SOME 27 years ago when I was still a relative newcomer to motoring journalism I was delighted to be driving a Lancia Y10, because it tried to blend the heritage of the Italian rallying star into an upmarket mini car much the same size as the little Fiat Panda with which it shared an engine.
Colleagues dismissed it as a "ladies' car" but I rather enjoyed the little touches of luxury at a time when there was precious little of it about.
It was a sad day when the Y10 and other Lancias exited the market here in the middle Nineties. By then the Fiat group was beginning to really lose its way and build quality was suffering. In its home market at this time the Lancia Y10 turned into the Ypsilon and many of its descendants can be seen still scurrying around the Italian streets.
That's probably enough history but it might explain why I was a little bemused to be standing outside the Fiat group Irish HQ the other day being given the key to a small car called the Ypsilon.
This was after the PR manager had bundled me into the car and whizzed around to the back of the HQ to demonstrate how the Ypsilon would reverse itself after finding a suitable gap among a line of parked cars. It was a trick I loved to demonstrate with colleagues and family over the next week until they were totally bored to distraction.
Anyway, apart from this the Ypsilon was coming down with spec ranging from twin panoramic sunroof to leather seats and lots of interconnectivity stuff that is just too complicated for a big bear with a very little brain.
Yet this wasn't the return of Lancia and its magnificent heritage to the Irish market -- we aren't that forgiving and can remember some real turkeys. The Ypsilon is now badged as a Chrysler which is a way of giving the American big car maker a presence in the small vehicle market alongside big wallowing beasts like the 300. Apparently in Italy it is still a Lancia.
The Ypsilon comes out of the overall Fiat group stable by adding a fair few inches all round to the popular and iconic 500. This now gives two rear doors -- with hidden handles -- and a more useful rear hatch. Unfortunately headroom is totally comprised by the panoramic roof and blinds. It's very much a city runabout than a family car. But at the same time it is rather fun and you can throw it around although you have to work the gearshift hard and the whining of the engine can drown out any subtlety of the entertainment system.
All the dials are in the middle of the dash which doesn't aid easy viewing and I think a Mini compromise will have to come with some sort of speedo mounted near the driving wheel.
The Ypsilon has a very strong stance with a massive snout which reinforces its Chrysler badging. Three engines power it: the award-winning 85hp, 875cc, two-cylinder TwinAir unit, an entry-level 69hp 1.2-litre petrol engine and the advanced 95hp 1.3 MultiJet II turbo-diesel engine. Each powerplant is remarkably frugal and eco-friendly, aided by Start&Stop, a Gear Shift Indicator and low rolling-resistance tyres. As a result, every Ypsilon sold in Ireland falls comfortably into Tax/VRT Band A. My Twin-Air test model had a CO2 of 99g/km.
The company sees it appealing to empty nesters and folk looking for a bit of posh without breaking the bank.
The specification of the test car was the range-topping "Limited" which included ESP, leather upholstery, climate control, cruise control, electric rear windows and 16-inch alloy wheels. This is on top of the six airbags, rear spoiler, front fog lamps with cornering illumination and Blue&Me Bluetooth connectivity fitted to the mid-range SE model. All this gets a bit pricey, for while the Ypsilon range starts at €14,245 the test car has a base price of €18,745. By the time a few options were included like the panoramic electric sunroof (€1,125), metallic paint (€450) and the fun Park Magic (€870), the price of the test car came to €21,190. This is putting it into different league entirely.
It was fun and I do love to be surrounded by luxury. However, the car would be too small for me. I rather fear for it in the present climate. It might be just too rarefied for a public who are counting every penny and going for the well tried and tested.