This is the new 2011 Lancia Ypsilon. Alas, this model isn’t about to spearhead a Lancia relaunch in the UK now or anytime in the near future. So why are we driving it? Because in the UK and Ireland Lancia’s little models are being rebadged as Chryslers, so this is in fact our first taste of a new supermini that the Fiat Group hopes will massively boost sales of the American brand in Blighty.
It’s more expensive to set up a new dealer network than it is develop an all-new car, so this is the simpler, cheaper solution to give Chrysler the small cars (a renosed Delta is on the way too) it so desperately needs. Read on for our first drive review of the new Lancia Ypsilon.
How does the Chrysler Ypsilon coming to the UK differ from the Lancia version that’s on sale in the rest of Europe?
It doesn’t. Bar the Aston-alike bewinged badges that adorn the bonnet, boot, alloys and steering wheel (and the fact the steering wheel is on the right-hand side) there is no difference between the Lancia and Chrysler versions of the Ypsilon.
Which means you have a smart-looking little supermini. In the pearlescent white paint that makes the Fiat 500 shine the Ypsilon looks great, with scalloped sides and arcing rear LED lights – and it manages that small French/Italian car trick of still looking stylish despite the fact it’s on tiny wheels. Darker colours don’t work so well, but there are two-tone schemes that paint the bonnet a different colour, while the top half of the bootlid is piano black.
Although we drove the Lancia version, we were shown around the Chrysler version, and unfortunately it’s the Chrysler touches that spoil both cars; when Lancia’s design team discovered the car would be shared with Chrysler they redesigned the nose, dropping the vertical slats on the grille for horizontal strakes (a look the Delta will inherit too) and it all looks, well, a bit too American. I guess that suits the badge in the UK, but it’s to the detriment of ultimate style for the rest of Europe.
What’s under the stylish skin of the Ypsilon?
Essentially it’s the same platform you’ll find in the Fiat 500 or Panda, only in the Ypsilon it’s been stretched and updated and is the same architecture that will underpin the all-new Panda that’s due to appear at the very end of 2011.
There’s decent space front and back, but the narrow body and high-set gearstick means space for your knees is at a premium. There’s only really space for two people in the back (four and five seat versions are offered), but it is proper space, enough for my knees to not being massaging the driver’s back if someone equally lanky is sitting up front. Headroom is tight for me in the back, but regular-sized humans will be absolutely fine; if you’re going for the top-spec model which comes with twin panoramic sunroofs, make sure you try it first as it robs those crucial extra centimetres of room that someone like me needs [Pulman is a lanky 6ft 6in - Ed].
In terms of interior fit and finish it is (of course) behind the Polo and Corsa, and rather than a squidgy dash-top moulding to distract, Lancia has opted for a vinyl-like material to cover the dash and doors. It’s not quite thick enough, but it does a decent job of lifting the cabin. It’s a dark place though, without the 500’s bright and airy feel and clever design that means you overlook any quality faux pas.
The speedo and rev counter are centrally mounted and are too far out of your line of sight, and if you opt for air-con rather than climate control the dials and switches look disappointingly cheap.
Presumably there are Fiat powertrains too?
Engines come from the 500, which means a 1.3-litre diesel, a 1.2-litre petrol, and the trick two-cylinder TwinAir – the 1.4 isn’t offered as it only makes up a tiny percentage of 500 sales so Lancia didn’t think there’d be a market for it. We tried both the petrols, and it’s the 1.2 that’s expected to account for 50% of sales. It’s smooth and quiet at low revs, but just where it’s starting to wane as the revs rise, the TwinAir keeps going strong into the second half of the rev range.
The smaller (0.9-litre) TwinAir engine will be more expensive, but it also offers more power – it’s expected take a 35% share. It’s louder at low revs with a distinctive two-pot chatter, but as you floor it you embrace the noise, whereas the bigger engine isn’t anywhere near as aurally appealing near the redline.
The naturally aspirated engine boasts a sharper throttle response, and both engines are mated to a slightly notchy gearbox. However, both cars shared improved steering: for the most part the gloopiness and stickiness that has often afflicted small Fiats has been banished, while a ‘City’ button ups the assistance to make around-town manoeuvering a doddle.
Presumably these engines produce some impressive figures?
All Ypsilons feature Fiat’s Start&Stop technology as standard, and in both the 0.9 TwinAir and 1.2 it relentlessly shut the engine when we came to a standstill –only restarts to crawl half a metre and stop again resulted in the engine continuing to run. Downsides are that the air-con all but shuts down, so we were soon sweating in our car in Turin traffic jams. In the interests of saving fuel the clutch has to be depressed quite far before the engines kick into life, and with hordes of impatient Italians those crucial extra tenths mean you’re soon treated to a cacophony of horns as you’re slow off the line.
The 1.2 boasts 68bhp at 5500rpm and 75lb ft at 3000rpm, plus 115g/km and 57.7mpg; the TwinAir claims 84bhp at 5500rpm and 107lb ft at 1900rpm, and a very impressive 99g/km and 67.3mpg – the automated manual improves these figures further to 97g/km and 68.9mpg.
However, to achieve the TwinAir’s saintly claims you need to engage the ‘Eco’ mode, which limits torque. We flicked between the two modes, but on our test route that predominantly involved sprinting around Turin we were hovering around 30mpg, a disappointment that we’ve also experienced in the 500 TwinAir.
This is not supposed to be a sporting car – it rolls, and if you ever go fast enough, will understeer – but apart from a typically Fiat secondary ride patter, it soaks up the very worst of Turin’s potholed and cobbled streets. You’ll brace for manhole covers and tramlines, but big thumps never really come through into the cabin.
Fiesta and Polos will still win any class battles, 500s, iQs and Smarts will offer appealing alternatives, but against C3s, 207s and the like the Ypsilon is definitely worth consideration. Lancia only hopes to flog 6000 in 2012 (compared to 100k-plus Fiestas Ford shifts in the UK) and that should be achievable.
It’s not the little luxury supermini that Lancia/Chrysler would have you believe, but it’s an honest little runabout. If only it had that intriguing Italian badge on its nose.