First drive: 2019 Lada 4×4 Urban in Jordan
Renamed but little changed since it first launched 40 years ago, Lada’s legacy model remains the brand’s defining model as it makes a comeback to Middle East markets. Formerly known as the Niva, the diminutive Lada 4×4 is both precursor to the crossover segment and a highly capable off-roader. With uni-body construction, rugged four-wheel-drive, and coil spring double wishbone and live axle suspension, it was designed as an affordable people’s car for city streets and rugged rural Russian winters alike.
Refreshingly analogue and uncomplicated, the 4×4 may be slow, Spartan and noisy next to modern cars. However, it has more charisma than modern crossovers and off-road ability to rival most SUVs costing multiples more. Driven in more comfortable Urban specification – with 16-inch alloy wheels, potent two-speed A/C, electric windows and restyled integrated bumpers – the 4×4 is both an easily affordable daily driver or weekend off-road warrior ripe for customisation and personalisation.
Fit for purpose rather than extravagant, the Lada’s appealing minimalism is reflected in its aesthetic. Iconic with low-slung fascia below rectangular indicator lights, and reverse-opening clamshell bonnet, its boxy design, low waistline and tiny 3640mm long and 1680mm wide dimensions allow excellent visibility for the narrowest off-road trail or parking space. With function firmly preceding form, its’ shape provides good space for tall drivers. Spartan, utilitarian and hard-wearing, its cabin would however benefit from better lumbar support, rear headrests and adjustable steering.
Well-packaged, the 4×4’s under-bonnet spare tyre sits next to its naturally aspirated 1.7-litre 4-cylinder engine. Eager and perky at moderate speeds and in town, the Lada develops 83 hp at 5000 rpm and 129 Nm at 4000 rpm, but gruff at higher revs and near its 142 kph maximum. Weighing just 1210 kg and with little sound insulation, the Urban feels quicker than its quoted 17-second 0-100 kph acceleration, while its 5-speed manual gearbox is satisfying through gears with crisp shifter and intuitive clutch biting point. But in short, it’s fine for Jordanian roads but will be painfully slow on the UAE’s faster highways.
Stable at speed, the 4×4 is however best through winding switchbacks in rear-drive mode. Leaning somewhat through corners, its narrow 185/75R16 tyres, short wheelbase, balanced weighting and natural-feeling hydraulic steering make it as nimble as a small hatchback. Agile and involving at the limit due to its small size and barebones nature, its road-holding is more reassuring than expected. Comfortable and supple over imperfect surfaces thanks to updated suspension, the 4×4’s ride is fairly settled, but terribly noisy at speed.
A veritable off-road mountain goat, the lightweight 4×4’s 213mm clearance, rugged live-axle coil spring rear suspension, and short wheelbase and overhangs all work to proved excellent approach, ramp and departure angles. Easily tackling rocky off-road terrain with four-wheel-drive engaged, the Lada also features low-range gear ratios and a locking rear differential. The tiny Lada is very effective in most off-road conditions but it just doesn’t pack the hundreds of horsepower to storm taller dunes.
The Lada Niva is still available in Jordan, but officially left the UAE market decades ago. However, you can apparently find little outfits in Ajman selling them brand new for under Dhs 40,000 (just don’t ask how extensive the warranty or after-sales service is).
Photos by Ghaith Madadha.