It was named after the city of Samara, Russia. Typical of its sales in Western Europe, the car was sold in the UK from 1987 until all Ladas were withdrawn from the British market in 1997. Despite the involvement of Porsche engineers in tuning the engine, the Samara never achieved the same success as the Riva in Western Europe, even though it did prove to be a robust car with a modern style and a competitive price. Even so, it suffered from variable and often doubtful build quality and some of the uglier handling qualities that had always been associated with Lada. The car's plastic front grille was also a point of contention, as it was often seen to be ugly and cheap-looking; many were replaced with aftermarket grilles, even by Lada dealers themselves before the cars were sold.
In the UK, the Samara achieved only small market penetration. The market sector in which Lada had always served many buyers preferred to stay with the Riva. The whole idea behind the introduction of the Samara is that it would make sales to a wider clientele (those who wanted up-to-date technology), and this it failed to do.
One notorious feature of early Samaras was the 'disco-lights' problem caused by poor electricals. The Samara driver had to be aware that when the brakes were applied, it was quite likely that the hazard and reversing lights would come on and not the brake lights. Some early pre-cat models also needed their poor Solex carburettors upgraded with a Weber carb, which noticeably improved it. Later models could also suffer from poor electronic ignition modules. That said, for the motorist who could handle it, the Samara provided very cost effective mobility. The car was cheap, easy to maintain on a DIY basis, robust and some of its design features were distinctly up-market. For example, models made for sale in the UK market were fitted with an excellent German audio system and a useful sun roof. In its last year in the UK, by which time build quality had indeed become much better, a fuel injected Samara version was sold which gave better performance.