Distinctive and intriguing new supermini, but Twinair engine is at odds with Ypsilon's luxury positioning

What is it?

This is the all-new Lancia Ypsilon supermini, or - as it will be known in the UK and Ireland - the Chrysler Ypsilon. As a consequence of Fiat Auto’s takeover of the US car maker, Lancia and Chrysler are being merged in Europe in a similar manner to the way Vauxhall and Opel operates.

The upshot is that the Chrysler badge will not be seen on the Continent from now on. Cross the channel and the expanded dealer network will be selling Lancias and Jeeps alongside each other. Only in the UK and Ireland, where the cost of re-launching the tarnished Lancia badge was seen too great, will the Chrysler badge still be used.

This is the fourth generation of Lancia’s supermini. British enthusiasts with longer memories will remember that the first of the series was sold in the UK with the Y10 badge. The last two Ypsilon models - noted for their individual looks and be-grilled noses - were only sold on the Continent in left-hand-drive form. Lancia withdrew from the UK market in autumn 1993.

Fiat Auto has built this car on a stretched version of the platform used under the Fiat 500. Much of the extra metal has gone in front of the rear wheels in order to improve accommodation for rear passengers and allow a five-door layout.

Three engines will be available. A 68bhp 1.2-litre Fire EVO II petrol engine, the 84bhp 0.9-litre twin-cylinder Twinair petrol engine and a 94bhp 1.3-litre Multijet diesel engine. All three get stop-start as standard and all three drive a five-speed manual ’box as standard, although the DFN semi-auto ’box is an option with the Twinair engine.

The car’s styling is in keeping with the ‘floating roof’ theme that was launched with the current Delta, although the clamshell bonnet and shield-shaped grille is remarkably similar to that of the Chrysler PT Cruiser. Inside, it retains the same central instrument pod theme as the previous models, with the shift again mounted high on the centre.

What’s it like?

The Ypsilon is being sold - in Europe at least – both as offering ‘accessible luxury’ and as a premium city car. Odd, then, that the two most popular engine choices are so unlikely to deliver on this promise.

The Twinair, while impressively torquey and incredibly willing to work seamlessly around to the rev limiter, also has a very vocal, thrumming soundtrack. There’s no doubt that this remarkable little motor rather encourages the driver to press-on, swapping up and down the ’box to exploit the performance. To that end, the shift action is pretty (although not completely) clean and the lever very well-placed.

A drive in the diesel Ypsilon also revealed a distinctly less compliant ride and an engine that certainly made itself heard in cut-and-thrust city driving. Again, at odds with the luxury message.

It was hard to really nail down just how well the Ypsilon will ride in the UK, mostly because the Turin cobbles and craters were such a challenge. But out of town, the car seemed stable, unruffled and pretty able to cope with the odd sunken drain cover.

Overall, a car this short (with a wheelbase of just 2.39m) and light can’t help but be handy and nippy, but the Ypsilon has no great sparkle, either in the way that it steers, changes direction or rides. It exudes competency, but nothing more.

Back to top

Upfront, the cockpit is wide enough for two adults to feel at ease and is a pretty comfortable place to sit, despite the rather high-set seats and lack of telescope adjustment for the steering wheel. In the back the story is rather different. While stretching the 500 platform has created a decent boot, the rear cabin is cramped.

The rear seat squabs are very short, the seatback very upright and headroom is limited, unless the double-glass sunroof is added. Even Lancia admits that the Ypsilon’s rear can only accommodate a 55th percentile person, which means half the population can’t get comfortable.

Should I buy one?

If you are a Citroën C3 or Toyota Yaris owner, Chrysler would like to speak to you. If you put a premium on individuality, you might want to speak to them. If you are an enthusiastic driver, you probably won’t be impressed by the Ypsilon.

It’s the promises of luxury, however, that are hard to understand. Distinctiveness is certainly on the menu, both inside and out and that will be enough for Chrysler to sell the 6000 cars per year it is aiming at. But the excitable Twinair engine and the vocal diesel are the wrong powerplants for a car that wants to reflect small car luxury, and the interior plastics are not quite special enough.

And, at an expected £14,500 for the well-specced - but as yet unnamed - mid-range Twinair model (which lacks only the leather trim, fogs and bigger alloys of the range-topper) this car is in a very competitive market.

A small, smooth, four-cylinder turbo petrol engine could transform the Ypsilon into something that gets at least closer to a baby luxury car. This Twinair, however, has a rather contradictory personality.

Lancia Ypsilon 0.9 Twin-Air

Price: £14,500 (est); top speed: 109mph; 0-62mph: 11.9sec; economy: 67mpg (combined); CO2: 99g/km; kerb weight: 975kg; engine: two-cylinder Twinair, 875cc; Power: 84bhp@ 5500rpm; Torque: 107lb ft@1900rpm; Gearbox: 5-speed manual

Join the debate

Add a comment…
timmmmy 28 May 2011

Re: Lancia Ypsilon 0.9 TwinAir

I think the same, I think the Lancia badge would be popular in the UK, not sure about here in Ireland though, but whatever happens Chrysler certainly will not. Wonder how it will compare pricewise with the Mito...

glorfindel 28 May 2011

Re: Lancia Ypsilon 0.9 TwinAir

I don't like the style of the car, but honestly I really don't understand why Autocar is so critic with the engines: this Ypsilon in packed with two of the best small engines in the market (the twinair and the diesel multijet). Luxury is connect with quality and comfort, not with the power of the engine under the bonnet.

n50pap 28 May 2011

Re: Lancia Ypsilon 0.9 TwinAir

TegTypeR wrote:
In the UK however, is the general public going to "get" the Chrysler bit?
If they remember the 1970's and the models that were badged as Chrysler from the scintillating Hillman, Sunbeam and Simca ranges, then probably not.

If however they have only known the Chrysler and Jeep models of recent years, they'll probably buy them anyway.

I was in Budapest last week and saw a few Lancia Delta's which look, to me at least, like larger Ypsilons. I've loved the Ypsilon for years and seeing them again on the streets of Budapest just makes me happy.

I'll certainly give them a look over when they arrive at my local Chrysler dealer....whoever that is.....there don't seem to be that many!