It was one of the first off-road vehicles to feature a unibody architecture and a predecessor to current crossover SUVs. Before it was introduced to the UK, it was referred to by some in the motoring press as the 'Russian Range Rover'.
The Niva (2121) was Lada's (VAZ/AvtoVAZ) first non-Fiat based model. Much of its mechanicals are carried over from the Fiat based Lada models, though the body, four-wheel drive system, and front suspension were designed by Lada. Production began in 1977 and continues today (as of 2008) with only minor changes to the engine, rear hatch design, and interior trim levels.
In basic form, the Niva has a carbureted 1.6-litre overhead cam four-cylinder petrol engine producing 54kW (72hp) and 126N·m (93ft·lbf), a four- or five-speed manual transmission, and full-time four-wheel drive. There are no locking hubs and the transfer case can be locked on the fly. The original Niva has a maximum speed of around 130 km/h (80 mph), and can cruise at 90 km/h (56 mph) while consuming petrol at a respectable 8.25L/100km (34.2mpg-imp; 28.5mpg-US). Its towing capacity is rated for up to 860 kg (1900 lb).