Capping its fourth decade of production this year, the Lada 4×4 has over the years undergone subtle development and improvement, and been offered under a variety of names depending on market and era. A rugged, practical, maneuverable and comfortably riding cross between compact daily driver and genuine off-roader, the 4×4 however may not have the luxury, refinement or high speed performance of modern upmarket and mainstream SUVs. It instead trades on a now iconic appeal and highly affordable utility with huge off-road capability that puts to shame most SUVs at a fraction of the price demanded by upscale luxury SUVs with similar off-road talents.
Formerly and best known as the Niva, the Lada 4×4 is now produced in three trim levels including the slightly more city-oriented Urban model driven, with body colour integrated bumpers and slightly bigger alloy wheels. Driven in longer 5-Door guise, its 500mm longer wheelbase measures 2,700mm and lends it a slightly elongated look. If ultimately not as aesthetically well-proportioned or feisty in demeanor as the iconic 3-Door model, the longer wheelbase and extra rear doors do however provide improved daily family use practicality, stability at speed and truly generous legroom that belies its still compact 4,140mm length, 1,680mm width and 1,640mm height.
Unpretentious, uncomplicated and utilitarian, the Lada 4×4 is unmistakable in appearance, with low-slung round headlights and rectangular turn signals above. Now bearing vertical rear lights, its small dimensions, boxy design, low waistline and big glasshouse ensure good interior space efficiency and excellent visibility and maneuverability for pinpoint accuracy when placing it in a tight parking spot or traversing the narrowest off-road trails. Honest and minimalist in aesthetic appeal, the 4×4 is well-packaged, with its spare tyre placed under its unintentionally stylish reverse-swing clamshell bonnet to maximize cargo room, and also not increasing length or decreasing clearance by mounting it externally or underneath.
A triumph of function over form and minimalism over excess in every aspect of its design and engineering, the Lada 4×4’s weight remains restrained even in 5-Door guise at 1425kg, as does its small, effective and rugged 1.7-litre naturally-aspirated 8-vavle SOHC four-cylinder engine. Uncomplicated and able to run on cheaper lower octane 90RON fuel, the 4×4’s engine provides comparatively healthy low-end torque for effective off-road driving. Not the most economical engine for its size, it however return frugal consumption at lower speeds and rpm, with the benefit of the 4×4’s light weight, and not the disadvantage of its boxy wind resistance at speed.
Positioned in-line and driving the rear wheels in normal on-road conditions, the 4×4’s engine develops adequate, if not spirited performance, but delivery is progressive for accurate throttle control. Developing 82BHP at 5000rpm and 95lb/ft at 4000rpm, the Lada 4×4 5-Door accelerates through 0-100km/h in 19-seconds and tops out at a comfortably achievable 137km/h. Certainly livelier and more eager keeping up with traffic at the higher end of its rev range, if not quick in absolute terms, the 4×4 is nonetheless a fun and engaging driving, with its narrow tyres, light weight, minimal sound deadening and engagingly mechanical controls, feels brisk even at lower speeds.
Driving the rear wheels on road through a brilliantly mechanical and analogue feel 5-speed manual gearbox shifter and an accurate and intuitive clutch pick-up point, the Lada 4×4 is balanced and well-weighted through corners. Working the gearbox through switchbacks to maintain momentum and power, the 4×4 is an engaging and not surprisingly agile and rewarding drive. Turning tidy, crisp and alertly into a corner like the shorter more nimble 3-Door, the 5-Door Lada would however seem to have slighty more inclination for under-steer – and better rear grip – when pushed to the limit.
Its re-circulating ball steering and slim tyres provide intuitive road feel, but require more steering turn input than quicker more modern systems, while steering angle was surprisingly modest, owing to its four-wheel-drive system. Sprung softly and riding on double wishbone front and a more sophisticated trailing arm live axle rear suspension set-up, the Lada 4×4 is quick and eager turning in yet leans somewhat through a corner, but nevertheless remains committed and reassuring through corners, and without electronic stability assistance or interference.
Stable at spped and in town, the 4×4 maybe noisier inside than a more luxurious car but rides with a forgiving suppleness over jaded bumps, lumps and severe imperfections that very few modern cars can match, which is partially due to its narrow, and tall sidewall 185/75R16 tyres. Driven during recent heavy rains, the Lada’s slim tyres also proved highly resilient to aquaplaning on partially flooded roads. Conceived as a modern civilized car-like off-roader with unibody construction, yet it is now more capable than most current SUVs, and offers high water and snow fording ability.
With its lightweight, compact size and high 200mm clearance and short overhangs, the 4×4 benefits delivers excellent approach and departure angles, in addition to a generous ramp angle, even if it is slightly less in the 5-Door version, Engaging its four-wheel-drive hardware through two additional stubby levers, the Lada only really needs to engage four-wheel drive and low gear ratios for truly demanding terrain, while the rear differential can be locked for the most extreme and low traction conditions.
Supple and settled on pavement, dirt roads and more rugged off-road terrain, the Lada 4×4 Urban is a comfortable drive and is spacious inside for so small a vehicle, including a minimum 420-litre boot that expends to much more with rear seats folded. Designed as a rugged machine with few, if any, frills, the modern 4×4 may feature hard shiny plastics aplenty inside and no central locking, but however comes with a stereo system, electric windows, steering rake adjustment and air conditioning. Seting is comfortable and well adjustable in front and spacious in the rear, but more front lumbar support and rear headrests would be welcome additions.
