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I will not apologize

Lancia Ypsilon 0.9 TwinAir (2013)

01/07/2013 06:34 |  Comments: 


Self-appointed race-driver (whenever he gets a chance), avid car sports- and sports car-lover, manager of the mother site’s blog, Belsőség, he can always be found in the middle of the noisiest gathering. Steve has had a long-running habit of remodelling his facial hair bi-weekly. A Slovakian citizen but of Hungarian nationality, he lives in Budapest now. Has a wife, two small children and a dog.

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I’d originally wanted to test this promisingly wonderful little gem from Lancia. Oh, yes, two thing Italians are best at: making small cars and doing fashion. Then I ended up writing a letter.

Mailto: Sergio Marchionne,

Sergio Marchionne
Fiat S.p.A.
Via Nizza 250, 10126 Torino, Italia

Dear Mr. Marchionne,

To start with, please allow me to introduce myself. I'm Steve Valyi, motoring journalist of from Hungary. Though I know that for Fiat S.p.A. the Hungarian market's importance is somewhere between the ones of Zimbabwe and Ivory Coast, but over the course of history our respective nations have been so many times on the business end of fate's phallus, that I think I can allow myself a somewhat more personal tone.

Guess what, we are so connected with the Italian nation, that Corporal János Kulcsár, the grandfather of Robert Winkler, our colleague at the journal, single-handedly overran an infantry entrenchment on the Italian front in the I. World War, packed with Italian soldiers (and awarded with the minor silver star for the feat). The war ended for these soldiers when the seventeen year old Hungarian boy, with his twirled moustache landed between their gun racks. The corporal didn't hurt his captives, so you can see, we love Italians. He also never failed to compliment the effectiveness of the Italian heavy artillery.

Also, I love Lancias, so much so, that we even have one in the family, the test car's grandfather, a second-gen Y. Built in the year 2000, it's an Elefantino Blu, basic model from the never-breaking-down-kind. It survived a Mazda 323, an Alfa 166, and it will survive my Volvo S70 that I love so dearly.

I like the new Thema too – even if it's not a design masterpiece like the Thesis – though I know you took on quite the tagalong with Chrysler, and with that in mind, it's not all that bad. You see, even according to those stuck-up Brits, who drink their tea with milk, Lancia is the manufacturer of the last century. They are right. Oh, those Aurelias, Flaminias and Fulvias (the Zagato coupe is a marvel), the HF Integrale or the Kappa coupe would even bring tears to your eyes.

But now there is a fracture in my life. Mr. Marchionne: I tried this last Ypsilon. I fought for it hard during the editorial test car sweepstakes, I wanted to get it. I find it an unfairly ignored model, which in actual fact is a terribly practical car for the city, and is quite the looker, a 2 sqm study of form and function, and the proof you can build something cheap while standing out of the boring crowd. It's always been this way. Even my wife was happy when I said to her, „Now, you'll see it's still a great car”.

I'm sure Mr. Marchionne that you've never sat in a car configured like the one in the review. Allow me to point this out as a mistake, standing here atthe sidelines, in Eastern Europe. You're smart enough to understand this: it's like being at one of those infamous hanky-panky parties of Silvio Berlusconi, when, at its peak, Salma Hayek enters in a mildly see-through nightgown. Her curly locks run down her shoulders like a waterfall, you can almost feel the two round chocolate candies poking her nightgown, and as she sits on your lap, with her skin burning up, she leans over and her thick lips let this out.

Signore Marchionne, trust me there is no Viagra-Cialis-Levitra cocktail strong enough to get you through the horror of Salma Busey's rants. Let's be honest here and hold out till the last minutes like the Berlin Front: this is terribly disappointing. If blonds are your game, all this would still stand ground with Scarlett Buseysson too.

Listen, I like the car's looks. That is the only subjective statement in my letter, but I swear, I appreciate character and personality. And in this respect there has never been a problem with the little Lancia. The clod design is great, and the two-tone paintjob even strengthens the impression of the shape of a candy having its cream squeezed out. It's a cute and kind little box, and I'm curious how it will hold up against the test of time, if its shape stays as attractive as in the case of the model from two generations before.

The taillights sensually fit in the wheel arches, though the tail makes them look a bit amorphous, but I can see the Thesis in it, which should be good news for you because that one is pretty. The wheels also look good, too bad that the Magic Parking assist drove the front right into the curb without any hesitation. I'm sorry. Unfortunately this is a personal opinion, which the readers will most probably not share, but you shouldn't really care because they will not buy this car. I will talk them down.

