New cars: Lancia Volumex HPE and Coupe

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Even engineering seems to run in fashions, and of late the turbo has been correct wear for all occasions. Lancia, however, have forsaken the ideal of “something for nothing” which seemed so appealing about the turbo, and have returned to the engine-driven supercharger, in the form of the Volumex unit.

This compressor is light and very compact, and absorbs only a little more power than an air-conditioning unit. The rationale behind using it is that increased flexibility enables higher gears to be used, and higher efficiencies to be realised, so that the driver has the choice of better consumption or better performance than the atmospheric version.

Driving the latest Coupe and HPE with Volumex proved that the system is much pleasanter than most turbos, in that there is no need to look at rev, and pressure dials — you cannot come off the boost. Trickling through Turin traffic, both cars were happy in the upper ratios, with a smooth surge ahead available at any time by dropping down through that stiff but positive gearbox. Reaching the autostrada soon showed that a quiet 120 m.p.h. was quite attainable, with the deeper chin spoiler adding to the stability, as well as advertising the increased power — 135 b.h.p. instead of the 122 b.h.p. of the standard 2-litre injection.

It is however on winding roads that the system comes into its own. With no extra noise being generated, it simply feels like a bigger engine, and with peak torque below 3,000 r.p.m. and peak power at 5,500, it seems to make little difference when you change gear. The curiously solid steering (power-assisted but heavy nonetheless) tends to disguise the f.w.d. cornering loads, making tight bends harder to gauge in the HPE, which is longer in wheelbase and less responsive than the very enjoyable Coupe. Both cars benefit from stiffer suspension and a tougher clutch, and drive ratios have been raised.

The unfussy nature of the new power unit belies the sophisticated processes that keep it running at its best — a cold start system, intake temperature control, and a vapour extractor pump which operates after the engine is switched off. The end result is an enjoyable pair of models, with the Coupe definitely having the edge on driving pleasure, always provided that you can reach the steering wheel easily, Italian cars being what they are.

British prices have not yet been agreed, but the existing injection models show a £700 price difference in favour of the Coupe; if you do not need the practicality of the HPE VX, still one of the few sporting estates, then the Coupe VX is the one to have. — GC.

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