What is it?
That’s the key question. Get ready for a long answer. Cynics will say, well, this Chrysler Delta is not a Chrysler, that’s for sure. The truth is it’s an Italian-built Lancia Delta, slightly modified and uniquely re-badged as a Chrysler for the UK because the new Fiat-Chrysler group (one of whose key strategies is to link Chrysler and Lancia products across the world) doesn’t want to go to the trouble of re-launching the Lancia brand in this country, where many decades ago it was involved in a rust scandal off which the Sunday newspapers fed for weeks.
Okay so far? There’s more. The Chrysler-Lancia Delta is a thoroughly decent and unusually roomy Italian-made car aimed at the Golf-Focus market sector. It has the same relationship with Fiat’s mainstream Bravo model as the Audi A3 does with the VW Golf. In short, it shares major dimensions and most of its mechanical parts, but has completely different body styling, equipment levels and is meant to be more upmarket.
The car is going on sale now. You’ll probably have seem the TV ads stressing luxury and space. Chrysler wants to sell 2500 to 3000 Deltas a year here, for a start, at prices (balanced for its better-than-average equipment levels) that undercut the VW Golf by around £500. Our 1.6-litre, 118bhp Multijet diesel test car, which in second-most-luxurious SR trim had all the important bells and whistles except a navigation system, full leather upholstery and rear parking sensors, cost a sensible-rounding £21,195 as standard, or £1250 more with the eye-catching “bi-colour” paint job featuring a matt black roof.
What's it like?
The Delta was given a bit of a hard time when it came out for its rather avant-garde styling, with radically raked side windowsills and a “shield” grille not everyone likes. But the progress of other cars’ styling seems to make it more acceptable now. The main criticism it draws is over the rather glib matching of Lancia and Chrysler, marques that could hardly come with more different heritage, and the tendency of Chrysler’s ad agency for post-rationalising the link. Put that aside and you have a modern-looking car, completely different from the mainstream, whose big dimensions in the class and sliding rear seat offer the buyer either a huge boot (with a notably low floor) or a very large rear compartment.
Cabin quality and equipment is good, and there is a pleasant novelty about the control layout that takes it right away from the German norm. Some buyers – surely at least 2500 a year – will love that. The seats are comfortable and the Alcantara-leather combination in our test car gripped the body well in corners.
On the road, the Delta is thoroughly decent to drive, without having quite a Golf level of refinement or a Focus’s responsiveness. The steering is light (even when you resist using Fiat’s useless “City” setting for the power steering) and quick-geared, which makes it quick and manoeuvrable in the city, even though it’s just about the biggest C-segment car you can buy.
The long wheelbase give it motorway stability and a flat ride, though its susceptibility to the ripples on most UK roads are at odds with its low wind and mechanical noise levels. Its standard six-speed gearbox is light, too, and so are its powerful brakes. Economy was impossible to judge on our short test, but Chrysler claims a combined figure of 60.1mpg and a CO2 output of 122g/km, not bad for a car with a 120mph to speed and a 0-60mph sprint time of 10.7seconds.
Should I buy one?
Purists and those who can’t live with the styling will say no. So will those concerned with the fact that there are fewer than 50 dealers in the country at present, though the figure is set to rise. But people who simply fancy something different, who need to carry full-sized adults in the rear or are attracted by launch deal of five years’ free servicing will find the Chrysler Delta a thoroughly decent small family car that can at least live with the class leaders in all important ways. Chrysler is making big resale value claims for the Delta, based on exclusivity; time will tell.
Chrysler Delta SR 1.6 Multijet
Price: £22,345; Top speed: 120 mph; 0-60 mph: 10.7 sec; Economy: 60.1mpg (combined); CO2: 122g/km; Kerb weight: 1485kg; Engine: 4cyl turbodiesel, 1598cc; Power: 118bhp at 4000rpm; Torque: 222lb ft at 1750rpm; Gearbox: 6-speed manual