There’s a reason why the interior of a Volkswagen Passat feels so different to that of the Audi A4.

080604_L_Delta_24 VW Group understands that, to make punters pay big for premium products, it has to effectively separate them from its more mainstream offerings. And however many bits the Audi and VW share under the surface, you’d be hard pressed to find a single shared component in the cabin.

The management of the Fiat Group will be reminded of these home truths when reviews of the Lancia Delta begin to land.

Having just got back from driving it, I can honestly say that I’m gutted that it isn’t the car I hoped it would be. There’s no sugar-coating this; it just isn’t good enough. It isn’t refined enough; it isn’t sufficiently well appointed or finished. Frankly, it’s just too closely related to a Fiat Bravo to even justify comparison with a Volvo V50, let alone an Audi A3 Sportback.

And don’t think I’m expecting too much of the new Delta, either. I appreciate that it would be unreasonable to expect this car to be as upmarket as a Lexus IS, or a Mercedes CLC, because these days there are premium products and ‘premium products’.

I’d have been happy with material quality that measured up to Saab, Honda, or VW standards. To be honest, I’d have been happy if it could go over an expansion joint with the same quiet compliance as a Citroen C5.

No - Lancia seems to think that an extra bit of legroom in the rear (without any additional head or shoulder-room, I might add), an extra bit of boot space, some bits of faux-chrome trim and a generous options list is enough to turn a run-of-the-mill Fiat hatchback into something you’d pay £20,000 for.

You’d have to be either foaming at the mouth, or so nationalistic an Italian that you only eat tricolore pasta in green, white and red, to pay £20k for this car.

It’s a crying shame, because Lancia deserves to succeed. It deserves to be invested in; to be managed by someone who appreciates its pioneering history (Lancia pioneered independent suspension, the five-speed gearbox, the first V6 car engine and the first V4). It deserves to become Italy’s answer to Audi, Jaguar and Lexus; to be developed without regard for the consequences on Alfa Romeo, Maserati, or any other part of the Fiat Group.

But that will clearly take more money, more vision and more effort than Fiat itself is prepared to give it. And it can’t be achieved using Turin’s leftovers.

Until yesterday I was – as a confirmed Lancia fan – looking forwards to the reintroduction of the brand to Britain. Now I’m dreading it.