A great rugged offroader, for an excellent price
Water flooded headlight.
Drivers seat back support broke.
Starter motor needed replacing.
Carburettor constantly went out of tune, replaced it with Holley 5200 (licensed copy of Weber 32/36)
Clutch slave cylinder needed replacing twice.
Brake master cylinder needed replacing.
Clutch master cylinder needed replacing.
Clutch fluid hose burst.
Brake pressure regulator seized up.
Windscreen washer pump broke.
Water pump started leaking.
The Niva is a car that is very cheap to buy. Mine was only $1000 with rego.
The offroading ability of the car is exceptional for this price, and it's thanks to its good ground clearance (although mine has been lifted), short wheel base, good approach and departure angles, and high/low range with manual diff lock.
Whilst I can't talk for the later non-soviet models, the early Nivas do require fairly regular maintenance. Most weekends I find myself fixing something minor, although major problems are very rare, especially considering the conditions I put the car through. The Niva, as they say, is "always half broken, never breaks down". The Niva is definitely not a car for someone with little or no mechanical knowledge, although is excellent for someone with a bit of knowledge who wants to learn more. Despite what some may think, parts are relatively cheap and easy to come by. The engine bay of the Niva is very compact, and often makes it hard to work on, despite the design being simple.
Fuel economy with the original Russian carburettor is around 10 L / 100 Km, although replacing it with the Holley or Weber improves economy, and gives much more spirited performance, and makes the car a much better daily driver.
Anyone with the 15 inch wheels often fitted to Nivas should probably replace them with the originals, as I have found that the other wheels make steering significantly heavier, and decrease offroad capabilities.
The gearbox is a weak point of the Niva, and although mine has not had any catastrophic failure, they do perform poorly. They are noisy due to straight cut gears, and synchros are normally ineffective. Some have problems with jumping out of 5th gear, although I have never experienced this.
The engine itself is very very reliable, and it has never caused me any problems whatsoever.
The Niva is not a car for lovers of speed or comfort, as seats are of poor quality, the cabin is fairly small (although larger than some competitors eg: Suzuki Sierra). The car has a top speed of around 145 Km/h stock, although with the upgraded carburettor my Niva is dead even off the line with a 1991 3.0 L v6 Mitsubishi Pajero (Faster if the pajero has its A/C on!)
There is a real sense of community associated with Niva ownership, and I often have people coming up and talking to me about how they used to have one etc. Strange as it may sound, there's something that makes you feel proud about driving around in a car from a superpower that doesn't exist anymore.
Would you buy another car from this manufacturer? Yes
Review Date: 11th July, 2009