Lancia has confirmed that it will rebadge Chrysler’s unloved Sebring sedan and convertible, known as the 200 since its recent makeover, adding it to the continental European range, and most likely reviving the historic Flavia name.

Lancia has confirmed that it will rebadge Chrysler’s unloved Sebring sedan and convertible, known as the 200 since its recent makeover, adding it to the continental European range, and most likely reviving the historic Flavia name.

“The new Chrysler 200 will come, cabriolet included, to Europe as a Lancia,” Fiat and Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne confirmed to reporters at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit this week. Seeming to confirm the fears of those who hold Lancia’s proud heritage in high esteem, he added: “Flavia is a very good hint as to its possible name.” Marchionne is believed to have long championed bringing the Sebring/200 to Europe as a Lancia, but has faced opposition within Fiat from those who believe the car fundamentally fails to appeal to European tastes and will merely serve as a showroom dust collector.

Launched in 1960, the original Flavia occupies a significant spot in Italian automotive history as the first Italian front-wheel drive production car. The brainchild of Lancia’s highly-respected Technical Director, Professor Antonio Fessia, it featured a large number of mechanical refinements typical of a Lancia, including an all-alloy four-cylinder boxer engine and four-wheel disc brakes.  It was, in short, an expensively-engineered, beautifully-constructed, thoroughly innovative and highly-regarded vehicle.

Sadly for Lancisti, none of these phrases can legitimately be applied to the Chrysler Sebring, a car launched at a point when Chrysler’s owner, Daimler, was reeling from the costs of its failure to turn the company around and was busily shaving costs in every department. As a result, the Sebring emerged as a gaspingly poor car by contemporary standards, easily the worst in its class even at launch, with thoroughly unresolved styling, poor interior materials and build quality, uninspiring handling, crashy ride, and deeply inadequate refinement – a characteristic present regardless of engine choice, but one which particularly afflicted examples fitted with the ‘World Gasoline Engine’.

To try and turn around that reputation, the new Chrysler Group entity, which sprang from the carmaker’s exit from the Chapter 11 bankruptcy procedure, thoroughly refreshed the car, part of which included ditching the Sebring tag in favour of the ‘200’ name. This facelifted version made its public debut this week at the North American International Motor Show in Detroit.

As well as new front and rear clips (although the troubled side profile remained unfortunately unchanged), the 200 receives a substantially refreshed interior with improved materials, revisions to the suspension to improve its dynamic qualities, and the well-regarded new ‘Pentastar’ V6 under the bonnet. However, this new engine – the car’s biggest plus point – will not be offered by Lancia in Europe, as it is not believed it would sell in sufficient numbers to be viable. The U.S.-market 200 retains the unchanged 2.4-litre WGE unit as its mainstay four-cylinder petrol option in the U.S., but for Europe, the 200 will instead receive Fiat Powertrain’s 170CV 2.0 MultiJet turbodiesel, coupled to an FPT six-speed manual transmission. This powertrain is the same as that earmarked for the Fiat ‘Freemont’, a rebadged Dodge Journey which shares the same platform as the 200 and which will also make its debut in Geneva. It replaces the 140CV Volkswagen 2.0 TDI unit found in European versions of the slow-selling Sebring and Journey. Lancia’s version of the 200 will also receive European-spec bumpers and a Lancia grille, although in other respects it will remain unremittingly unchanged in appearance from the American Chrysler version.

These limited changes will also apply to the rebadged 200 Convertible, which will be the first factory-offered Lancia cabriolet since the Pininfarina-styled, Zagato-built Beta Spider of the 1970s. Although the Sebring Convertible was offered in both fabric-roof and folding-metal-roof forms, it is unclear so far whether a ‘coupe-convertible’ option will be offered on the 200 drop-top, which is expected to debut at either next month’s Chicago Motor Show, or April’s New York show.

If Fiat’s public pronouncements on the 200 are anything to go by, the company hierarchy is itself lacking a degree of confidence in public reception to the car. Speaking to Italian journalists on the sidelines of the Detroit show, Marchionne admitted he was aware of “skepticism” about its viability in Europe, but insisted the changes to the interior, suspension and engine made the 200 not just a dramatic advance over the Sebring, but “very advanced” in its own right.

According to Automotive News Europe, Lancia hopes the ‘Flavia’ will give the brand an image boost, although this is little more than wishful thinking. More concretely, it is looking to achieve solid profit margins on the car, as, in terms of price, it will be positioned above the C/D-segment-straddling Delta hatchback. In this context, however, it is pertinent to ask how many units Lancia can expect to sell. The strategy of positioning the 200 above the Delta appears to leave the car a near-nonexistent niche in the market, since the price of a basic Delta 2.0 MultiJet rivals that of accomplished and equivalently-engined D-segment competitors such as the Ford Mondeo. It is hard to imagine the same engine, installed in the ungainly shape of the 200 and commanding a price premium over such well-established rivals, will find much favour amongst a European buying public all too familiar with the Sebring’s inadequacies. The car’s bodystyle is also a potentially significant inhibitor to sales, as hatchbacks and estates dominate this segment of the market in Europe, at the expense of four-door sedans.

Moreover, Lancia has somewhat surprisingly chosen to display the 200 in public in Geneva this spring, giving a reasonably dated product a very tough job to be seen and heard within a plethora of genuinely new models arriving from almost every carmaker at the world’s most important motor show – not the least of which are Lancia’s own. It is a curious decision since the Lancia-badged 200 won’t go on sale in Europe until early 2012 – nearly 12 months away – as engineering and proving work on the diesel engine installation is not yet completed.

Nevertheless, at the Swiss show, it will form part of a ‘new’ product onslaught for the upscale Italian brand, which will also present rebadged versions of the recently-refreshed Chrysler 300 sedan and Town & Country minivan, replacing the out-of-production Thesis executive sedan and Phedra MPV respectively, as well as the all-new, Polish-built Ypsilon, which is based on a lengthened version of the Fiat 500 platform. Observers, meanwhile, have been quick to dub the rebadged 200 Lancia’s ‘Arna moment’, a reference to an unlamented joint project between Alfa Romeo and Nissan in the 1980s which is now most famous as the butt of press jokes.

© 2011 Interfuture Media/Italiaspeed