I HAVE to say that I was quite surprised by the Chrysler Ypsilon — in many different ways.
Firstly, there was the reaction of the public to the car; generally, unless you’ve got some class of a supercar, people tend to be rather shy about coming forward to quiz you about anything you might be driving. That was not the case with this pretty but curious looking machine as people seemed drawn to it magnetically. And the single most oft asked question was: ‘what is it?’ Secondly, I am long enough of tooth to be able to remember when the name Lancia meant something in this part of the world and I must confess to still being non-plussed by the fact that Fiat, which owns Lancia, chose to rebrand the product as a Chrysler (which it also owns) rather than trying to re-launch the more traditional name.
And, thirdly, I was surprised by the car itself, which is not only distinctive and very individualistic, but also because it drives really well, is sharp as a tack on the handing front, performs boldly and is also frighteningly economic.
The Ypsilon is not a traditional looking supermini in any way. This, in part, is the reason why the car caught the eye of so many punters during my time with it. So unusual looking is it that it naturally attracts people’s attention and design details such as the ‘hidden’ rear door handles give the Ypsilon a coupé-like look which is not exactly a common design theme in the segment.
That they have succeeded Xmeans that the car has a naturally sporty mien and that in itself is one of the reasons the car sparks people’s imaginations. It is no surprise that in its native market, the diminutive Lancia appeals particularly to stylish females.
And, with stuff like the part-glass roof, the beautifully upholstered seats, the dynamic interior layout (including a distinctive but very driver-friendly centrally-mounted instrument cluster), the Ypsilon does not lack talking points.
Another plus point for many female drivers will be that the driving position is unusually high for a supermini and this provides very decent all round vision, despite the relatively small rear window and the thick C-pillars.
We tried the top-of-the-range ‘SE’ spec version and, to be fair, there is little extra this car could want for in terms of kit, including cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, 16” alloys, all round electric windows and door mirrors, air conditioning and steering wheel-mounted remote controls for the radio/CD player and other functions.
When I took delivery of the car the Chrysler man challenged me to ‘drive the tacks off it’ just to see how economical it was. I have to say there were no tacks left on this thing by the time I gave it back.
The 1.3 litre supercharged turbodiesel is a very familiar unit, already utilised throughout the Fiat group in the 500 and the Panda, among others and it is mated to a five speed ‘box. Output is a very healthy 70 kW (95 bhp) and the maximum torque is 200 Nm, which provides for excellent motivation from very low down in the rev range.
Top speed is 183 kph and the 0-100 kph dash is achieved in just 11 seconds. Impressive as those figures might be, the thing that really catches the eye is the economy figure which is quoted at 3.8 l/100 km, which is a massive 74 mpg in old money.
Even driving the wheels off the Ypsilon, which is surprisingly easy to do, the car is remarkably frugal and I would suggest that even with the briskest driver you’ll see a return well in excess of the 55 mpg mark.
With its fairly standard MacPherson strut front and torsion beam rear suspension layout, the Ypsilon is a pretty conventional machine, and while it might not be the be-all-and-end-all when it comes to handling prowess, it is still pretty hard to pick any holes in. It drives well, copes easily with rough surfaces and has plenty of available grip.
All told this is a very decent buying prospect, but the question remains as to how attractive it might be to the buying public. I believe that the Fiat Group should have left well enough alone and marketed this car as a Lancia because of the natural cachet the name exudes.
However, selling the Ypsilon as a Chrysler does not, in my humble view, add anything to the potential of the car and may actually be a turn-off for many potential buyers.
But then, what do I know? The powers-that-be have spoken and, for better or worse, will have to live with their decision.
It will be interesting to see if the car makes inroads to any already crowded market segment and I really hope it does because it deserves to based on its good looks, decent performance and startling economy.
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