The launch of a facelifted Lancia Ypsilon won't generate many headlines outside of Italy. Indeed, many people might be unaware that the Ypsilon still exists. It died years ago, along with the badge.
Only it didn't die. The Lancia Ypsilon remains on sale in its domestic market, where it's the only new Lancia you can buy. FCA – or rather, Stellantis – is determined to squeeze every last drop out of the pensionable city car. The third-generation Ypsilon went on sale in 2011.
Small cars dominate the new car market in Italy, where buyers are, in the main, loyal to Italian badges. The Fiat Panda was the best-selling car in 2020, topping the list for the ninth consecutive year. The platform-sharing Lancia Ypsilon remained in second place, helped by the introduction of a mild hybrid version.
Sales of the Lancia Ypsilon totalled 43,076 in 2020. That's enough to make it the fourth best-selling car in the UK, just behind the Volkswagen Golf (43,109 registrations). In Italy, the Ypsilon outsells the Fiat 500X, Renault Clio and Fiat 500.
The trend looks set to continue. Although the Ypsilon has slipped to third, behind the new Toyota Yaris, Lancia managed to shift 4,048 units in January. That would make it the UK's best-selling car.
Manufacturers are finding it increasingly difficult to make money out of city cars. Jalopnik is reporting that the Renault Twingo isn't long for this world. The Seat Mii exists only in electric form and the Skoda Citigo is dead. The Fiat Panda lives on, not least because it remains phenomenally successful in Italy. More than 12,000 were sold in January 2021 alone.
The Ypsilon can trace its roots back to the Autobianchi/Lancia Y10 of 1985, which was replaced by the Lancia Y in 1995. A second-generation Ypsilon arrived in 2003, before the Alberto Dilillo-penned version was introduced in 2011.
An attempt to market the Ypsilon as a Chrysler in the UK was unsuccessful and, thankfully, short-lived.
The latest facelift sees a return of the vertical grille, which harks back to Lancia models of old. To suggest the 2021 Ypsilon offers a hint of the Aurelia might be a stretch, but this is arguably the most stylish version to date. The new headlights feature LED daytime running lights and look neater than before.
There are two trim levels: the unimaginatively named Silver and Gold. Both feature a new seven-inch touchscreen infotainment system and a set of clear and logical instruments. The central position of the dials stays true to the design of the Lancia Y of 1995.
The seats in the Ypsilon Gold are trimmed in Seaqual Yarn, a 100 per cent recycled polyester material containing upcycled marine plastic from the Mediterranean. Alcantara is available as part of a Gold Plus Pack.
Time to say goodbye?
Power is sourced from a 1.0-litre three-cylinder mild hybrid engine producing 70hp. Alternatively, the Ypsilon is available with a pair of bi-fuel powertrains – LPG and methane. The latter is the quickest, completing the gym to coffee shop sprint in 13 seconds, when running on petrol.
Not that these details matter to anyone outside Italy. To Lancia purists, the company died years ago, probably around the time the badge was reduced to adorning Chrysler models in Europe. As Eóin Doyle put it in 2019, “the official death notice is well overdue”. Euro NCAP would agree.
Maybe so, but when you view the Ypsilon as a five-door Fiat 500, it starts to make more sense. It's also more stylish than the vast majority of city cars and is incredibly cheap to buy. Prices start from around €15,000, or £13,000 in the UK. According to this Italian website, the price drops to €9,500 with state incentives and FCA Bank financing.
How long before Stellantis removes the power cable from the life support machine? If the Lancia Ypsilon continues to defy the odds, its heart might remain beating for a little while yet. As Eddie Vedder nearly sang, Lancia is still alive.