Pity the poor Lancia. Some of the most beautiful and technologically advanced cars bore this name throughout the 20th Century. From the groundbreaking Lambdas of the ‘20s, the sublime Asturas of the ‘30s, the advanced Aprilias of the ‘40s to the gorgeous Flaminias of the ‘50s and the sweet little Fulvias of the ‘60s/‘70s and even the sporty Deltas of the ‘80s, the marque made Italy proud with its uncompromising commitment to technological innovation and design excellence. By the time the Lybra came along tough, Lancias were but a quaint reminder of a bygone age.
Yet the Lybra is not without its charms. Based on the Alfa 156 platform, it is just as competent dynamically and just as engaging as its stablemate. Sure, this was a dark period in Fiat’s history, but they still knew how to design cars (building them was a different matter). Compared to its predecessor, the dreaded Dedra, the Lybra was positively beautiful. The retro styling language it employed was not overdone and, for once, I’m inclined to give it a pass. After all, Lancia had little else to work with than nostalgia, by this point in time.
The Lybra was unveiled in March 1999 and hit the streets in September. Under the hood, options included a 1.6 and 1.8 litre 4-cyl. and a 2-litre 5-cyl. for petrol engines, and a 1.9 4-cyl. or a 2.4 5-cyl. turbo-Diesel. This last engine is what our feature car has. Not knowing which MY it is exactly (2002 is the mid-point of production, so it’s as good a guess as any), I’m also unsure whether the power output is 136hp (1999-2000), 140hp (late 2000-2002) or 150hp (late 2002-2005). It’s interesting that the later 2.4 JTD has the same power output as the 2-litre petrol, making the choice between the two rather obvious for many Continental Europeans: the thriftier turbo-Diesel was most probably the more popular choice.
After the debacle of the Kappa coupé (about 3000 made in four years), Fiat product planners likely wrote off that kind of body variant from Lancia’s lexicon altogether. The Lybra therefore only had two variants: a three-box saloon and a wagon, dubbed SW. I have no data to back this up, but from anecdotal and empirical evidence, I’d say the wagon sold as well (if not better) as the saloon, which is rarely the case.
One reason for this is that the wagon offers decent enough cargo space, whereas the saloon was criticized for its small trunk. Besides, both cars were identical in terms of engine and interior options, so the wagons made a bit more sense. And, though this is completely subjective, but I’d say they were also somewhat more attractive than the saloons.
Only the SW got an extra Lancia badge on the side, up on the C-pillar. Quite a nice little touch. Counting the ones on the wheels and on either end, we’re up to eight Lancia shields on one car. Add the one on the steering wheel and on the ignition key, and we’ve got an even ten. Just in case you were wondering what marque this car was, it screamed its Lancia-ness to the world. Trying too hard? Just a bit.
I kind of screwed up this photo, but it still gives out a feel for the cabin. This car did not have the optional leather, which Lybra owners seem to feel is worth the price as it’s much more durable. However, this cloth interior looks like it’s still in extremely good nick, so maybe it’s just a case of being careful with it.
Here’s a better shot of the dash, courtesy of the Internet. The interior seems like a very nice place to be, with those wood inlays on the doors and the console. All the same, we’re pretty far away from the character and daring of Lancias of old. Does this say “high-end Italian” to you, of merely “generic wannabe-luxury turn-of-the-century Euro-anything”? Yes, that question is both leading and rhetorical.
Only the Lybra’s front end shows some attempt at giving it identity. The round headlamp and turn signal combo is nicely done, with those classic chrome surrounds channeling the Aurelia – there are worse sources of inspiration. The flagship Lancia Thesis (2001-09) took this a bit further (some would say “a bit too far”) by using a much narrower and longer grille, along with an edgier headlight design. While I happen to like the Thesis, I can understand those who find it a bit too retro for its own good. The Lybra is more balanced, perhaps.
With only about 160,000 units made in six years, the Lybra performed less well than its predecessor, the Dedra. That was a rather disappointing turn of events, even if it wasn’t as bad as the Thesis’ 16,000 units in eight years. This is probably why the Lybra, when it disappeared in 2005, lacked a clear successor. Lancia’s range then only included the big floppy Thesis, two dull badge-engineered MPVs and the Ypsilon city car. That last one is all that remains of Lancia today.
The future of the marque was already in serious jeopardy when the Lybra was part of the range. However, Lancia’s darkest days were yet to come, with the re-badged Chryslers of the 2010s. The year 2020 will probably be the marque’s last, but Lancia should have gone ten years ago, when FCA was created, so that we could have been spared the travesty that followed. At least, the Lybra has the appropriate heritage. It might be considered the last upper-mid-range Lancia (and the last wagon) worthy of the name. Not the best by any means, but it still should be granted its own fifteen minutes of CC fame.
Great tribute to this great car, which although as you say, is not the best of the Lancia, much less, indeed, it is the one that best represents the essence of the brand in the decade of the 00s.
Looks like a Neon. Maybe foreshadowing of Lancia’s bleak future?
Got a bit of a soft spot for these, actually, and I like the dash, though I could live without the “wood” inlay.
May be it was trying to be Italy’s BMW 3 series but was cramped by the Alfa roots and the Alfa competition, and Fiat’s lack of real wish to invest in Lancia and even interest in or understanding of it.
So, not really a BMW 3 series, more an Italian Rover 400/45.
What a way for Lancia to end….. 🙁
The rear end of the sedan and dash board reminded me of a Rover 75.
I had a Lancia Beta HPE until early 90s. Although I loved it, it was my last Lancia. A few years ago I was tempted to buy a used Lancia Thesis, a car for which I always had a soft spot. But I backed away from it. (I think the Thesis was Lancias very last gasp before Chrylerisation).
