First DriveStyling will divide opinion, but the Chrysler Delta is a thoroughly decent small family car that can live with the class leaders in all important ways
First DriveItalian hatchback majors on style, but can't quite deliver on substance
What is it?
The third generation Lancia Delta is a rare and important car. There hasn’t been an all-new Lancia since 2004, and this one will lead a renewed assault from the firm on Britain and much of the rest of Europe. It’s distinctive and interesting, with several engines unseen elsewhere in the Fiat group, and some clever technology too. But unfortunately, it's still not the car we were hoping for.
Come to this car with no thoughts of the last range of dull, disappointing Lancias that were sold in the UK and the Delta will surprise you with elegant looks and unusual proportions. It’s longer than a Ford Focus but shorter than a Mondeo.
Underneath the Delta, the Fiat Bravo floorpan has been stretched to include another 100mm between the front and rear wheels, and with another 100mm in the rear overhang. With rear seats that slide fore and aft by around 150mm, that gives the new Delta a cabin with as much rear legroom, or as much boot space, as the most accommodating cars from the class above.
What’s it like?
If you remember Lancia’s far-off history of mechanical innovation, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the new Delta. Three of the engines from this new Delta’s range of six are brand new, among them the twin-turbocharged 1.9-litre 190bhp diesel we’re testing here.
But the car disappoints in exactly the areas we’ve been lead to expect greatness by Lancia’s own pre-launch build-up. If the new Lancia is all about comfort, quality, luxury and refinement – if it is indeed ‘Italy’s answer to Lexus’ – you wouldn’t know it from the Delta’s driver’s seat.
This car’s material cabin quality is inconsistent; its rich leathers and soft touch dash materials are too often juxtaposed with shiny silver trims and hard plastics. And levels of fit and finish are equally variable, both inside the cabin and outside it.
Moreover, the Delta’s driving position is poor – and this is a fundamental flaw for what’s supposed to be an upmarket product. The position of the pedals and steering wheel were skewed to the left in the left-hooker we tested, and the squab of the front seats was too short for good leg support.
Mechanical refinement levels are only adequate; our 1.9-litre diesel was a strong performer, but no more quiet than the class average.
And perhaps most disappointing is the way this car rides; on the standard springs and dampers it affords occupants less comfort from ruts and bumps than many superminis, and while the secondary ride improves with the addition of the adaptive dampers, the Delta’s never as cosseting as it should be.
So, should I buy one?
With the Alfa Romeo brand to carry its sporting ambitions, the Fiat Group has recast Lancia in a unique mould; that of a maker of stylish, advanced, refined and spacious mainstream cars. With the Delta though, it has delivered a car with only half of those virtues, and plenty of faults besides.
We've already been waiting 14 years for Lancia to return to the UK, and we'll have to wait longer, until July 2009, for this Delta to touch down in the UK. But even then, on this evidence, the wait for a really good Lancia will go on for even longer.