But don't think for a second that I let the impressions of my Bohemian soul to take control of me. The bad news, dear Mr. Marchionne, is that there are facts. It's exactly 11 centimeters longer than its predecessor already in its teens, which should be a plus, but I sadly had to acknowledge the fact that the inside feels bigger only because the rear seats have an almost ninety-degree angle. I get it, passengers in the back should accept their fate with their heads held high, but I don't think the Duce-posture can be healthy on the long run. Truth to be told, the doors bite a lot out of the C-pillar, making the getting in and out part easy.

Let's dive head-first into the darkness – my apologies Mr. Marchionne, but I miss the colours from the interior, I got used to the textile trimming in the old one – but I'm sure it would increase the manufacturing costs as well as the pricetag, and since the latter is sacred, let's not push it up. Of course, you are right in pointing at the piano lacquer-like trimming as the epitome of luxury, but in case your target audience is made up of women and the like who tend to wear more jewelry than needed, you should know that just one ring or bracelet can do permanent damage to that shiny surface.

But I can see the progress made, I swear. The whole dashboard is covered in the world's first cheap-looking soft plastic. This was truly a pleasant surprise, as well as the good build-quality, but that was already great with the Fiat 500. The seating position is a bit high, but one can sit comfortably in the seats. Not necessarily that imperial weltering, but it's acceptable. The GPS socket being placed at the bottom of the A-pillar is cute, and the gearlever is also in the right place, though it's pretty useless, since we hardly need to grab it. We'll need to have a talk about that – sorry, Mr. Marchionne.

The A/C is a single-zone one, which is not a problem in this category, but I find the plexiglass cover of the traditionally center-placed gauges a lot bigger mistake. But I understand, this is just a way of quenching the undying thirst for art, since photons bounce off of it like it was a Venetian mirror. And nothing is more beautiful than those.

I'm sure your intentions were noble when you chose Microsoft Windows to guide the supporting systems. But if possible – and if you care for my advice – vanish the logo, because it's not necessarily sending out a positive message. I know it's only my frustrated fear, but what can I do if I'm reluctant to get on an Airbus either, even though Microsoft is only operating the supporting systems there too. At least you understand a good joke, I always knew that, the Italian folk being a great jokester and this is why it's name is Blue&Me.

It did make me feel blue when I realized that in the music collection on my pendrive it could only jump back and forth one by one. Imagine the situation when between AC/DC and ZZ Top there's a bit of Led Zeppelin hiding. Yes sir, I got screwed, my fingers are full of blisters from pushing buttons. Are you sure you've actually tried this car?

It sure is a plus that all kinds of three-letter aids protect every step we take, there are six airbags, there is lumbar support (only for the driver, as if passengers were not human), the parking sensor beeps, end every once in a while we have the urge to just drive around and around the Colosseum, looking at it through that wonderful, glass double -sunroof, like in a Sophia Loren movie.

It would be a great city car, but I'm sure you can already sense from the conditional phrasing that some further issues would arise. I'm not saying that I spend every day traffic in constant fear, hence the lack of baseball bat and crowbar in the car. My wife doesn't carry a loaded .38 Colt either, and she's reluctant to keep a pepper spray in the car. Therefore we don't need too much storage space, but that doesn't mean that there shouldn't be any.

No, no, please don't delete my e-mail just yet! I know, the pockets in the front doors can easily store up to two packs of tissues and even a CD. I also know that there are two cupholders near the transmission, but already a point-five bottle can give the system an overwhelming challenge: it just doesn't fit.

What really hurts is that the Ancient Mother Of All Storage spaces is missing: I mean the trench going along the dashboard from end to end. And there's nothing replacing it, just bare plastic. Come on Mr. Marchionne, that's everything but practical. Cell phone, wallet, drinks, this and that? Where can I put them?

Those little buttons on the steering wheel are gently raping ergonomics, since they lie almost horizontal on the spokes, making them comfortably accessible only for women with fake nails and E.T.'s tribal buddies. Though I'm sure the local market comes first, but according to a recent study, there aren't many E.T.'s in Italy, and those want to go home anyway.

But I forgive – I sure do – since I love Lancia, just as I love pizza, red wine and prosciutto obviously. And anyway, the drive is comfortable, the brakes are effective, it fits neatly into downtown traffic. The steering is still smallcar-ish, you know, the just-make-sure-it's-light-kind, but that's alright. No issue with that. But!

In case you hear some painful screams in the distance, do know those are members of the editorial, crying like cats in a blender. The TwinAir engine brought back the best memories from my childhood years. I fell asleep countless times to the steady rattling of my grandmother's Veritas sewing machine, and I remember how in the Tatramat washing machine, due to its rather tired rubber casing, the barrel beat the metal housing, sounding like a suicidal droid...