I kinda wonder at the eyesight of the person who said “Perfect! We gotta produce it just like that!”.
It worked quite well back then. It looked like a humorous attempt to built a mini version of Maybach 57. (Now that both are gone, the punchline doesn’t work anymore, of course).
Always liked these. It’s a daring design that stands out from the masses.
They can still be found here with low mileage and the smooth 3.2 V6 for less than a VW Polo of the same age. An underrated car now, but a future classic.
An example of one of Fiat’s Deadly Sins – instead of making state-of-the-art designs to challenge the high-tech German competition, they just made fancier Fiats.
These are really good reliable cars but they have much more Fiattissimo then it pre decessor the Dedra Saloon (sedan). That was a sort of shrunken boxy Thema lookalike but the more upmarket versions had out of this world great looking dashboards and interiors.
These cars are not loved and rediculously cheap, the Thesis is quickly getting expensive.
The seats may be Alcantara. Very strong and durable.
That looks an awful lot like a Hyundai Elantra wagon from roughly the same era and sports the goggle eyes also seen on the Kia Amanti. What did these go for new in $?
My first reaction was that it resembles a the fish-faced Ford Scorpios of the mid-90s.
It seems like a lot of stylists in that decade took a crack at reviving the round headlights with a separate grill look. To my eye, they all end up looking awkward and tacked on.
Maybe this Lancia just doesn’t photograph well, but it really looks to me like it’s sucking a lemon.
The wagon seems more interesting than the sedan only due to it being a wagon, but I can’t really get past that front end, seems a bit of a mashup between a Daewoo, a Toyota Origin but not so much the old Aurelia. Single round headlights just don’t seem to work on an otherwise modern design, for me at least.
An interesting find for sure, but likely not a car that is treasured.
I like what I see, though I’d never guess it was a Lancia except from the front. I quite like the interior though – ergonomics seem good, and that big touchscreen up high is quite modern for 2002.
But with Lancia down to one remaining car in one country, the chances that whatever FCA/PSA decides to call itself will keep Lancia active seem infinitesimal, despite assurances that no brands are on the chopping block.
I had the good fortune to drive one of these, the same 2.4 litre diesel as in this article. My impressions are that it is was a refined and pleasant drive with very good suspension quality and with one really irritating exception, the car was very well put together with very good materials, It feels very much a cut above what Ford and Opel were selling at the time (and neither the Mondeo nor Vectra were at all bad). Things like the slam of the door, the super seats (so nicely tailored in hide) and the absurdly tidy and almost regal carpetting of the boot/trunk pointed towards a super car. Why did it not sell so well? I put the blame not on the style but the failure of Lancia to know how to sell their brand and their cars. At least 10% of Ford, Renault and Opel customers (and others in that class) would have chosen one if they knew it was on sale and if Lancia knew how to push the car´s qualities.
I am told the 2.4 litre engine requires removal for the cambelt change and I am told that that´s avoided by some easy if unorthodox under-the-hood jigger pokery.
It´s a thoroughly decent car and good ones are still cheap. They have been of production for a while and by now represent the last of the analogue cars – they ought to be very durable with normal maintenance (unlike later cars with their more and more fragile electronica).
Although I´ve always despised the Lybra (I find the front end styling ugly and inadequate), a couple of owners have told me that it´s a surprisingly reliable and durable car, with a very good ride/handling compromise (his cousin the Alfa 156 is rather firm) and pleasant to drive and ride in. That´s a lot better than other ´80s and ´90s Lancia efforts.
Had Saab somehow survived without GM’s help, this car almost certainly would have been sold as one. All they’d have had to do was replace the cigarette lighter with an ignition switch.
Oh dear, old age can be cruel. Not much of a way to end up just before death. The bits that aren’t bland are unpleasant and the whole is subsequently either forgettable or not likeable, neither state being desirable. That said, I will trust your liking for it as the metal presence can sometimes make quite a difference. And that said, why wouldn’t one just buy the original, the lovely-looking 156? And that said, you also liked the Thesis, which is unfinished and has no conclusion in good taste, so I withdraw my faith in your Lybresque faithfulness.
Poor Lancia. The grande old dame did not seem to know anymore that the end was not only nigh, but past.
As I have said elsewhere, Lancia got trapped by the false dichotomy that the alternative to sporty was luxury. If Lancia had offered contemporary styling with sporty handling, Lancia could have offered modern and advanced styling with comfort. In both cases the badge of “old person´s car” could have been dodged. Instead Lancia who were progressive and modern became an Italian Rover. The modern styling I envision for Lancia would have signalled the owner was “with it” and the comfort would have been a quiet selling feature. That sounds like Citroen, doesn´t it?
I can´t underline how pleasing this car was to be in and to drive. I like the appearance (I prefer the saloon) but I can see many don´t. Such a pity as Lancia really did a good job with this car – the suspension is leagues ahead of its competitors in terms of comfort and complexity. The replacement car corrected the styling problem but was worse in every other respect. I drove one of them too. Loathsome.
Agreed with most of what has been said but Fiat’s diesels of the period in both 4 and 5 cylinder varieties were the best in biz, period. I am aware of 2.4s going over 400,000 miles before conking out; a good friend owns a 156 with the 1.9L 4 cylinder and has something like 350,000 Km on the clock. And that engine has been chipped for more power, so there.
I feel sorry for Lancia, after the flawed brilliance of the 70s and 80s they they became a sort of Mercury selling tarted up Fiats and Alfas before the final insult badge engineered Chryslers.
This seems like a nice but generic car since at first glance it looks like a Korean take on a C-Class Mercedes.