James May drives the new Lada Niva
The Soviet workhorse is back from the dead. We send a nice chap called May to drive it
Posted: 22 Feb 2011
In every other respect, the Niva is terrifyingly old-fashioned. There are two keys: one small one, and one really small one. The fluted exterior doorhandles are a bit like the ones from a Marina. Inside, there is a random scattering of rocker switches and rotary knobs, feeble little doorhandles, and fairly disgusting plastic trim. The gearstick is an inordinately long way away, which leads to some flappy wrist action during the familiarisation process.
Most evocative, though, is the unmistakable interior smell of the Eastern Bloc. No other political persuasion endowed its cars with quite such a distinctive whiff. To anyone who grew up in the Seventies and Eighties, it evokes those earnest types who advertised their allegiance to the Communist Workers' Party by driving around in a Lada, a Moskovich or an air-cooled Skoda. These people always looked like idiots, unless they had a Niva, because the Niva was somehow acceptable.