In times like that, my mother used to put me on top of it, and I laughed and enjoyed how this ridiculous product of Socialism was shaking under me, going around in the room.

But now, treading in my thirty-something, I don't like to be shaken. Yes, it's the engine to be blamed for that. I believe, without question, that it was the engine of the year in the two-cylinder category, it's also the greenest. In my opinion, however, it's simply a piece of crap in the Ypsilon.

I know you also like your coffee strong, hence the blunt choice of words. And there's no denying it, I am annoyed, as I expected a lot more. It's very disappointing, it doesn't belong here. I'm sure there must be a test bench somewhere in the far-off distance where the car may prove it has 85 horses, and anyway, it can keep pace with the traffic, but I had to get used to people pointing fingers, thinking the new, Italian car is broken. It wasn't, actually, it just had a stupid sound. In its defense I must tell that my one-year-old son had no trouble falling asleep, but don't get too much carried away, he did the same during the start of the famous Weissenkirchen Hillclimb in Austria, and there was quite a racket there.

Unfortunately, this two-cylinder rumpupumpum is badly insulated. The inside is full of unpleasant vibrations and it's loud in here. It's puzzling but honorable that you didn't give up the fight, nor the world, making the car one sequential transmission richer. It's absolutely understandable, it did work out fine in the Ferrari F430, but I have the suspicion it's not exactly the same transmission.

That was basically the icing on the cake and let's hope that these transmissions get their well-deserved place in automotive history... in the chapter about totally forgotten constructions. And it really wouldn't be nice taking revenge on the poor guys at Fiat, who are forced to push this engine-transmission combination, day in and day out. No, Mr. Marchionne, this is all your fault, it was through your decision that these two-cylinder, turbo engined Ypsilons with their sequential transmissions ended up being this dreadful, and I managed to forgive all its shortcomings up to the moment I turned the ignition key.

Italians are a religious folk, and already in the Middle Ages blasphemy was punishable with a close encounter with an iron maiden. Today that would be a bit old school. So I'm putting the Holy Father on 'cc' in order to suggest this car to be the primary tool of the modern day inquisition. Just three setting off at a green light and no person would withhold any secrets, and start to confess to just about anything. Of course there is possibility for penance: in case one starts “Our Father” when the light turns green, the transmission will switch to second as soon as the prayer reaches “Hallowed be thy name”.

Second gear at 20kph, third at 40kph. Now imagine those two cylinders (437.5 cc apiece), with conrods covered in sweat from the effort, trying to figure out how in hell they could fulfill the transmission's cravings for power and torque. It may have 145Nm of torque, but the 5500rpm, where it peaks, is way too far, and at normal revs it's just suffering like a butterfly stuck in a matchbox.

That is the point where we familiarize ourselves with that uncomfortable vibration, going from bumper to bumper, shaking the little car as if it had jungle fever. I considered throwing some antipyretic in the gas tank, but I was too afraid of the side effects. The vibration only stops when the transmission runs out gears and the car finally reaches 90.

But at least it's economical! That's the last thing a poor buyer can hold on to if we take the catalog-consumption for granted, promising 4.9 litres in the city, 3.7 on the highway and 4.1 combined. But Mr. Marchionne, let's be honest here! It's as big of a lie as saying that an old, bearded guy packs the shiny boots of all kids in the world full of presents in a single night.

I was brave enough to drive 440 kilometers on the highway. It resulted in a combined consumption of 7.9 litres. In the city? That was 8.3. Don't even try suggesting that I was pushing it, I wasn't. Even if I had wanted to, the transmission wouldn't have allowed it. Suck it up, that's how much it is. (In case you do decide to try the car, I'd like to turn your attention to that rattling noise coming from the box when in reverse.)

You know, I've never been in a situation like this one during my career: I know that with the basic, four-cylinder engine and manual transmission (even with its shortcomings), it's a good little car. Even with the Multijet diesel. But with this engine and transmission, “not suggesting it” would be quite an understatement. No, do not buy it! I'm sorry Sir, but you shoveled a double dose of dung, it hit the fan and it's spreading widely.

I wanted to try it, I did and now I'm disappointed. You know, good and bad stories have one common characteristic: they are simple. The Lancia Ypsilon 0.9 TwinAir MTA Platinum starts out as a nice story, but instead of a happy ending, Freddy Krüger enters the door and massacres innocent virgins. The base model with the 69 PS 1.2 engine is a lot better story. And cheaper too!

No dear sir, don't bother calling your shady friends from Naples to have a little chat with me in a dark alley. No need for that, this engine-transmission combo was enough to make me stab myself in the groins.

Bleeding out yours truly,

Steve Valyi

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