2 Aug 2013

Not the Chrysler Ypsilon review

I’m donning my geekiest t-shirt today and pondering Vulcan philosophy. Specifically, I’m pondering the principle of IDIC, or Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations, and how the car industry seems to have taken it to heart in recent years.
A Lancia Ypsilon I photographed in Rome - Matt
Some cars, like the Citroen DS3 and the Vauxhall Adam (I’m not sure that name works when the car’s not branded as an Opel, to be honest) have been designed to be personalised, with almost infinite combinations of colour and trim available. By the time you start including the more technical aspects of the specification, the combinations really are pretty much endless.

But are all of these combinations a good idea?

I recently experienced the Chrysler Ypsilon, and on a very fundamental level, I’m not convinced that all variations on a theme are equally worthwhile.

Let’s get something out the way to begin with: despite wishful thinking on behalf of those of us with long memories and an unreasonable soft spot for impractically wonderful cars, this is not a thinly disguised Lancia. I know it’s sold as a Lancia in the rest of Europe, and indeed, when I pulled down the sun visor, it was clearly marked as such even though everywhere else was covered in Chrysler badges.

What it actually is, under the quirky body, is a slightly stretched Fiat 500 (itself based on the Fiat Panda). But if you ignore the identity crisis for a moment, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially when you consider that the Ypsilon is available with Fiat’s fantastic TwinAir engine. The Fiat 500 TwinAir is a definite contender for the most entertaining car I’ve driven in the last couple of years, so the Ypsilon sounded like a pretty good prospect on paper.

The looks are a bit Marmite, to be honest. In a totally unscientific poll of people in the car park, responses were fairly evenly split between ‘pretty’ and ‘a bit weird looking’. Personally, I think it’s not unattractive, though the grille’s a bit overwhelming, and I like little touches like the way the rear door handles are tucked away. It’s not Lancia-stylish, but at least the designers have tried to make it look interesting.

There’s nothing wrong with the inside either. It’s not going to win any big awards for innovative design, but it’s serviceable and clear, although not particularly luxurious. However, despite my dodgy back and gargantuan arse, I found the seats quite comfy. Even so, it’s supposed to be a premium supermini, and I’m not convinced that it feels that special.

Unfortunately, the overall agreeableness was ruined as soon as it started moving, because this particular Ypsilon had the most unhappy gearbox it has ever been my misfortune to experience. So let this be a warning to you – unless you are restricted by having an automatic-only driving licence, for the love of all you hold dear avoid the ‘automated manual’ gearbox mated to the TwinAir. It’s a deeply frustrating thing to be able to feel a hint of what that zippy, torquey little engine is capable of, because when you put your foot down, you can feel it trying, but the gearbox feels like it’s holding it back. It feels recalcitrant when manoeuvring, and I know some people find it counter-intuitive, although it’s slightly less horrid as a sequential manual. The steering feels at odds with the miserable ‘box, and the ride is a bit soggy too. The whole package, again, falls short of the premium supermini aspirations.

I feel like I should drive the manual to see if it’s any better – because it should be – but I just can’t be arsed. I’ve been comprehensively put off. All it really needs to be a competent little city car is a decent gearbox. The thing is, though, the supermini segment is full of better looking, better driving cars, a lot of them representing better value for money. If Fiat S.p.A. are aiming at the luxury end of that market, a car that is merely competent isn’t going to cut it.

Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations? The Ypsilon suggests there are some combinations of engine and gearbox that defy all logic.

Beam me up, Scotty.

Article by Sharon Endacotte*

*See all of Sharon's stuff here