Lada is relaunching its iconic cheap and cheerful off-roader in the Middle East.
By Gaith Madadha
Russian automaker Lada has returned to regional markets including the UAE and Jordan in recent months. Its small, iconic off-roader remains the star player in its line up. And bar a mild cosmetic refresh and light concessions to comfort and convenience in road-biased Urban guise, the 4×4 is as capable and affordable as ever.
Uncomplicated, unpretentious and rugged, the Lada 4×4 was ahead of its time when launched in 1978. It was engineered for a high degree of off-road capability and compact car-like comfort and maneuverability in an easily maintained and accessible package for harsh rural Russian conditions and city streets, and was like a Land Rover or Jeep crossed with a compact hatchback. A product of the Soviet era that remains relevant, the 4×4 may lack the luxury and much of the convenience of more modern but less capable crossover SUVs, but is among the most affordable and maneuverable cars.
A design icon with boxy, un-fussed and honest dimensions, surfacing and styling the 4×4 features distinctive low-slung headlights, and modern integrated bumper and 16-inch alloy in Urban specification. It makes an ideal and dedicated off-road plaything, equivalent to what Caterham or Harley-Davidson are to weekend track day racers and bikers, respectively.
The 4×4’s 1.7-liter naturally-aspirated 8-valve 4-cylinder engine develops 83 HP at 5000 rpm and 95 lb/ft at 4000 rpm. It is perky at lower speeds and in town, and pulls hard from idle to redline, and keeps up well with traffic. Capable of 0-100 km/h in 17 seconds, the 4×4 sounds slightly strained as it reaches for its redline. Confidently accumulating pace at motorway speeds before trailing off as it nears its 142 km/h top speed, the 4×4’s delivery is progressive, with accurate throttle control.
The Lada’s gear lever snicks with satisfyingly firm, mechanical and precise movements when driving rear wheels –under normal conditions– through a five-speed manual gearbox,.
Small and light at 1,210kg, the 4×4 is engagingly fun when pushed hard. With slim 185/75R16 tires, natural feeling steering, short wheelbase, big footprint and balanced chassis and weighting, it is agile and maneuverable, weaving confidently through narrow winding switchbacks. Turning on the proverbial dime into corners, the 4×4 leans somewhat, but is committed, grippy and is virtually immune from under- and over-steer in most circumstances.
The 4×4 rides with forgiving fluency over rugged roads and the narrowest dirt routes alike, dispatching bumps and lumps with suppleness and buttoned down rebound control more sophisticated than many modern cars. It is engineered for high off-road abilities and its rugged lever-activated four-wheel-drive, low gear ratio transfer and locking rear differential keep it moving over steep inclines, low traction surfaces and through water and snow. Meanwhile, 213 mm ground clearance and short overhangs provide generous approach, break-over and departure angles for difficult terrain.
The 4×4 is unimpeachable off-road, maneuverable in tight confines at just 3640 mm long and 1680 mm wide, and affordable at JD13,500. Its boxy design provides good space utilization for passengers and cargo, including good headroom and minimum/maximum 263-/982-liter luggage volume. Its comfortable cabin uses tough hard plastics and clear instrumentation, but now features electric windows and two-speed A/C. Seating is upright and visibility excellent, but better driver’s seat support, steering reach adjustment and rear headrests would be welcome additions.
Engine: 1.7 liter, 8 valves, 4 cylinders
Gearbox: 5-speed manual, four-wheel-drive
Driveline: low gear transfer, locking rear differential
Power, BHP (PS) [kW]: 82 (83)  @5000 rpm
Torque, lb/ft (Nm): 95 (129) @4000 rpm
0-100 km/h: 17 seconds
Top speed: 142 km/h
Fuel consumption: 9.9 liters/100km
Length: 3640 mm
Width: 1680 mm
Height: 1640 mm
Suspension, F/R: Double wishbones / trailing arms, panhard rod
Turning circle: 11 meters
Price, on-the-road: JD13,500