20.06.2005 As the final Lancia Lybra rolls out of the Mirafiori factory this month after a six-year stint, we pay tribute to this excellent, yet underrated, bearer of the famous shield

It was noted earlier that it takes time to fully appreciate the depth of engineering in a Lancia, and further evidence of this is provided by Lybra owners. In general, they tend to be very satisfied customers, a fact aided by the Lybra consistently ranking amongst the best Fiat Auto products in terms of quality and reliability (supported by surveys such as those carried out by ADAC in Germany), but also by the generous level of standard equipment. This included dual-zone climate control, Bose Hi-Fi sound system, ABS with EBD, four airbags (later increased to six with the addition of two window-bags), seatbelt pre-tensioners and a multifunction LCD display, which included controls for a satellite navigation system and mobile phone.

Notwithstanding the emergency restyle which the design underwent late in the day, the Lybra’s styling is a notably elegant, attractive and distinctively Italian piece of work in an era of compact executives dominated by clinical, bland and, in some cases, downright ugly cars from Germany. Although a pleasant-looking car in photographs, the medium does little for this car, and indeed there are few cars which look so different, and improved, ‘in the metal’.

The interior should be singled out for special note – the restyle extended to a completely new dashboard by new design director Mike Robinson, and can be regarded as a particular success, being particularly stylish and lavish but also tasteful and restrained. Lancia has long been renowned for its aromatic, distinctive interiors, and of the current range the Lybra (along with, in particular, the Thesis) has helped to uphold this tradition.

The engine range has remained largely constant throughout the Lybra’s life, save for some small changes in output, notably for the diesel versions. The car debuted with five engine options – the 1.6 16V ‘Torque’ engine developing 103bhp, and four variations of the SuperFIRE modular family – the 1.8 16V VVT and 2.0 20V five-cylinder petrol engines, and two Unijet common-rail diesels, a 1.9 four-cylinder and a 2.4 in-line five. While the 1.8’s output has remained constant at 130bhp and the 2.0’s has in fact slightly dropped, from 154bhp to 150, the diesels have undergone constant development, as further evidence of Fiat’s commitment to progress in this area. The 1.9 JTD was boosted up to 110bhp from 105 in 2001, with a further 5bhp added in 2003, while the 2.4 JTD had its peak increased from the launch figure of 134bhp to 140bhp in 2001, and a year later, to 150bhp. These changes mirrored similar improvements to the 156’s diesel range. Standard transmission was a five-speed manual, but a four-speed automatic known as ‘Comfortronic’ (offering adaptive electronic control) was optional on the 2.0.

While adequate, the engine range lacked the breadth of some rivals, in particular lacking a six-cylinder option. This deficiency in the range was justified on the basis that the six-cylinder versions of direct rivals only accounted for a few percent of sales, but an alternative explanation could be that shoehorning in Alfa’s V6 had the potential to stimulate inter-brand rivalry. It does however seem a pity that the opportunity was never taken to place the 175bhp 2.4 five-cylinder from the Kappa underneath the Lybra’s bonnet, and create a car with noticeably different driving characteristics to the 156 2.5 V6.

In June 2001, the range was extended with the addition of the ‘Executive’ flagship model. This added heated seats, rain sensor, electrically-retracting door mirrors, tinted windows, larger alloy wheels and steering wheel controls for the stereo to the existing equipment list.

A year or so later, the Lybra underwent a change of home. While early Lybras were assembled at the Rivalta plant in Turin, the closure of that facility in April 2002 meant a relocation of the production line (along with that for the Thesis and Alfa 166) to the neighbouring Mirafiori plant, where final assembly was undertaken on the same line as the Fiat Marea.

At around the same time, a further round of specification changes was announced with the launch of the ‘Intensa’. Externally, this model was differentiated by certain parts painted in grey metalluro (including the door mouldings and handles, bumpers, and 16-inch alloy wheels running 205/55 tyres), while the interior featured perforated Alcantara trim on the doors and centre of the seats. Furthermore, in a change aimed at bringing the range into line with the Thesis and Phedra, a highly-specified ‘Emblema’ variant was introduced at the Bologna Motor Show in December that year.

At the same show a year later, the range was revised for the last time, offering more standard equipment, different colours and revised prices. The LS version now counted among its standard equipment list a CD changer, foglamps, and 15” alloy wheels; the LX added to that a satellite navigation system with GSM phone, while the Emblema specification added cruise control and Poltrona Frau tobacco- or beige-coloured leather to that list. In the end analysis, it is sales figures which ultimately matter, and unlike the Alfa Romeo 156, the Lybra will not be directly replaced, which is a shame.
 

The executive-segment Lancia Lybra will probably not go down in history as one of Lancia’s all-time great models, but that is no disgrace, considering the calibre of the models which represent that exclusive club. Instead, looking at it within the time and the difficult context in which it was conceived, a more fitting epitaph for the Lybra would seem to be that it deserves to be remembered by as a far better car than it was generally given the credit  for  during  its life. 
In June 2001, the range was extended with the addition of the ‘Executive’ flagship model. This added heated seats, rain sensor, electrically-retracting door mirrors, tinted windows, larger alloy wheels and steering wheel controls for the stereo to the existing equipment list
In June 2001, the range was extended with the addition of the ‘Executive’ flagship model. This added heated seats, rain sensor, electrically-retracting door mirrors, tinted windows, larger alloy wheels and steering wheel controls for the stereo to the existing equipment list
In June 2001, the Lancia Lybra range was extended with the addition of the ‘Executive’ flagship model. This added heated seats, rain sensor, electrically-retracting door mirrors, tinted windows, larger alloy wheels and steering wheel controls for the stereo to the car's  existing  equipment  list.
In a change aimed at bringing the Lybra range into line with the Thesis and Phedra, a highly-specified ‘Emblema’ variant was introduced at the Bologna Auto Show in December 2001.


Introduced in 2002, the Lybra Eleganza model was externally differentiated by certain parts painted in grey metalluro (including the door mouldings and handles, bumpers, and 16-inch alloy wheels with 205/55 tyres), while the interior featured perforated Alcantara trim on the  doors  and  seats.

 
Although sales figures were good for the first year of the car going on sale, they rapidly deteriorated as the sheer weight of competition and constant updates in the compact executive market started to weigh against the Lybra and the lack of development attention paid to it. Indeed, in the context of the new Croma serving as an indirect replacement, it is ironic that the Lybra was originally scheduled to be replaced by a Lancia version of this car, only for the project to be cancelled due to lack of funds. The Lybra may not have had the drop-dead gorgeous looks of the 156 or won Car of the Year, which has led to it being at least slightly overshadowed by the Alfa – but one tends to get the impression that this is due to an underrating of the Lybra’s capabilities rather than any significant flaws with the car itself. The Lybra will probably not go down in history as one of Lancia’s all-time great models, but that is no disgrace, considering the calibre of the models which represent that exclusive club. Instead, looking at it within the time and the difficult context in which it was conceived, a more fitting epitaph for the Lybra would seem to be that it deserves to be remembered by history as a far better car than it was generally given credit for during its life.

by Shant Fabricatorian

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Photos: Lancia; Additional material: James Granger

2005 Interfuture Media/Italiaspeed