Launched back in 1978 as a rugged, capable and affordable car of a Soviet milieu and harsh Russian conditions, the Lada 4×4’s small dimension, spacious interior, forgiving ride comfort, high clearance, economical running costs and high value JD15,000 pricing however remains relevant today for Jordan, with its high car import duties, rugged roads and crowded city streets.
Specifications: Lada 4×4 Urban 5-Door
- Engine: 1.7-litre, in-line 4-cylinders
- Bore x stroke: 82 x 80mm
- Compression ratio: 9.3:1
- Valve-train: 8-valve, SOHC
- Gearbox: 5-speed manual, four-wheel-drive
- Driveline: low gear transfer, locking rear differential
- Final drive: 3.9:1
- Power, BHP (PS) [kW]: 82 (83)  @5000rpm
- Specific power: 48.5BHP/litre
- Power-to-weight: 57.5BHP/tonne (kerb)
- Torque, lb/ft (Nm): 95 (129) @4000rpm
- Specific torque: 100.4Nm/litre
- Torque-to-weight: 90.5Nm/tonne (kerb)
- 0-100km/h: 19-seconds
- Top speed: 137km/h
- Fuel consumption, combined: 9.9-litres/100km
- Fuel capacity: 65-litres
- Length: 4140mm
- Width: 1680mm
- Height: 1640mm
- Wheelbase: 2700mm
- Overhang, F/R: 650/780mm
- Track, F/R: 1440/1420mm
- Minimum ground clearance: 200mm
- Cargo volume, min: 420-litres
- Water fording: 510-600mm (est.)
- Snow fording: 1000mm (est.)
- Slope angle 58° (est.)
- Unladen weight: 1425kg
- Gross weight: 1850kg
- Towing capacity, braked / unbraked: 600/300kg
- Suspension, F: Independent, Double wishbones, coilovers
- Suspension, R: Trailing arm, Panhard rod, coil springs
- Steering: Power-assisted recirculating ball
- Brakes, F/R: Discs / drums
- Tyres: 185/75R16
- Price, on the road: JD15,000
Rivals and alternatives
Renault Duster 4×4
A small, affordable SUV with a comfortable ride and genuine off-road ability, the Renault Duster is the spiritual successor to the iconic Lada 4×4. Developed in Eastern Europe – like the Lada – the Duster is produced by Romania’s Renault subsidiary Dacia, but sold in the Middle East under the more famous French brand. Coincidentally, the next generation Lada 4×4 will most likely be based on the Duster.
Specifications: Engine: 2-litre, transverse 4-cylinders; Gearbox: 4-speed automatic, four-wheel-drive; Power, BHP (PS) [kW]: 132.7 (135)  @5,500rpm; Torque, lb/ft (Nm): 143.8 (195) @3,750rpm; 0-100km/h: 11.5-seconds; Top speed: 178km/h; Length: 4,341mm; Width: 1,804mm; Height: 1,693mm; Wheelbase: 2,674mm Ground clearance: 210mm; Approach / break-over / departure: 21° / 30° /33°; Wading: 350mm; Cargo volume: 467-1,623-litres; Headroom, F/R: 900/892mm; Weight: approximately 1,200-1,300kg; Suspension, F/R: MacPherson struts / multi-link
Jeep Renegade Trailhawk
Introduced in 2014 and face-lifted in 2019, the Fiat-based ‘baby’ Jeep, the Renegade is a more compact product that broadens the brand’s customer base. A less hardcore off-roader than Jeep’s iconic Wrangler, the Renegade is however available in a more off-road biased Trailhawk version, which features enhanced electronic off-road assistance, low drive 4×4, increased ride height and more rugged styling details.
Specifications: Engine: 1.3-litre, transverse turbocharged 4-cylinders; Gearbox: 9-speed automatic, four-wheel-drive; Power, BHP (PS) [kW]: 177 (179)  @5,750rpm; Torque, lb/ft (Nm): 200 (270) @1,750rpm ; 0-100km/h: 9-seconds; Length: 4,232mm; Width: 1,886mm; Height: 1,689mm; Wheelbase: 2,570mm; Ground clearance: 220mm; Approach / break-over / departure: 30.5° / 25.7° /34.3°; Cargo volume: 525-1,440-litres; Headroom, F/R: 1,045/1,029mm; Weight: 1,602kg; Suspension, F/R: MacPherson struts / Chapman struts
Ford Bronco Sport 1.5T
A junior sister model to Ford’s recently resurrected and legendary Bronco, the box-fresh Bronco Sport is the newest, largest, most advanced and probably priciest on this list. Offered in base variants with 1.5-litre turbocharged 3-cylinder engine, a significantly more powerful 2-litre Bronco Sport Badlands version however further improves a capable small SUV with plenty of off-road hardware.
Specifications: Engine: 1.5-litre, transverse turbocharged 3-cylinders; Gearbox: 8-speed automatic, four-wheel-drive; Power, BHP (PS) [kW]: 181 (183)  @6,000rpm; Torque, lb/ft (Nm): 190 (258) @3,750rpm; 0-100km/h: 8.5-seconds (estimate); Length: 4,387mm; Width: 1,887mm; Height: 1,783mm; Wheelbase: 2,670mm; Ground clearance: 198mm; Approach / break-over / departure: 21.7° / 18.2° /30.4°; Wading: 450mm; Cargo volume, max: 1,846-litres; Headroom, F/R: 1,054/1,059mm; Weight: 1,568kg; Suspension, F/R: MacPherson struts / semi-trailing arms