Paul Horrell 26 May 2011

Chrysler Ypsilon first drive

Paul Horrell on the new Lancia mini that isn’t a Lancia anymore

Chrysler Ypsilon first drive

If you ever go to Italy you’ll have noticed all those little Lancia Ypsilons scuttling about the cities. The Ypsilon always sold a bundle there, but stiffed everywhere else. Now there’s a new one, and Lancia wants it to spread its wings, even to Britain. Come September it’ll be here in right-hand drive.

But with Chrysler badges.

Huh? Chrysler makes big American cars. Well yes, but that’s exactly the point: Chrysler needs little ones. Fiat, which owns Lancia, also owns Chrysler. It’s deemed the pair a suitable couple for an arranged marriage.

So in mainland Europe, Chryslers – including the new 300 and Voyager – will be sold as Lancias alongside the Ypsilon and Delta. In Britain, all four of them will be badged Chrysler.

Ah but what about Lancia’s magnificent heritage, fully endorsed by our telly trio? Stratoses, Integrales, Fulvias. Even Jeremy’s Botswanan Beta. Yes yes, but face facts: Lancia bombed out of Britain 20 years ago because no-one bought the cars.

No-one except us remembers them. It’s Chrysler that has the name recognition and the dealers now. Get over it.

Whatever their heritages, Chryslers and Lancias share a direction now. Both are meant to be well-specced comfy cars with distinctive design and unusual packaging, but not remotely sporty. Think of the 300. Or even of the PT Cruiser (that was quite the novelty once, it’s just that they left it to go mouldy). If you want a sporty Ypsilon, tough luck. That’s what Abarth and Alfa are for.

The Ypsilon is actually based on the 500, but with a wheelbase stretch. This has four useful effects. It means there’s more back-seat room. It really improves the ride. It allows the Ypsilon to be a five-door, which is how many city cars (eg the Koreans) sell now. And it changes the 500’s proportions from those of a cupcake to those of a car.

But the Ypsilon is still a small car, significantly more fun-sized than the average supermini. This makes it light, and so it goes well, whether motivated by TG’s Engine of the Year the TwinAir petrol, or the 1.3 diesel. Because the engines aren’t stressing, they’re quiet too. They’re sort of cars where 0-62 in 11 sec seems quite nippy.

The tyres are thin and you can just hurl it around. The TwinAir especially feels like it’s got no weight over the nose. It hasn’t, much. So even if it isn’t labelled a sporty car, in the right place – cramped little roads and roundabouts – it’s a hoot.

Make what you will of the styling, but you won’t mistake it for anything else. The rear doors have hidden handles, and the roof floats above that sail of a rear pillar. I rather like the two-tone version.

Inside, the clocks are centrally mounted to make it feel roomier. The assembly quality is fine but some materials aren’t great, but remember it’s a mildly plushed-up city car, not an Audi A1 competitor. About £13k will net you a nicely kitted example.

The only worry then is all those Chrysler Voyagers on The Apprentice. Is driving a Chrysler Ypsilon going to turn you into a mini version of those pushy proto-tycoons in the back seat, endlessly bellowing dim-witted potty-mouthed orders into a mobile phone?

 

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