1989 Lada Niva


You might be looking at these pictures and asking, “what even is this thing?” I have to admit, I was too at first. This little warrior happens to be a 1989 Lada Niva, a 4x4 hatchback from Russian automaker ArtoVAZ. According to the seller, Caruzn Customs in Plymouth, Massachusetts, there are only two of these in the US, and if you’ve got $25,900 burning a hole in your pocket, one of them could be yours.

The Model.

A Cold War relic, the Lada Niva was described by its Soviet designers as a "Renault 5 on a Land Rover chassis,” and that was actually a really apt description. The Renault 5, marketed for a few years in North America as “LeCar,” was a fun little civilized compact, but didn’t have the off-road capabilities and durability you might need in rural Russia. And that was really the genesis of the Niva: making a car that could go off-road to serve the villagers and farmers of the rural Soviet Union.

The Lada Niva had the distinction of being the world's first mass-produced unibody off-road vehicle, having a fully integrated body and frame architecture. AutoVAZ accomplished this feat a full six years ahead of the 1984 model year Jeep Cherokee (XJ, the legend). Small and nimble, but also capable, the Niva was on the cutting edge of the modern crossover SUV movement that has since gripped America, eventually inspiring gems like the Suzuki Vitara (Sidekick). 

The Lada was known as a competent off-roader. It had a permanent four-wheel drive system featuring a transfer case and central diff lock and the combination of short wheelbase, low weight, independent suspension, small dimensions and high ground clearance. Its tall but narrow 175/80/16 wheels had excellent performance in terms of navigating the unpaved. In trials, ArtoVAZ showed the Niva to have the ability to climb a 58% slope, cross 2 feet of running water, and navigate more than 3 feet of mud or snow.

Legend has it the Soviet Military was so enamored with the off-road capability and durability (you know, Russian Machine Never Breaks) of the Niva, they even commissioned a military version, resulting in a half dozen prototypes over 10 years, but unfortunately being cancelled before it was ever produced.

The Niva was and is something special. Enjoy this 90 second review of the car from the folks at Autocar, where they give an honest assessment, calling the steering on paved roads “really, really terrible” but also marveling at its off-road capabilities. They give it a two star rating, but that's in the context of a modern road car, not a late 80's compact 4x4. It's a five star fourbie in our hearts.

The Specs.

This 1982 Niva appears to have been lightly restored based on the photographs, showing glossy green paint and a pretty mint interior for a car with four decades of life under its belt. We don’t have a ton of great information about the restoration or this vehicle’s history, but it appears to have been thoroughly and meticulously loved by whoever owned it prior. The pictures show 76,560 kilometers on the odometer. 


  • 1.6 Liter, 8 valve inline 4 cylinder
  • 75 horsepower at 5400 rpm and 87 ft lb torque at 3200 rpm
  • 4 speed manual transmission
  • Front disc brakes, rear drum brakes
  • All wheel drive
  • Top speed: 81 mph


  • Cream vinyl seating with black piping, excellent condition
  • Leather wrapped steering wheel
  • Included full size spare (under the hood)
  • Aftermarket head unit


  • Green paint in excellent condition
  • Black steel wheels
  • Center mount fog lights
  • Brush guards, front and rear (painted black)
  • Running boards (painted black)

This Lada Niva Has Sold.

This classic 4x4 got away, but you can explore other imported rare, classic, and custom 4x4s for sale on Fourbie Exchange.