The Lada Niva has been in continuous production for nearly 45 years. There have been subtle redesigns, spinoffs and derivatives here and there, but even one of the newer Nivas — like the Niva Travel, a.k.a. the VAZ-2123 or Chevrolet Niva — is composed of bones that predate the Reagan administration. Weird things happen when you build the same car for more than four decades, as the photo above demonstrates.
The dashboard is that of a Niva Travel, and an image of it belongs under the definition of the word “anachronism” in every dictionary. The design is very swoopy, the polar opposite of the angular, dynamic interiors of modern vehicles. That tracks, because the VAZ-2123, itself is a patch on the existing VAZ-2121 (which was the original Niva), first started rolling off production lines in 1998. Between 2003 and just last year, the 2123 was branded a Chevrolet, owing to a joint venture between General Motors and AvtoVAZ. Still following?
That all explains why the Niva Travel’s interior looks like it’d better fit a ’97 Ford Aspire than a contemporary SUV. The pill-shaped vents, copious blank buttons and big climate control dials and sliders look a decade out of date against the smaller, slightly more modern stereo controls below. That’s really all acceptable though, because this Niva Travel — the range-topping Luxe Offroad trim — starts somewhere in the neighborhood of $12,000 when converted from rubles.
Then there’s the touchscreen — which incorporates a rearview camera, I must add — set inside hilariously chunky plastic bezels like an old console CRT TV. You could drug and belt me into the passenger seat of a Niva Travel and when I awoke I’d have no idea which century I was in. This truck’s interior is like a capsule of all of the eras of automotive design and technology it’s lived through, and that makes it special.
There’s something accessible and friendly about how the Niva Travel melds past and present. The cabin appears to be flush with flush with redundancies. The screen shows radio, music and Bluetooth options; I’d suspect each of those menus contains playback controls, although I’ve never used the system of course. There’s yet another set of physical inputs, like a volume knob and play/pause/skip buttons, at the base of the stack. How’d you like your in-car entertainment experience? Lada leaves it up to you.
If you’re anything like me and you’ve never seen a Niva Travel before, you may have formed a vague picture of how it looks from the outside based on how aged the interior is. You’ll also be surprised to find the exterior is much more handsome than you might’ve assumed:
It’s quite a bait-and-switch Lada’s pulling off here between the LED taillights, the chunky black cladding and the rugged silver trim under the bumper. I know this is a render, but I’d never imagine the car underneath that metallic body is 23 years old, let alone 44 years old. There’s apparently a new Niva coming in 2024 with an exterior that suggests a comprehensive redesign. Some would say that’s long overdue, but it’s going to be a very bittersweet day when Russia’s legendary cockroach of an SUV finally loses its last vestiges of the past, once and for all.