In the first part I discussed the static qualities of the Lancia Trevi. In this part I will present my driving impressions.
Finally, it’s time to drive in the car. First off, we set off along some minor country roads, ones I have just driven in a modern car. Initially I am the passenger and from that position I realise that I can see nothing of the instruments from the passenger side. They are set in Bellini’s cylindrical recesses which are angled to the driver. This makes me look elsewhere – out, for example.
I can’t judge the seats as they come from another car (a Punto) but the originals will be re-instated pending re-upholstering. There’s plenty of room up front and a nice clear view out, courtesy of the slim pillars. As with other cars of the period, you hear more engine noise. I can´t say it’s disagreeable. Doubtless the engineers would have liked less – as it is and in contrast to today’s overly insulated cars, one can appreciate the acoustic feedback. It is not loud, but there at a volume you can tune out if you wish.
Then it’s my turn to drive. Surprise number one: all the controls are easy and straightforward to operate. Normally one expects at least a minute or two of haptic adjustment such as finding the pedals, feeling how the gear change operates, how the steering wheel is positioned relative to your body. I had a little of that when driving a Peugeot 604 in June, chiefly in the steering (more lock required) and in the throttle (more of that required).
With the Trevi it all feels light and direct, transparent and easy to learn. Is this car really 35 years old? Many motor testers criticized the Trevi’s gearchange (and some liked it). Driven to write’s view is that the gear change is as anyone would expect, or better, and a heck of a lot easier than my XM. It was even smoother than the acceptable-but-characterless Focus I had driven on the same day. I didn’t notice any of the overspringing some writers mentioned.
One thing I really enjoyed was the throttle response: the car moves to the extent you step on the gas. And it’s brisk. Lancia claimed 10 seconds for nought to sixty and it feels faster. Out of respect for a rare car I didn’t actually own, I didn’t get to do any on-the-limit testing so I can’t corroborate period tests in terms of handling. What Car (March 1982) said this: “….the Trevi´s smaller size, greater power, lower-profile tyres and more sporting suspension set-up make it much the most responsive and entertaining of three”. (They tested it against that Saab 900GL and Citroen CX Reflex. What Car noted crisp steering from the “subtle” ZF power assistance.
I have to concur that the Trevi is a delight to drive – LJK Setright held it in high esteem and I think I see why. What is worth focusing on is that Lancia gave the Trevi had a sporting set-up with remarkable compliance.
The suspension dealt easily with the pretty uneven and coarsely surfaced roads of south-eastern Ireland where I tested this car. I had driven down from Dublin in a Ford Focus and the comparison with the Trevi astonished me. I wish I could have driven home in the Trevi, so smooth and cossetting was the ride.
Car in November 1981 said the Trevi rode well (they were comparing to a Citroen CX too). In comparison to modern cars it turns out to be a bit of a limousine in that regard. Adding to the pleasure of conducting the car is the great view over the bonnet: it’s a big expanse of metal whose corners you can see. The waistline is low by modern standards. In combination with the excellent controls, smooth ride and agile handling the clearly defined “rim” of the passenger tub gives you the feeling of being in a kind of low-flying aeroplane. I can’t put it in any other way.
My conclusion, from a personal standpoint, is that I had no idea the Trevi would exceed my expectations on the driving front. The car’s mechanical concept is a revision of one from 1972; the actual car was 35 years old. Despite this I found it not only a drive that satisfied my curiosity. It also struck me as good enough to live with. The reviews of the car tended to approve of the Trevi’s dynamics while scorning the appearance. I would be able to bear witness to the Trevi’s impressive driving manners.
However, I would strongly contend that Bellini’s interior deserves recognition for its vision and usability. The exterior design provides a lot of entertainment and optical interest too. It´s a car I would want to keep looking at, trying to catch the shapes out but never succeeding.
I’ll boil it down to this: great to drive and fascinating to behold.
[Thanks to F. Kemple for providing the car.]