The Samara was the cheapest car available in the UK for a number of years…doesn't feel like it though.
The interior is quite comfortable, and well finished, even if the plastics aren't of the highest quality in the world, or the most exciting colour in the world. In the case of my car, everything seemed to be finished a uniform bluey-grey colour.
Legroom is adequate in the front and rear, and the car is quite comfortable on long journeys with up to four passengers (driver included), though five might be a bit of a squash. In addition to that, the luggage compartment is quite sizable for the size of car this is, though my car seemed to be very prone to soaking everything in there due to condensation on cold days. Overall comfort and accommodation are on par with a Ford Escort from the mid 80s, though with slightly more space I think.
My only real gripe with the interior is the lack of illumination on any of the controls aside from the heater – the rear window heater, rear foglight and hazard flasher buttons are impossible to tell apart in the dark aside from by memory. I added illumination to the switches in my car, but it’s something that really should be there from new. Yes, I know it's nit-picking. Especially from someone who had a Mk I Mini-Metro HLE as his previous car that had NO lighting on anything aside from the instruments!
The instruments in the Samara do deserve a mention simply due to being so comprehensive. Not only do you get your usual speedo, fuel and temperature gauges, but you also get a voltmeter and "econometer" which while not being particularly useful to the driver (except for when stuck in traffic jams and bored!), does serve to keep the back seat driver entertained for the duration of most trips. The main warning lights are also supplemented with a truly massive "STOP" warning lamp that comes on along with them – just in case you’re not paying attention. The voltmeter in my car had an annoying tendency to stick on cold mornings, requiring someone to thump the dashboard to bring it back to life – just a Lada gremlin though! The reset control for the tripometer is hidden away under the dashboard directly behind the indicator control though – which I actually had to resort to looking in the handbook to locate.
>>Comfortable enough, not a Mercedes, but what do you expect from a small family saloon?<<
On the road things are surprisingly pleasant. The steering is light and responsive (a far cry from the setup in the old Riva), the engine willing and able, and all the controls light.
My car actually turned out to be a very nimble beast, and a very nice drive, good fun to throw around on a backroad too. The ride is quite firm, with no real body roll apparent in normal driving, but not so firm as to be uncomfortable. A good balance.
For a 1.3 the engine pulls well, though it does get thrashy at the top end, along with a similarly boring absence of any real exhaust note, giving no real incentive for the driver to drive the car hard. Though it can perform if it's asked to, it's no flying machine, but you're not going to find yourself struggling at all to keep up with modern traffic either around town or on the motorway.
The gearchange is the only thing which lets the car down seriously in normal driving, with a very "rubbery" feel to it, making gears somewhat hard to find, especially in a hurry. A bit of a pain around town in particular, which is a shame, as the light steering and clutch would otherwise give the car full marks around town.
On the road, the only thing that's really worth mentioning, is that you shouldn't worry when the bonnet starts flapping around alarmingly at around 65mph...they all do that!
>>Not a racing car, but will happily cruise on the motorway all day<<
These are easy enough cars to work on, with truly excellent service and (cheap!) parts availability from http://www.lada.co.uk (Main national dealer's website), and good support from the owners clubs too.
My only gripe with the Samara was that it was really a bit boring, which was why I sold it on after a year (to make place for a Lada Niva 1.7i Hussar), not through any dislike for the car. Just felt rather ordinary.
Given the price they can be picked up for, so long as you don't buy a rot-box, you can't go wrong. Anything else is easy to sort if you know your way around a car.