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
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.”
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.
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.
You can find some USican commentary at Jalopnik.