Much was made by Lancia of the Delta’s symbolism: change and continuity at the same time. Before it came the Lybra. Read on to see what that was like.
DTW has had a chance to rewind the years and test a 2002 Lybra SW, the Delta’s predecessor. This puts in perspective the step-backward that was the Delta and reveals a car that probably deserves a wider audience. Lancia produced about 165,000 Lybras between 1998 and 2005. Production began at the Rivalta plant and shifted to the Mirafiori plant in 2002. The Lybra shared some basic elements with the Alfa Romeo 156 but you’d be hard pressed to spot anything overt.
The styling story is one of changed directions. Enrico Fumia began the project, developing themes expressed in the Ypsilon but Michael Robinson took over and revised Fumia’s proposal in the light of critical clinic responses. Flavio Manzoni handled the interior work which seems to have had an untroubled gestation.
Like the Delta, the Lybra replaced a car many viewed as insufficiently succesful: the Dedra. In eleven years Lancia sold 400,000 of them.
The Lybra moved the game on from the Dedra: it had a good basic platform, a range of five engines, each distinctly different from each other plus two had interesting L5 arrangements. Interior quality was very much improved.
Nearly everything is too a markedly higher standard than found in corresponding Opels, Fords and Renaults. A good poke around the car interior reveals high quality design (the mock wood was optional) and impressive solidity. The seating is comfortable and decidely better than peers in the same class. On the outside: a form tending towards idiosyncracy but not wilfully odd. The Lancia grille and round lamps are a pleasant evocation of older cars without being retro.
So: one opens the hefty chrome door handle, pulls open the solid doors and sits inside. The interior, as I said, feels premium. The driver’s seat is well-shaped and your relation to the wheel, window and bonnet feels like being in a Mercedes 190E. The driver armrest is well-located and easily stowed away. It’s a good sized car, a combination of handy and comfortable. That it feels narrow means it feels manoeuvrable.
The 2.4 five-cylinder diesel engine is not the quietest but not harsh. It propels the car easily, with untroubled gearchanges aiding progress. There is plenty of mid-range punch meaning that if you want the Lybra can transform itself into a rapid and effortless charger.
Lancia worked magic with the ride quality. The car handled bumps well and stayed upright during harsh cornering. Combined with the solid body, good seats and cosy trim, this is very much a fine mini-limousine.
I noticed crisp steering responses and responsive behaviour. The ancilliary controls worked well: smooth and light. The ventilation operated quietly and briskly.
Rear passengers are not short-changed. The Lybra has fine seats, the equal of the 406 I use at the moment even if there is a bit less legroom. The centre armrest is comfy and the view out pleasing. Further back, luggage will experience a neatly-trimmed, well-composed space with a roller cover.
Overall, the Lybra is a nicely-made, attractive medium-sized car that manages to channel its distant forebear, the Trevi. That’s a big compliment. The niggles are trivial: the glovebox lid is the wrong grade of plastic and the centre fascia is a bit confusing. The rest of the car is an unusually alluring mix of limousine quality and compact handiness. This is not a Focus, nor Golf and it’s more charming than any version of 3 or A4. One is offered a distinctly different proposition from the 156 too. The ride and appearance are quite Lancia.
The mediocre sales figures have nothing important to do with the car as it is: marketing let the side down. This may very well have been the best Lancia in decades and Fiat Group suffocated it, wasting the effort expended on a solid, classy and highly individual car. The Lybra also shows up the gross inadequacy of the Delta. Delta signifies change and not all change is good, is it?