The Chrysler Delta is a bit different from the norm, but it is too patchy to recommend it highly.

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The Fiat Group finally got around to introducing the Chrysler Delta (née Lancia) to the UK in 2011. A crucial prong of the manufacturer’s new UK range reinvented under the auspices of Fiat, the Chrysler Delta is the US brand’s affordable family five-door – its competitor in one of the biggest market segments there is. It’s also the acid test of Fiat’s vision for the future of Chrysler in Britain.

Badged a Lancia in virtually every other EU territory in which it’s sold, the Chrysler Delta – in the UK, at least – must somehow appeal to those who have been lured, relatively recently, by quirky American character cars such as the Crossfire and PT Cruiser. Along with the Ypsilon supermini, it must slot into showrooms beside the Grand Voyager and the square-jawed 300C without looking like a cynically conceived, badge-engineered misfit.

The Delta is badged as a Lancia across Europe, but carries the all-American badge in the UK

Acceptance will be much more easily achieved, however, if the Delta delivers on Chrysler’s marketing promise for the car: of truly distinguishing beauty, space, quality, innovation and luxury.

The range comprises two petrol and two diesel engines, while four trim levels are on offer: S, SE, SR and the range-topping Limited version.



Chrysler Delta rear

When it announced its five-year plan for the Chrysler Group in 2009, Fiat declared that Lancia and the newly acquired American brand would, in effect, share models.

This modus operandi allows Fiat to roll out one range of models across the EU, via either Chrysler or Lancia showrooms, depending on which distribution network promises the greater commercial success. That’s how it has come to pass that the Delta hatchback can be a Chrysler in the UK and Ireland but a Lancia everywhere else.

The Delta stands out from the crowd

For anyone even remotely familiar with the styling of Chryslers of recent years, the Delta is going to come as something of a shock. The car’s two-tone paintwork, ornate detailing and sharply creased surfaces make it entirely unlike anything else in a rather by-the-numbers class.

The Chrysler redraft is limited to a badge swap and a slightly altered grille. Elsewhere, vertical LED rear lamps show the car’s Lancia heritage because they are a brand design hallmark of the brand, having first been seen on the Thema

The overall impression is of a car that’s distinctive, handsome and quite contemporary, but also decidedly European-looking – and that may be a sticking point for a portion of Chrysler’s returning customer base.

It’s among the biggest C-segment cars you can buy, with an overall length of 4520mm – almost 300mm longer than a Volkswagen Golf.

If the Delta’s appearance is somewhat controversial, its underpinnings could hardly be more orthodox. It uses the same platform that features under the current Fiat Bravo, with one notable difference: the Delta’s wheelbase is 100mm longer than its cousin’s. In fact, at 2700mm, the wheelbase is identical to that of the Fiat Croma, a different crossover hatchback that enjoyed a short stint on sale in the UK six years ago.

The Delta has the same relationship with the Bravo, Fiat’s mainstream 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 and equipment levels, and is meant to be more upmarket.


Chrysler Delta interior

There’s certainly a sheen of quality and luxury to the Delta’s cabin. If you go for a high-spec SR trim car, you’ll get leather and Alcantara upholstery, a mix of satin silver and chrome trim, and some soft black fascia plastics. A leather-clad dashboard is an option.

But that upmarket feeling doesn’t last long once you’ve slid behind the wheel, because this cockpit proves something of a Monet: pleasant from afar but up close – in places, at least – far from nice. The fit and finish of the Delta’s secondary switchgear – the audio system buttons on that silvery centre stack, for example – has improved compared with that of the original car we drove back in 2008. But what the Delta offers in terms of interior ambience and sheer material quality still isn’t rich or special enough to deserve any kind of luxury billing.

Fiat Group persists with its Dualdrive power steering and its extra-light ‘City’ assistance setting. You wouldn’t want it any lighter

There’s simply not enough imagination, quality or style to the Delta’s fascia. Next to this sector’s classiest offerings the dashboard looks and feels flimsy, even dowdy in places. And here and there, where Chrysler has tried to design in some luxury – with the chromed interior door handles and their surrounds, for example – that upmarket impression is wafer thin and disappears the moment you feel ordinary plastic where there might have been cool, tactile steel or aluminium. You don’t have to hunt for very long to find cheap fittings, either. The scratchy monotone plastic handbrake is particularly disappointing.

The Delta is a fairly spacious car, but there are flaws in its offering here, too. Long-squabbed seats should make for good comfort, but the Delta’s are flat and unusually hard. The rear bench is split 60:40 and both sides of it slide fore and aft by up to 150mm, allowing for a maximum of 1020mm of rear legroom – 80mm more than you get in a Ford Focus estate. 

But although occupants in the front row are better provided for, those in the back of the Delta get just 890mm of headroom – 70mm less than in the Ford. Which, in the case of one 6ft 3in tester, made the difference between sitting comfortably in the back and having his scalp against the headlining.

Boot space is good – the maximum loading length is almost as good as a mid-sized estate’s – but the usefulness of the cargo bay is limited by quite a narrow hatchback opening, and also by a boot floor that’s not quite flat when you load long objects over the folded backs of those sliding rear seats.


Fiat-derived Chrysler Delta engine

Unsurprisingly, the new Chrysler’s engines also come courtesy of Fiat. The entry-level model gets the manufacturer’s older 118bhp 1.4-litre T-Jet petrol turbo lump, which is joined in the petrol line-up by a turbocharged 1.4-litre MultiAir unit. The diesel line-up comprises the 118bhp 1.6-litre MultiJet and ends with the 162bhp 1.9-litre oil-burner, which is available in range-topping Delta Limited trim only.

