Where it'll go over rocky hills and major obstacles like a mountain goat.

As underrated cars goes, the Niva really is one of them. It may not be iconic or carry kudos like a Land Rover. Nor is it a glamorous or desirable one like a Range Rover. But does it mean the Niva is worse car for it? Of course not!

What the Niva lacks in image or sophistication albeit a crude car itself. It more than makes up for it being a cheap, simple, rugged and capable car. With the honest, down-to-earth charm, that makes it a very likeable car akin to a faithful old Labrador.

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