DTW’s Top-Twenty Two Great European Cars – Part 5

Today we take up once again the baton carried by earlier instalments of this mind-provoking series (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4).

2002 Lancia Phedra: source

In the last instalment, we reached number six. The pace will slow down as we near the summit. Today we consider only number 5, an example of the “Italian art of living”.

No list of great European cars would be complete without a Lancia, one of Europe’s most storied and, some would say, venerable marques. Lancia embodies low-key classiness, comfort and style with many landmark cars to its credit. Its great cars include the elegant Flaminia, the ground-breaking Aurelia, the innovative Beta, the nimble Fulvia, the rally champion Delta, the aristocratic Flavia, the agile and distinctive Trevi and the practical and refined Lybra.

In the case of the stylish Phedra you can

2002 Lancia Phedra: source

see Lancia interpreting that other great European innovation, the MPV and making it its own. If Lancia represents some of the best of European design and the MPV represents an indigenous European archetypal car, then the combination of both means this is truly a European car sine qua non.

The Lancia Phedra uniquely offered inimitable Lancia character in the form of its striking grille and powerful, expressive lamps at the front. At the rear it had distinctive vertical lamps echoing the Lybra estate and Thesis saloon. On the inside there was found what may have been one of the most comfortable and well-appointed interiors in the class. As the photos show, Lancia deployed Alcantara to good effect and there were also extremely high quality Poltrona Frau hide seats too.

Unlike a lot of MPVs this one offered limousine levels of luxury in a very useful package: seating for seven. This quality appeared uppermost in the advertising campaign, explained by Lancia as follows: ” Now we will move on to the advertising campaign for the Lancia Phedra. The initial idea is written in the vehicle’s soul: all the distinction and prestige of a great élite car such as the Thesis but with all the qualities of flexibility and space we expect of an MPV. This leads us to the concept of a journey and a convivial group. Yet we also see the car as design, fine materials whose quality is apparent to the touch, muffled silence, accessible comfort, the satisfaction of driving and being driven. Plus engineering and performance of course.”

2002 Lancia Phedra: Youtube

The seating in particular borrowed more from the world of furniture design than automotive design lending them a very special and inviting character. It is clear this is not a sports car and it is the better for it. Lancia spotted a gap in the market, a vehicle combining comfort, style and practicality which defied the convention that a premium car had to be a saloon or that if you chose an MPV you were choosing a vehicle for the school-and-shopping run.

2002 Lancia Phedra interior: source

The Phedra had a good production run, from 2002 to 2010 and many still ply the roads, a testimony to the esteem they are held in by their owners. Despite the internal space, the Phedra manages a comparatively small footprint: 4.78 metres. Aiding the sales case, Lancia offered a good range of petrol and diesel engines: a 2.0 16V, a 3.0 V6 and several diesels across the production run. The diesels were capable of 0-60 in under 12 seconds. The V6 managed even better, reaching a top speed of 200 kmph. Should the worst happen, the Lancia had 5 NCAP stars to protect its occupants.

The Dutch Autoweek rated the car highly, giving it five of five stars for comfort and four for everything else. Only the cost dragged it down, somewhat perverse given that the quality and comfort could be offered at a low price. For those on a tighter budget there was always a Zafira anyway.

Lancia sold 9600 of the car in Europe in 2003, of which about 6000 found a home in Italy.

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

8 thoughts on “DTW’s Top-Twenty Two Great European Cars – Part 5”

  1. I’ve never travelled in one of these but I’ve been a private hire customer in the back of its Fiat cousin more than once.

    The Lancia will suffer from the same problem – the floor is too high and the rear seats are shaped for flexibility, not comfort. This means adults cannot get truly comfortable in the second row, so nowhere near ‘limosine’ levels of comfort.

    Frankly, a Mercedes E class (another car I’ve experienced more from the rear seat than the front) offers a much, much greater degree of passenger comfort.

    Does the Renault Avantime suffer from the same issue? I’ve never been in one of those, but I have seen one travelling with four people on board and they looked to be having a fine time. The second row chairs look plump and full-size, but I worry about foot room.

    I must say, though, that the interior appointments of this Lancia van look very appealing.

    1. Indeed lack of room for feet under the front seats (because of the built-in safety belts I believe) is what one of the few things that let the Avantime down. Otherwise it could have been the perfect place for four traveling in style and comfort.

  2. As a recent and accidental discoverer of this website, may I say what a joy it is!

    And to continue on the theme of joy, the sole source of it in this beast seem to be the armrests, a thing grievously ignored by most manufacturers; reason alone and sufficient (almost) to justify the purchase of a Silver Shadow (adjustable, note; worthy of an article on their own, especially if you were to add the ashtrays). Instead of comfort, we get cupholders (pointless) and touchscreens (dangerous). Progress, eh?

    1. Peter, you’re very kind. We do our best under purgatorial conditions and an editor who has a fine line in waspish cruelty. (He’s a terrible man with the drink on him…)

      The author of this fine article has escaped to the countryside for several days, so all discussions surrounding soft furnishings, ashtrays and especially armrests must await his return.

  3. Might I reveal that I have been in one of these cars and found nothing wanting in terms of interior comfort. Further, I had no problem getting aboard. It was precisely as easy to enter and exit as any other MPV.

  4. Along with its Zeta predecessor, the Phedra’s a Lancia made in France, at the Valenciennes Sevel Nord factory.

    Did the ghost of PARDEVI get things right at last?

  5. These Lancias are very nice vehicles, and I appreciate the choice of interior materials. I like the Zeta rather more, like the whole first generation Eurovan. Its more compact shape with clear edges and short overhangs is more to my taste. Of course, additional space and safety was added with the second generation here, but the body looks slightly overweight on the predecessor’s wheelbase. As it’s a very long time since I’ve sat in on of these, I can’t comment on interior comfort or seating position. I can imagine that it suffers from the high floor disease as many other MPVs. The Espace IV (this is the one prior to the current one, right?) is not much better, unfortunately. It seems to have improved in the newest Espace, though.

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