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Be Glad You Don’t Live In Russia: 2021 Lada Is Really 22 Years Old

These are early images of the “new” 2021 Lada Niva. Well, it’s kinda new. It looks new but it’s really a re-bodied Lada Niva II which debuted in 1998. And even it was based on some Niva 4×4 bits which first saw production in 1977. Basically, this is a 22-year-old Niva with a new RAV4-like front end, cladding, and interior. Be glad you don’t live in Russia.

Things are tough in Russia, and so they need a tough 4×4. Enter the 1977 Lada Niva. It is still sold because it is such a perfect fit for Russia. Rugged, cheap, somewhat reliable, and easy to work on. When something sticks so well why change it? Especially, with respect to Russia.

In the 1990s General Motors partnered with VAZ to manufacture Lada vehicles

1999 Chevy/Lada Niva

In the 1990s General Motors partnered up with VAZ which manufactures Lada vehicles. Though a Niva inside, a new body and interior gave the impression it was all-new. It was good enough to find success as the Chevy Niva in and around Europe. In Russia, it was the Lada Niva II.

Then earlier this year VAZ bought the General out. Now it has invested what appears to be as little as possible to claim the Niva all-new again. This time the body has stayed the same with the front end, cladding, wheel arches, and interior changed up. 

Russia always looks for quick and easy ways out of automobile development

2021 Lada Niva

Russia always looks for a quick and easy way out of automobile development. In the 1940s and 1950s, they copied and used old Packard tooling to create a series of ZIS cars. The ZIS 110 was a 1942 Packard Super Eight. Production ended in 1958 for that one. 

The Chaika of 1959 was an almost exact copy of the 1955 Packard sedan. Later in the 1970s the ZAZ 968 was just old tooling from the German NSU Prinz 4 which originally debuted in 1961. The same for earlier Ladas. They used tooling of the Fiat 124. Mother Russia didn’t even see the need to change the grille. Only a Lada insignia distinguishes between the two virtually identical cars. 

The new front end for the Niva is a knock-off of the latest Toyota RAV4

2021 Lada Niva

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If that new front end for the Niva looks familiar, it’s a knock-off of the latest Toyota RAV4. What isn’t a knock-off is the drivetrain. Power comes from an 80 hp 1.7-liter four-banger, the identical engine used in Nivas since the 1990s. There’s a full-time four-wheel-drive with locking differentials for the frosty terrain of the Russian outback. Like we said, these need to be tough.

The off-road trim package includes bigger tires, a snorkel, and black plastic cladding with fender extensions. Being plastic, we doubt they’ll survive more than a couple of years at best in normal use. It is expected to have its official debut next year. 

Don’t expect it to make it to our shores. We doubt emissions, body impact safeguards, and safety technology are any part of the Niva. Even with a starting price of under $10,000, who would bother with the reputation that old Russian Lada and Moskovich cars still have in the US?