Forgive us, Lancia Thesis, for the world was never meant for one as beautiful as you.
In the decade since its demise, the Lancia Thesis has been propping up lazy ‘ugly car‘ lists across the internet, deemed worthy of little more than the merest mention in the context of its jaw-droppingly elegant rear lights. The wood enthusiasts in Malvern saw enough beauty in the Thesis to borrow the ‘microbulb’ lights for the Aeromax.
For sure, the Lancia Thesis looks a little weird, certainly in the context of its contemporary German rivals. But looking slightly odd has never hampered Martin Clunes, so why did the world fail to embrace the Thesis?
British buyers didn’t have a choice. The Thesis never made it to these shores, Lancia only returning to the UK under the cover of Chrysler.
It wouldn’t have stood a chance. Faced by the collective might of the 5 Series, E-Class and A6, the elegant Lancia would have been lost beneath a deluge of faeces-related quips.
“The time is ripe for Thesis,” said Lancia in 2001, in a statement unrelated to faecal matter.
The Thesis was borne out of the Dialogos concept of 1998, a car with swivelling armchairs rather than seats, an absence of door handles, pillar-less entry, suicide rear doors, and an ability to switch between left- and right-hand-drive.
It allowed Lancia to “conceive the idea of stress-free driving and envisage the passenger compartment as both ideal microclimate and living room,” said the company.
What’s remarkable is how much of the Dialogos styling made it into production. The front and rear are straight outta concept, but Lancia lost its nerve when building the bit in the middle. With the B-pillar in place, door handles in situ, standard rear doors, and Vanden Plas-style chrome strip along the side, the Thesis looked more like a low-rent Korean rental car in profile.
In fairness, the Thesis did a fine job of hiding its size. At 4.88 metres in length, this Italian saloon is knocking on the door of Range Rover territory, but while SUVs are aggressive and crude machines, the Thesis puts on a display of restraint and splendour. This is a car for arriving at ambassadorial receptions, not in the car park of a Premier League football ground.
Which is the point of the Lancia Thesis. If you’ve ever seen a Thesis at night, you will have admired the diamond-shaped xenon headlights and the almost surreal beauty of the LED rear lights. There are just two 1cm wide strips: one red and one orange. Pure class.
If the jury is out on the interior styling – did somebody say ‘Italian Ford Scorpio’? – there’s little to debate when it comes to the cabin. The dials were a welcome nod to the Aurelia and Flaminia, with the instruments set off against a soft blue background. Meanwhile, wood, leather, Alcantara and magnesium combined to create an interior that looked and felt a class above the ‘premium’ execs jostling for position on the Autostrade.
Naturally, you’d want the Alfa-sourced 3.0-litre V6 combined with the Comfortronic transmission for maximum waft, but don’t discount the 2.4-litre five-cylinder for aural pleasure. The 2.0-litre turbo was the quickest to 60 and delivered more torque than the 2.4-litre JTD. A diesel in a Thesis? No thanks.
Lancia spent big bucks on the Thesis, resisting the temptation to base the car on a stretched Alfa Romeo 166 platform. The result was a car that rode as well as any luxury car, helped in no small part by the so-called ‘Skyhook’ semi-active damping system. It used sensors to select the optimum damping force required by each shock absorber, to deliver a soft and controlled ride.
Poltrona Frau soft leather was an option, with heated front seats standard on the top-spec models. Tick the right box and your Thesis could leave the back passage of the showroom with ventilated massage seats in the front, and heated massage seats in the back. Thanks to its long wheelbase, the Thesis offered a huge amount of rear legroom. This was a car to drive and to be driven in.
A 7-inch display, voice control, Bose sound system, adaptive cruise control, eight airbags, front and rear parking sensors, and keyless entry wouldn’t look out of place on a spec list today.
Lancia also knew how to make a customer feel special. Cars were delivered to the doors of potential clients for a test drive, while showroom staff were trained solely to deal with the Thesis. Once purchased, the car would be delivered to the customer’s home or office by the salesperson who sold the car. A few days later, the dealer principal would call to ensure that everything is in order.
The company promises lifetime ‘Home Service‘ cover, which included collection within 48 hours following a report of any faults, a loan car while the Thesis was in for repair, and a dedicated freephone number. Could any lucky Thesis owners could report on the effectiveness of this service?
Maybe it’s the passing of time or simply the increasing number of over-styled SUVs on our roads, but the Lancia Thesis appears to be ageing like a fine Italian wine. Those front and rear bumpers, free of clutter, look delightful, while the overall design, which might have looked out of place at the turn of the millennium, is most welcome in 2019.
Everything in context. Picture yourself driving home from the opera in a Thesis: the world is monochrome as your tyres roll across the gravel outside your immaculate Italianate townhouse. The sound of Puccini is heard from inside as your Monica Bellucci lookalike wife greets you at the door. Life is good.
The Lancia Thesis slots into this vision in a way that a contemporary German exec can only imagine. If only the world had been kinder to the misunderstood Italian. They would not listen, they did not know how. Perhaps they’ll listen now.