Lancia Thesis

14 Dec 2014 | Author: | Comments Off on Lancia Thesis
Lancia Thesis

Lancia Thesis

W ith limited number of Greek alphabetic letters, Lancia does not have many chances to fail again. For 15 years, Lancia#8217;s flagship models did not receive sufficient funding, therefore the Thema was just a little more than a repackaged Fiat Croma (although so was Saab 9000), the Kappa was a derivative of the aging Alfa 164. That saved cost, and allowed the cars to be priced lower than equivalent BMW and Mercedes, but also hurt their competitiveness.

The formula might work in the 80s, but no longer worked for the Kappa. Say, if a V6 Kappa was 15% cheaper than an equivalent BMW 5-series, which one would you choose ?

That said, brand image is increasingly important for large cars. No one wants the likes of Granada or Safrane anymore. They want something looking expensive and have a premium brand sticking on the bonnet. Fiat also wants to make Lancia its premium brand.

After the failure of Kappa, it finally understood that building a premium brand requires decent development budget and looser control to production cost. They can no longer build another second-class luxury car. They must start from a flagship model, making it as expensive to feel as German rivals to change people#8217;s perception to the brand. However, without a realistic price to attract people into Lancia showrooms, no one will know the improvement made on the new car.

Therefore they must find way to keep price lower than rivals without losing money. Again, the secret of achieving this is to share engines and transmissions with Fiat and Alfa Romeo, while leaving the chassis – which is decisive to the driving character of a car – unique.

So, the next Greek alphabetic letter to Kappa, in Lancia#8217;s dictionary, is Thesis. From concept to production, Thesis took a long time to take shape. Its concept car, Dialogo, was reported by AutoZine in sometime around 1997 as I remember.

Like the final production car, it was penned by American designer Michael Robinson, now moved to head Fiat Design Center. The design emphasis one thing: classics. Everyone should notice its big grille mounted in front of sculpted bonnet, and the front wings clearly separate from the engine compartment. Does it look like a pre-war classic car? Chrysler PT Cruiser might applied such retro design earlier, but Thesis has it done cleanly without compromise.

You can see its bonnet and front wings curve smoothly towards the bumper. The whole thing is so clean, so creamy smooth, so elegant. Elegance is also enhanced by the diamond-shape headlights, the laser-cut-looking assembly gap between bonnet and bumper, and the chromed lines separating the front wings and bumper.

Turn 90, side profile is much more conventional. Turn to its tail, you will notice it looks quite similar to Rover 75, with the trunk lid slip towards the tail. Nevertheless, the Lancia has a unique LED taillights shaped as a vertical stripe.

It looks cool and elegant. It looks expensive. The first test has passed.

The Thesis is built on a unique platform which won#8217;t be used on other cars in Fiat group. This is strange, considering Fiat was the inventor of platform sharing.

Today, the Italian company is also the first car maker quitting platform sharing and enters the age of modular space-frame chassis. Pioneered by Fiat Multipla (the strange MPV), the company#8217;s space-frame technology allows the chassis to be tailored to different cars, with flexible dimensions and flexible mountings for components to enable virtually unlimited deviations.

The steel space-frame chassis of Thesis measures 4.9 meters in length, very long indeed. For instance, a Mercedes E-class is 100mm shorter. Wheelbase is less impressive. At 2803mm it equals to Volvo S80 but shorter than the E-class and 5-series. However, as Thesis is front-wheel-drive, just like the Volvo, it spends the wheelbase more efficiently to cabin room than the rear-drive Mercedes and BMW.

In terms of space, the Thesis is of course more spacious than Alfa 166 and Peugeot 607, but it does not break any new ground either, because most other rivals are already very spacious. While space race is no longer a thing customers ask for, quality packaging should be the first priority. In the Thesis cabin, you will see really expensive materials covering everywhere, such as leather, Alcantara, wool and some understated real wood inserts.

The cast-magnesium center console is another quality job. This is where it can beat any Volkswagen group cabins – the solid feel of cup-holder sliding out of the magnesium frame. The big and soft seats are also unrivalled for their comfort.

Well, maybe just inferior to Renault Vel Satis.

I rarely talk about equipment, but because this is a strong card of Thesis we must go through once. First of all, the front seats have heating, ventilation and massager incorporated while rear passengers enjoy their own climate control. Then, Lancia said there are a total of 54 CPUs in the car, giving variety functions such as memory customized settings, keyless entry and start, electric door-opening-and-closing, radar cruise control and ESP.

