This is a car of slightly mysterious allure, partly because it has never been sold in the UK, partly because it’s a relatively rare sight even in its native Italy, and partly because it looks a little weird.
Or at least, it does from the front, where its chrome Lancia grille resembles a medieval shield, and from the rear, where the translucent glow of some rather gothic tail-lights give it a look like no other car on the road.
Piggy in the middle
From the side, however, the Thesis is a car of three parts, its distinctive nose and tail sandwiching one of the dullest centre sections of any executive car on the road. Which is a pity.
Such dullness is all the more disappointing given the design origins of the Thesis – pronounced ‘tay-sis’, rather than as per the lengthy academic tract - which stemmed from a striking 1998 concept called Dialogos. This car’s clean flanks, wooden floor, subtly sculpted dashboard and suicide-rear-doors promised something refreshing, but Lancia’s nerve faltered, the production version trading the subtle curviness of the original vision for banality instead.
Beauty on the inside
Given that Lancia’s biggest barely registers on any sales graph featuring the 5 Series, E Class and A6, it might just as well have gone the whole way and produced something really different. Especially as the Thesis feels pretty special inside, despite the loss of the concept’s (admittedly impractical) wooden floor and smooth-contoured seating. Sparely deployed wood, cream-faced instruments and richly upholstered seats make this Lancia a car you want to get in as do the heated and cooled massage seats that can be optionally installed front and rear.
The Thesis’s non-availability in the UK meant that I had a long wait, after its 2001 launch, before sampling its charms, and then only as a passenger. But that was enough to discover whether it was burdened with a problem afflicting almost every Fiat Auto product of the day, which was an inability to absorb sharp, transverse ridges like motorway expansion strips without firing a creaky judder through the dashboard.
That might sound a ludicrously arcane basis on which to judge a car, but the aura of mild flimsiness provoked by this flaw was one I hoped this more substantially assembled Lancia would be free of. Within minutes of climbing aboard a Thesis at Turin airport I had my answer – it soon hit an autostrada expansion strip, and I heard the faint plastic crack of a dashboard quivering with a tremor that the suspension had failed to suppress. Oh, the disappointment.
A couple of years later I got to actually drive a Thesis, and discovered a car not much more able in the bend-bashing department. But those beguiling tail-lights and that classy Italian cabin make this a saloon that I have a mild yearning for - especially as they're so rare.
Consequently we couldn't find any Thesis' for sale in the UK today. But in Italy cars start at just €1,800 for a runner and rise to €9,000 for a clean example. Tempted?