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Automotive Traveler Magazine: 2011 02 Chrysler And Lancia Page 1

Auto News: Chrysler and Lancia to Get Hitched in Geneva

In a little more than a year, Chrysler and Lancia have merged their product lines and are now forging a global alliance unimagined just 12 months ago. Richard Truesdell fills in the score card with all the details.

Last month, we saw the first tangible evidence of the emerging integration of Chrysler and Fiat: the launch of the North American version of the Fiat 500. We'll see the second chapter next month in Switzerland: the worldwide merging of the Chrysler and Lancia brands when four recently introduced Chryslers--the executive-level 300, the D-segment 200 sedan and convertible, and the Town and Country--will premiere in Geneva sporting new grilles and trim... and wearing the Lancia badge.

Lancia's latest Thema is the new rear-drive sedan based on the 2011 Chrysler 300. The first Thema debuted back in 1984 as part of the Type Four program that also included the Alfa Romeo 164, the Fiat Croma, and the Saab 9000. Like the original, this new version is ready to compete against all comers in the global E-segment, which includes the Audi A6, the BMW 5 Series, and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class.

Planned for sale throughout continental Europe, it will be sold in the United Kingdom as a Chrysler 300. Both versions will be built at the Chrysler plant in Brampton, Ontario.

Chrysler's 300 has already received very positive reviews on its upgraded interior. Its Lancia counterpart will raise the bar further with the addition of Poltrona Frau leather interiors, including the trim on the instrument panel.

Three engines will initially be offered to European customers when the Thema goes on sale there in October as a 2012 model. The first will be a 292-horsepower version of Chrysler's new Pentastar V6, paired with an all-new eight-speed automatic gearbox that will be a running change for the Chrysler 300 later this year.

Two three-liter V6 diesel engines will be offered in overseas markets, manufactured by VM and producing 190 or 224 horsepower with both mated to the existing five-speed automatic transmission. These three engines will propel the Thema to a top speed in excess of 130 m.p.h.

The new Lancia flagship boasts the same distinctive proportions as its Chrysler counterpart. The windshield is steeply raked, with slim pillars that improve overall visibility.

The Thema will share the 300's cabin marked by best-in-class silence, a byproduct of two composite underbody panels, laminated windshield and windows, and noise-absorbing panels in the passenger compartment and the cavities of the wheel arches that ensure excellent absorption of road noise.

The Thema will also share all the infotainment options found on the 300. This includes an 8.4-inch touch screen that controls an optional 506-watt premium audio system and the standard Garmin-based satellite navigation system. It is also used to display the view of the rear camera system.

On the safety front, the new Thema offers more than 70 related features, among them "Adaptive Cruise Control" and "Forward Collision Warning," the supplementary function that alerts the driver in the event of a potential collision. The Adaptive Cruise Control system is optimized to prevent the undesirable consequences of high fuel consumption. Blind-spot and cross-path-detection systems are also incorporated.

Fresh on the heels of its well-received two-minute Super Bowl commercial, the Chrysler 200 will serve as the basis for two D-segment concepts, a Flavia sedan and a convertible, that fully explore the potential of the Lancia-Chrysler alliance. Lancia and Chrysler representatives have indicated that the Flavia concepts are production-ready and could reach European showrooms before the end of 2011.

In terms of length, height, and width, the Lancia Flavia Concept (sedan and convertible) is at the top of the D segment, which guarantees exceptional roominess and on-board comfort.

The Lancia Flavia Concept sedan features a soundproofed passenger compartment that, like the Thema, benefits from a laminated windscreen and windows and new sound-absorbing materials throughout the vehicle that enhance interior quiet and comfort. The convertible version also boasts plenty of space to accommodate four adults comfortably.

Both configurations of the Lancia Flavia Concept include fine leather interiors, confirming the world-renowned signature Lancia quality, and an extensive array of equipment with impressive features as standard: from electronic stability control, numerous airbags (multi-stage front, side, and window bags), and electronic-traction control to a steering wheel with integrated controls for completely safe management of radio, cruise control, and mobile phone.

Chrysler's familiar Town and Country minivan will make the trip across the Atlantic as well as the Lancia Grand Voyager. In the recent past, Chrysler assembled its minivans (along with the 300 and Jeep Grand Cherokee) in Austria. This time around, the Lancia Grand Voyager will be assembled here in North America and imported to Europe.

With 27 years on the road and 13 million units sold in 120 countries, the Grand Voyager is a true leader in the MPV category. The vehicle "marries" Italian style, as described by the company--metamorphosing into an exclusive top-range MPV in which Chrysler's journey expertise joins forces with that of Lancia in driving satisfaction, on-board comfort, reduced passenger compartment noise, the art of attention to detail, and Italian design.

The result, said to be the best Voyager ever, will replace the outgoing Lancia Phedra multi-purpose vehicle. The version showcased in Geneva will feature the Platinum trim level and is equipped with a Euro5-compliant 283-horsepower 3.6-liter Pentastar V6. The external bodywork is in metallic Brilliant Black, and the interior features rich leather upholstery, an electric sunroof, a "super console," a multimedia entertainment system, and blind-spot and cross-path detection functions.

In addition to these North American imports, Lancia will be showing updates to two of the mainstays of its existing lineup in Geneva: the premium subcompact Ypsilon and the compact Delta. Geneva will see the introduction of a new five-door hatchback model to augment the existing three-door.

In the all-important C segment, Lancia has updated its compact, the same platform that served as a basis for the Lancia-based concept shown at the 2010 North American International Automobile Show. It will be sold as a Chrysler in the United Kingdom and Ireland and may possibly be imported to the United States.