And then there is a clever information and control system called CONNECT. This has been launched in Alfa 147 and Fiat Stilo, but the group#8217;s most luxurious flagship gets even more functions. Through the LCD screen on center console, you can activate phone, TV, audio (via the 11 speakers Bose Hi-Fi, by the way), navigation and a telematic information service which help you to find routes, hotels, restaurant etc. via conversation with real human.

In case you don#8217;t like to pay attention to the screen during driving, you can use voice control instead.

Huge size and lots of equipment leads to a heavy kerb weight – from 1680kg of the base 2.4-litre to 1750kg of range-topping V6. It is more than 100kg heavier than equivalent BMW and Mercedes. I would have liked to see more powerful engines, but because Lancia cannot afford to develop its own it has to rely on the group#8217;s existing engines.

These consist of a couple of Super Fire inline-5, a 2.4-litre JTD turbo diesel, a 3.0 V6 from Alfa Romeo and an Isuzu 3.0 V6 turbo diesel. The fastest is the 215hp Alfa V6, but even that can just accelerate from 0-60mph in 8.7 seconds. Considering the comfort bias of Thesis, engine is perhaps the most appropriate area to compromise with cost concern.

The base Super Fire engine is a 2.4-litre, with VVT, 2-stage variable intake and balance shaft to generate 170hp and 167lbft. Despite of 6-speed manual gearbox, it is still painfully slow.

Next up is another Super Fire engine. Basically a detuned version of the late Fiat Coupe. Displacing 2.0-litre, mildly charged by a light-pressure turbocharger to deliver 185hp and 227 lbft. It also has balance shafts and VVT. The turbo even gets variable nozzle.

The extra torque gives it much improved overtaking ability than the 2.4.

The JTD is still 2-valve per cylinder. But there is nothing wrong with common-rail injection, VTG turbo and intercooler. It produces 150hp and 225lbft in a less refined way than BMW 520d.

Lancia Thesis

You might remember the Isuzu V6 – it is sold to Saab 9-5 and Renault Vel Satis as well.

The 3.0 V6 is best of the range. At 194 lbft, it is not very torquey. However, in terms of smoothness and eagerness it is lovely. Beautiful vocal in Alfa tradition. Were it quieter, it would have suited the luxurious manner of Thesis.

It mates with a 5-speed automatic with Tiptronic-style manual override. Shift quality is smooth and responsive enough.

Thesis rides on unique suspensions. The front are 5-link suspensions, which is said to allow virtual steering axle to be as close as possible to the wheel center, thus benefit steering accuracy and response. Rear suspensions are a new design called multiple-arm suspensions. Each consists of aluminium upper and lower arms, a cast iron pillar and a steel beam.

It is said to allow greater degree of freedom thus benefit bump absorption. There is also an adaptive damping called Skyhook, similar to the one using by Maserati Spyder.

On motorway, the Thesis#8217; 5mm-thick glazing and sound insulation work perfectly to keep wind and tyre noise out of the cabin. It is so quiet that the vocal of Alfa V6 become obvious. The chassis feels solid, free of rattles and shake. The ride is exceptional supple. Skyhook deals remarkably with rough surfaces and even pot holes.

The suspension setting bias towards the soft side, more like a traditional Jaguar instead of an Italian car. German saloons ride far firmer.

The trade off is handling agility. At 8/10 effort, the Thesis handles satisfactorily. It changes direction without reluctance, it resists roll well and provides bags of grip. However, what separate a good driver#8217;s car from an average one is the last couple of tenths, and here you can see the Thesis suffers.

Push harder, and you won#8217;t have confidence in its light yet isolated steering. The car turns into understeer quicker than German saloons, with ESP intervene gently to correct understeer while reducing throttle.

Anyway, if we judge Thesis by the standard of driver#8217;s car, we will be wrong. Thesis is tuned to be a comfortable luxurious car – to please Lancia#8217;s customers or to distinguish it from German cars. Lancia#8217;s intention is very clear, from the styling, from the cabin, from the refinement and from the ride quality you can see this is a pure comfortable car.

Having understood that we will applause for its fine handling in most conditions. Compare with Japanese and Korean executive sedans, Thesis is still recognizably a European car.

The above report was last updated on 25 Feb 2002 . All Rights Reserved.

Lancia Thesis
Lancia Thesis
Lancia Thesis
Lancia Thesis
Lancia Thesis
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