Chrysler Ypsilon

A friend of mine asked me the other day what the name Lancia meant to me. I replied instantly “Henri Toivonen”.

Toivonen was, still is, one of the few sporting heroes I’ve ever had (I’ve never understood the attraction football, rugby, tennis, or anything else for that matter that requires canine-like abilities of ball chasing). At 24 he became the youngest man ever to win a world rally and remains probably the only driver who ever really tamed Lancia’s monstrously powerful Group B Delta S4. Well, for a while at least. Sadly like all true heroes Henri met an untimely end when he and his American co-driver Sergio Cresta left the road whilst leading the 1986 Tour de Course. The red, white and blue Martini sponsored Lancia Henri had been balancing on the very limits of speed and adhesion burst in to flames after tumbling down a ravine; there simply wasn’t time for either of them to escape.

Dramatic? Undoubtedly, but Lancia’s legacy for me and a whole host of other petroheads doesn’t just end there. I could have quite easily answered my friend’s inquiry with the words Stratos, Beta, Thema, Aurelia, Gamma, 037, D50, 8.32, Monte Carlo, Integrale, Munari, Biasion, Kankunen, Alen, Taruffi, Valenzano, Hawthorn, Collins, Ascari, even Fangio… the list of Lancia related greats is endless.

But what has any of the rose-tinted waffling got to do with the Chrysler Ypsilon you see before you? I here you ask. Well that’s simple.

FIAT, you see own both Chrylser and Lancia. 

Now, despite the fact that Lancia have won more world rally championships than other manufacturer - including the recently all-conquering Citroen – and a few Le Mans too, some pretty woeful build-quality issues in the late 80’s ruined their reputation in here in Britain, forcing them to pull out of the UK.  Skip forward a decade or two, and in nearly ever other country you can think the Ypsilon wears a Lancia badge; this side of the Channel though, it comes as a Chrysler.

 The truth is, badges aside, the Ypsilon shares the majority of its mechanical parts with FIAT’s immensely popular 500, which really means, like the 500, under the skin it’s mostly a FIAT Panda. That should be a good thing, the Panda is a pleasing little car, and the 500 a fun one. Strangely however, the Ypsilon is neither.

Years ago motoring journalists used to wax lyrical about the traditional all-Italian long-arm-short-leg driving position; it was de-rigueur in nearly every Modenese ‘70’s super-car you can think of. Well, the Ypsilon takes it to the extreme. I’m barely 5 foot 8, but when sat on the Ypsilion’s narrow driver’s seat I found myself stretching to reach the steering wheel while at the same time trying to avoid inadvertently switching on the indicators, or wipers – which incidentally judder like someone forgot where they put their spanner  – with my knees. Get the Ypsilon’s moving and the steering is so devoid of feel you could be forgiven for thinking it’s not actually connected to anything – and that’s before you select the City setting that makes it even lighter!

Then there’s the rest of the interior. Yes it will accommodate four, five according the number of headrests, how though I’m not sure. This is a car in which you have to know your passengers very well indeed.

But who do you know who would chose to sit almost bolt upright in a narrow velour-clad seat inside a cabin which appears to have been lined with the same hard and scratchy feeling plastics they used to make the chairs out of in your local village hall?

Hmmm. What about it’s performance?

If you do eventually managed to stir the Ypsilon’s stubby dash mounted gear lever enough to make the centrally mounted speedo’s needle indicate today’s legal(ish) cruising speeds, the noise created by the engine, the tiny tyres, and the wind around the door mirrors, plus the tingling sensation you’ll feel through the floor, or indeed nearly every other surface except the steering wheel, will certainly grasp your attention. A motorway schlep in an Ypsilon, one imagines, is a close to being locked in a washing machine on the spin cycle as it’s possible to get. Perhaps the test car’s white paint helped a little with that particular illusion.

You could forgive some of this of course if the Ypsilon was cheap, but it’s not. Lancia you see are FIAT’s luxury brand, so Chrysler badges or not, they’ll still charge you a premium. A 1.2 SE costs £11,995 and that’s before you start adding any luxuries such as Bluetooth, navigation, or special paint; “my” car’s RRP was £13,345. Then of course, there are the residual values to think about, 62 plate Ypsilons are already appearing on well known websites for less than half of that.

Perhaps I expected a little too much of the Ypsilon  I desperately wanted it to be a stylish, quirky, avante-garde, left-field choice for those who sought a little luxury, and a break from the norm.  Chrysler badges aside, Italian mechanicals and Greek alphabet moniker meant to those of us in the know it could only be a Lancia - it even says it is on the sun-visors. I wanted to tell you it was one of the greats. Unfortunately, it’s anything but. 

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Liam Bird Liam Bird

I'm Liam Bird, a freelance Motoring Writer based in the South Shropshire Marches. I currently write car reviews and road tests for a number of regional lifestyle magazines and newspapers which are distributed throughout Cheshire, Herefordshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Worcestershire, most of Wales and beyond.

As a member of the Welsh Group of Motoring Writers I'm as happy behind the wheel of a super-mini as I am in the latest super-car. I have press accreditation with most of the major motor manufacturers, meaning that as well as always being on the look out for further commissions, I always have a number of cars arriving each month ready to review.

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