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 Manufacturer:  Lada/AvtoVAZ  Model:  Urban  Origin  Tolyatti, RU
 Engine:  1.7l  Transmission:  Manual x 5  Weight:  1.2t
 Fuel Cons.:  12.1km/l  Fuel:  Petrol  0-60:  19 seconds
 Power:  85hp  Torque:  130nm  Price:  £19,000+

Handling   Space  Build
 4.5/5  2.5/5  4.5/5
 Equipment  Speed  Overall
 2/5  2.5/5  64%*
*In general - though it deserves higher as an off-roader.

The Good
Easy to park as small, long lasting, tough, great off-road and fairly economical.

The Bad
Few gadgets, back seats only good for thin 10 yr olds, noisy, non-smooth gears (mainly 1, 2 & R) and smallish boot (trunk).

Ask anyone in the West about a Lada and you will get two responses, 1. Isn’t that car extinct? 2. It is the butt of all jokes. Travelling around the (ex) USSR you see lots of classic Lada’s, mainly sedans, estates and of course the Niva. This makes you think if the cars on the street are 20-30yrs old, they must be well made – just look at how many Soviet structures are still standing today. Even if they were cheap, people would not buy them if they only lasted a few years.

Having driven other 4x4s, which are far more expensive like: Mitsubishi Pajero, Mitsubishi Montero Sport, Mitsubishi Outlander, Toyota Rav4 and a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado, I thought for a laugh I would hire one abroad. The locals say they are good so in January 2022 I hired one for a few days to drive in tough terrain; poor tarmac roads, off road, high altitude roads (2300m passes) and roads with crazy amount of snow in & at the side of the road.

Exterior of Car

You may look at this and think why Lada would made a dwarf car, which it is. Put it next to a fancy, large Lexus GX and the grand clearance is the same or a tad higher. Who would want to take a £60,000 luxury Lexus off road anyway? I would fear scratching it!


A world first! A spare full-sized tyre in the engine rather than at the back (outside) or in the boot. Compared to modern cars, the engine is not a fully sealed unit, and you can get to parts still. Left: front windscreen wiper fluid, rear windscreen fluid is oddly in the boot. Right: brake fluid.

Tyres & Wheel Arches

For a small car the tyres are a decent size with large wheel arches to reduce getting stuck.


It can fit a large case and some spare items plus spare windscreen wiper fluid. In reality you would only have two adults in the car, so the boot is likely big enough. If there were two adults only then you can put items on the rear seats for extra space.

Interior & Back Seats

As you can see it is a two-door car and the leg room at the back is tiny. The controls and dashboard are simple yet strong. You either have to be young & thin or happy to be squashed at the back. The back has the same high-quality rubber easy clean mats as found at the front.

Bonnet Catch

This is not a fuel release but a bonnet catch. By the way the fuel door does not lock at all!

Boot Release

Being next to the back seats you may think it is a manual door handle but no, it opens the boot.

Standard Pedals

Pretty obvious here and the rubber mat is tough, and easy to clean. One con of the mat is it gets in the way of the clutch at times. There is a footrest for your clutch foot to the left.

Gears & Get Out of Jail Aids
  1. Standard solid gear stick which shakes as you are driving
  2. Differential lock which can only be enabled once in gear with revs. In English? It forces all wheels to spin at the same speed which is useful when stuck. Do not use at speed or when turning corners
  3. Transfer case. In English? Bottom is standard high gear; middle is neutral, and top is low gear which gives extreme short-term speed to get out of sticky situations or get up inclines. Only use low gear for a short while as the RPM gauge will go crazy and it you cannot be changed whilst moving
  • Electric front windows
  • Electric controlled wing mirrors
  • Heated front seats - a big bonus since it is cold & snowy in winter
  • Heating without A/C
  • Diff lock & low/high gear which will likely get you out of sticky situations whereas a touch screen will not!
  • Two standard cigarette lighter charging ports
  • Front & rear windscreen wipers

What About Driving It?
The first thing you notice is the interior is very tinny, the gear stick & indicator paddles are just a piece of solid metal. It is ok for the city though that is not what it is made for – it is small so easy to park. The gears, especially 1st, 2nd and reverse are a bit hard to slot in. Power wise is not great but it is not designed to be a race car and going uphill you will need to be in a lower gear than on other cars.

Having before driven a Toyota Rav4 this Niva smashes it. Yes, the RAV4 is fast, automatic, and conformable but it lacks “get out of jail” aids and does slide. A RAV4 maybe AWD but AWD is not always enabled. A Niva is permanent AWD, and you cannot turn it off. Yes, a Mitsubishi Montero Sport or a Toyota Land Cruiser Prado is better, but it is a gas guzzler, double the price at least and is larger so is harder to move through tight spots.

Now on to the part where it smashes other cars & shines, off road or in icy/snowy conditions. The image to the right is off road, narrow, a little remote and with thick snow. A RAV4 or Outlander would be sliding all over the place, but this car manages it. It has far better grip and ground clearance than Western AWDs. On three occasions the car got stuck in deep snow, twice I self-rescued and once I was pulled out of 2ft snow.

Despite having snow literally everywhere and icicles under all metal parts, the car happily plodded on without moaning. It is tough, hard wearing and keeps going. Hills, ice, dirt tracks, snow, streams and more, it will come out smiling.

Would I Buy One?
I love it, miss it, and would rent one again. If I had spare cash and space, I would get one. Yes, it is noisy at speed and the gear stick shakes but Soviet engineering is about longevity not comfort!