These days not many nameplates go too long without a series of substantial updates to help them stay fresh in the marketplace. While the Nissan Frontier has done its best to try and be a rolling example of old school truck design, buyers not living in Russia have perhaps not heard of the long running Lada Niva SUV. Designed in 1977 during the zenith of the Soviet empire, the Niva has not seen really any major updates since then, and has been an enduring icon of Russian ruggedness and simplicity. But even this enduring symbol of a bygone era has to eventually adapt to the times, and Lada is finally giving the Niva some long overdue love for 2020.
Lada currently sits next to Mitsubishi in the broader umbrella of the Renault-Nissan alliance, with company executives revealing that the majority of the upgrades focus on providing higher levels of comfort and safety. A potent example of this commitment is found in the interior, where the Cold War era design gets infused with a new dashboard that houses a much more powerful climate system, 12-volt power outlets in the center console, and even a reworked analog gauge cluster that incorporates a small LCD display screen. As for a traditional infotainment system, that has not entered the Niva’s vocabulary as of yet, but that allows it to be cheaper than some of its rivals.
Lada also promises comfier seats, and claims they benefit from a reworked and “more reliable” folding mechanism. But unlike the revamped interior, the exterior proudly boasts its 1970s heritage with steel mounted bumpers, a very minor nip and tuck for the rugged front fascia, and a new urban trim that brings body color accents to the rugged 4×4.
Performance hardware remains unchanged which means the familiar and aging 1.7 liter 83 horsepower four cylinder engine resumes its wheezy tour of duty in the Niva. The engine also brings 98 lb-ft of torque, and sends its power to all four wheels through a four speed manual transmission. Lada has not confirmed if an automatic is in the cards, but given the Niva’s rather glacial approach to updates over the years, chances are it wont be coming for a very long time. Buyers however can add niceties including heated front seats and even air conditioning if they choose to help make the Niva more livable during long journeys.
Pricing for the 2020 Lada Niva starts at 11,990 euros ($13,200) in Germany, which is one of a few western European countries that offer this vehicle for sale. The bulk of Nivas are found in the former Eastern Bloc, with the 4×4 earning a small following among hunters, adventurers etc due to its ruggedness as well as its value focused pricing ladder especially in its home country of Russia.