Published on Sunday 9 March 2014 15:02
Ten Second Review
As with the larger Delta, the Ypsilon supermini's mission is to bring unprecedented levels of luxury, technology, refinement and roominess to its sector and, at first, the claim that a car just 3.8 metres long can seat five adults (in comfort) seems a little hard to swallow. But although the baby Chrysler's underpinnings are closely related to those of the diddy Fiat 500 and Ford Ka, the key to the claim lies with its longer wheelbase taken from the fortchcoming, all-new Fiat Panda. The engine to have with this car is the 0.9-litre TwinAir petrol unit, which ideally, you'd want to mate to a city-friendly auto gearbox. That's what we have here.
When Fiat killed off the Lancia brand in the UK over a decade ago, there was always the expectation it would one day return. That it has now done so is undoubtedly good news, not least for Chrysler who, at a stroke, can extend its reach - previously limited to the 300C saloon and Grand Voyager MPV if you exclude Jeep - in the UK market. The question is whether people who fancy something idiosyncratically Itanianate will be put off by the Chrysler brand connotations remains to be seen but Fiat seems to be confident that by placing the emphasis on design, comfort, luxury and technology, the Ypsilon, like the Delta, will be a credible and desirable alternative to the mainstream offerings. In TwinAir petrol form, mated to an auto gearbox, it makes a lot of sense.
Naturally, the Ypsilon pulls together a powertrain and technology package cherry picked from the Fiat Group's most modern offerings. The three-strong UK engine line up comprises the 875cc TwinAir two-cylinder powerplant now well established in the Fiat 500, the 1.3-litre MultiJet II turbo-diesel with 95bhp and, in the entry-level position, Fiat's stalwart 1.2-litre Fire petrol engine. It's the TwinAir variant we're looking at here, mated to an auto gearbox that's ideally for nipping around town. All the engines come with a start and stop system as standard and all are Euro 5 emissions compliant. They also feature an ECO button on the fascia which limits torque to 100Nm at 2000rpm for even better economy.
The seating position is fairly high but, once you get used to it, and the elaborate control stack and instrument binnacle, you might well believe you were driving a bigger car. It's a clever illusion because interior space doesn't seem notably better than the class average and the actual quality of the plastics and materials seems to play second fiddle to the effort that's gone into the design. That said, it rides pretty well with suspension that doesn't make too much of a fuss over pock-marked urban roads. And it's reasonably refined on the motorway, too, so there's no reason why it should be confined to the city
Design and Build
If you want to stand out from the supermini crowd, the Ypsilon's distinctive design will certainly provide the means. The elements of retro Lancia (despite the Chrysler branding) could look awkward and gimmicky but add a quirky Italianate flavour to the acutely curvy, almost coupe-like shape. Lancia has had plenty of success selling its smallest cars to style conscious Italian women and is hoping to snag a similarly enthusiastic customer base over here. The claim that the Ypsilon is a comfortable five-seater, however, is somewhat wide of the mark. It's roomy enough in the front but if it's realistic about accommodating five people, three of them had better be children, and even a brace of six-footers would find things rather tight.
But there's no denying that the boldly styled cabin has a sophisticated, up-market air. It's just a shame that the quality doesn't measure up to the design.
Market and Model
In the TwinAir Limited auto guise we're looking at here, Ypsilon motoring isn't cheap. Add a few well-chosen extras and it would be easy to find yourself paying £15-16,000 for this car - but then, that kind of pricetag never put up-market MINI buyers off.
If you're prepared to sign that kind of cheque, your car will come gilded with goodies such as Blue&Me navigation system, headlamps with dusk sensors, reclining rear seats and 'luxury' leather upholstery. Then there's options like two-tone paint, 16-inch alloys, ESP, a sunroof, cruise control and rain sensing wipers.
Cost of Ownership
Obviously time will tell, but strong residual values are predicted for the Ypsilon in anticipation that buyers will welcome some of the premium features it offers. Fine economy and low emissions are another strong suit, the diesel model in particular offering an attractive blend of frugality and punchy performance: 68.9mpg on the combined cycle which equates to just 97 g/km of CO2 in auto form.
The launch of the Ypsilon sees Chrysler embark on a four-year plan to re-build its dealer network and revamp its range in the UK and it could hardly have chosen more competitive sectors in which to begin its journey. But we can see the Ypsilon carving out some action for itself, especially in this TwinAir guise. It ticks a lot of the right boxes, not least excellent economy, tons of kit and stand-out design.
The big difference, of course, is that this is a Fiat Group car wearing a Chrysler badge. The name maybe different but those who've been waiting such a long time for Lancia's return to the UK market should have something to celebrate as well.