All cars in the range come with manual gearboxes apart from the 1.6-litre MultiJet diesel, which is offered with either a manual or ‘robotised manual’ transmission.

The engines are more familiar than the bold styling

Although power is pegged at 138bhp, the turbocharged 1.4-litre engine in the petrol car means 170lb ft of torque is available from way below 2000rpm, which makes the car quite relaxing to drive. It’s more willing to accelerate through higher intermediate gears from lower speeds than a normally aspirated engine might be. A reasonably low kerb weight of 1445kg, as tested, helps too. There’s not diesel-rivaling tractability, but it’s much better than you might expect from such a small petrol motor in a relatively large car.


Chrysler Delta cornering

The Delta’s chassis is divided between MacPherson struts at the front and a torsion beam at the rear. This car handles and rides with more than enough competence to meet the class average. It has a quiet chassis, rides bumps without harshness and steers every bit as accurately as most medium-sized hatchbacks.

Refinement is where we hoped the Delta would really stamp its authority on proceedings. It proved quite quiet and generated 71dB of wind rush, road roar and engine noise at 70mph, but its rolling manners aren’t particularly suave.

The Delta is impressively refined

Our main dynamic criticism is that it fails in the one area that a luxury car should succeed. Conventional notions of luxury may be changing, but a smooth primary ride is still vital, we feel, for any car that purports to provide it. And the Delta is a little too stiff legged to isolate its occupants from a broken road surface with any outstanding success. Although it doesn’t suffer with much pitch or roll of its body and seems quite well damped during sporting driving, the Delta always feels intimately connected to the road surface rather than insulated from it. 

So if you’re attracted to this car on the basis of how it’s described in Chrysler’s advertising and are hoping for a primary ride that’s cosseting enough to set new standards among £20k family cars, you’re in for an unsatisfactory experience when you try one.

The Delta’s torsion beam rear suspension seems to be the main culprit of the dynamic disappointment. This is a big car to have that kind of chassis technology, and in order to deliver good cornering stability and a quiet secondary ride, Chrysler/Lancia has opted for quite high spring and damper rates and particularly firm bushing – so the car struggles to provide calm, gentle and luxurious compliance over lumps and bumps.

The flipside is much better grip, involvement and handling precision than we expected. That stiff rear end makes it feel quite responsive – pointy, you might even say – in slippery conditions. Although the car’s electro-mechanical power steering is overly keen to self-centre, it has reasonable weight away from the straight-ahead, even if it still lacks natural feel.

The car’s light pedals and gearchange don’t make it an easy car to get away from a standstill if you’re in a hurry; the primary controls lack the feedback you need to be sure of optimum traction. Having said that, the Delta’s Michelin tyres provide it with more than enough front-end grip to prevent wheelspin under full power, and throttle response is good.


Chrysler Delta

Economy is one of the biggest commendations of the Delta. The 1.4 MultiAir variant returned 45.4mpg on our touring test – the sort of result you might have expected from a diesel hatchback of its size, armed with a clever twin-clutch gearbox, not so long ago.

For a manual petrol five-door family car, that’s an excellent showing, although the more ordinary 34.2mpg we averaged throughout the test suggests that the Delta only really serves up such good economy when you drive with frugality in mind.

Eco-drivers will need to employ their skills to record impressive economy figures

That car’s economy is bettered by the 1.6 Multijet diesel manual, which promises a combined 60.1mpg and 122g/km (putting it in VED band D) for a premium over the 1.4 MultiAir petrol. When that car’s equipped with the robotised auto transmission, CO2 falls to 120g/km and scrapes into band C, but that car is more expensive than the manual. 

Chrysler expects the 1.4 MultiAir in SE trim and the 1.6 M-Jet auto to be the most popular sellers in the UK. Meanwhile, the ambitious £25k asking price of the range-topping 2.0 MultiJet oilburner contrasts sharply with the attractive £17k tag on the most basic petrol model. That entry level 1.4 T-Jet sits in insurance group 17 and VED band F.

The Delta represents good but not outstanding value. Buying one at list price instead of a like-for-like Ford Focus or Volkswagen Golf represents a decent saving. Given the quality of both of those cars, you’d expect as much. But you can also expect a good discount from a Chrysler dealer if you time your purchase well. There’s also an initial offer to include five years’ free servicing in the car’s purchase price.

The Delta is unlikely to make a big dent in a class dominated by Europe’s automotive superpowers. According to its manufacturer – which plans just 2500 sales a year – that will allow the car to remain exclusive and have strong residual values. 

Time will tell if its mathematical optimism is warranted, but our information suggests a Delta will retain about four percent more of its list price than a Focus over three years and 36,000 miles.


3 star Chrysler Delta

‘Luxury for less’ was always going to be a difficult brief for the Delta to fulfill. In the end, this car falls some way short of the standards of Europe’s very best medium-sized five-doors in terms of its rolling refinement and material quality.

The Delta’s distinctive looks and anti-mainstream character will probably lure plenty of interested customers out of more humdrum hatchbacks and satisfy them as owners. Those less bowled over by the idea of the Delta may well be more taken with the value for money that the car represents.

Few C-segment cars offer this much individuality of design

But given how numerous crossover cars are becoming at the £20k price point, it is simply insufficient for the Delta to be well priced, competent and a bit different. We were promised single-minded clarity of purpose from this car – one shining unique selling point. It was a great shame not to find it.

Chrysler Delta 2011-2013 First drives