Lada cars haven’t been sold in the United Kingdom since 1997, when tightening European Union safety and emissions regulations spelt the end for the firm’s ageing models in the market.
So for many people in Britain, any views of Lada are frozen in time from 20-odd years ago. But in recent years, thanks to investment from Group Renault, the Russian firm has made some major advancements, refreshing its range with a host of new machines. The resurgence has been so successful that Lada is now exporting cars from Russia again – although not to the UK or EU, since the current Lada range still falls short of Euro 6 engine regulations.
So what are modern Lada cars like to drive? On a visit to the firm’s vast main factory in Togliatti, Samara recently, we had short drives in a handful of the firm’s new machines around the firm’s Togliatti test track. Sadly, that circuit’s banked turns are no longer in use, but there was a mix of long straights and fast and slow corners to get a feel for a car’s handling.
While our drives were not long enough to offer a definitive verdict, they did show that you can cast away those old stereotypes: modern Ladas are actually rather decent.
Lada X-Ray: driving the firm's image-changing SUV
The X-Ray SUV has largely set the template for the new generation of Lada, particularly with its bold X-motif styling. The machine is built on the same Renault platform as the Dacia Sandero Stepway, although the shared links are hidden well by the Lada’s bold exterior design.
The interior is less distinctive, if perfectly functional, and the infotainment is certainly not cutting-edge. It’s largely functional grey plastic, although as a reminder that Lada has definitely moved on since the 1990s there is a touchscreen-based infotainment system.
The X-Ray is a small SUV: 4165mm long, 1764mm wide and 1570mm wide. It rides well, with handling much as you’d expect from an SUV of this size. In corners there’s some body roll, but the X-Ray remains stable enough for most needs.
We sampled the top-spec 1.8-litre 16-valve petrol engine (a 1.6 is also available), which delivers 120bhp and 125lb ft at 3700rpm, giving it a claimed 0-62mph time of 12.3secs and top speed of 116mph. It’s not going to rival the burgeoning ranks of hot SUVs, then, but it performed decently, albeit lacking the refinement of most modern motors you’ll find in the UK.
The big disappointment was the five-speed automatic gearbox, which undid much of the promise shown by the engine through a stubborn reluctance to change up gears: perhaps fittingly, it occasionally felt a few decades behind the times.