Writing an objective review of the Chrysler Delta was always going to be tricky. So entrenched in my heart is the Lancia Delta that I find it tough to even type Chrysler and Delta in the same sentence. No word of a lie, on both the title and the first mention of Chrysler, I actually typed Lancia first. For me the words Lancia and Delta go hand in hand, in much the same way as love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage.
Look back at my school books and you’ll see photos of Martini Racing Deltas stuck haphazardly onto the back cover. My idol was Juha Kankkunen and if you asked me what car I’d own when I grew up, it would be the Lancia Delta. Well 20 years after passing my test I obviously still haven’t grown up as I’m yet to own a Lancia Delta. I haven’t even sat in one, unless of course you consider the Chrysler Delta to be a Lancia.
Which of course, it is. Let’s not beat around the bush here, the Chrysler Delta is as much a Chrysler as Andrea Pirlo is an American. In the rest of Europe, you’ll find exactly the same car wearing Lancia badges and that’s because it is a Lancia. The Fiat Group (which owns Chrysler and Lancia) has gone to great lengths to ensure all traces of Lancia have gone from the Chrysler and it’s only under the bonnet or boot tray where you’d see any hint of the Italians.
In fact, I’d expect that the vast majority of Delta customers in the UK could own a Delta and remain in blissful ignorance as to the car’s origins. And herein lies the point. Like it or not, Lancia has disappeared from these shores, so the closest you’ll get to buying an official right-hand drive Delta is by owning a Chrysler. Accept it, move on and judge the car on its merits rather than its history.
And if you do, you’ll find that the Chrysler Delta is a rather accomplished car. It’s a completely different proposition to Deltas of old, so you need to cast aside any thoughts that this may be a sporting car. It’s not, but that’s not to say it’s a bad car to drive, because it isn’t. But today’s Delta is built around the promise of space, style and elegance and on these three areas it stacks up rather well against the competition.
Take space as a starter. The Chrysler Delta is huge, both inside and out. Any photos you may have seen manage to hide the fact that this a very large car. It may compete against the likes of the Ford Focus and the Vauxhall Astra in the C-segment, but in certain areas the Delta can rival D-segment cars. Take the rear seats for example, which can slide backwards and forwards depending on whether you require more boot space or more rear leg room. If it’s the latter, then the passengers in the rear will be treated to a class leading 1,010mm of leg room. Furthermore, the rear seats can be reclined up to 25 degrees. Take it from me, the Delta is a nice car to be transported around in when sat in the back.
With the rear seats in their forward-most position, the Delta’s boot can offer 465 litres of luggage space. There’s also a hidden space under the boot floor, meaning that when the rear seats are folded forward, the Delta’s boot space increases to 1,190 litres. It’s worth noting though that the high sill on the boot can make loading and unloading quite tricky and the rear seats don’t fold enough to create a completely flat surface.
It doesn’t feel small in the front either, with the entire car presenting a light and airy feel. I’m loathe to say it’s a nice place to be, but that just about sums up the Delta’s cabin. There’s more that just a hint of Italian style about the interior and aside from questionable detailing and confusing switchgear, the Delta’s interior gets a thumbs up from me. I especially like the waffle-effect headlining that provides a wonderful contrast to the lower parts of the interior. But it’s not just for show as the roof lining is made from a polyester-based material that helps to reduce cabin noise. It must work as the only wind noise I could hear when on the move was coming from the base of the windscreen.
I also like the damped grab handles and glovebox lid, whilst the white on black dials and instruments are both easy to read and rather classy. It’s just a shame that the whole thing is ruined by a horrid steering wheel and gear knob. The raised section across the centre of the steering wheel just feels clumsy and some of the steering wheel controls are mounted in a way that makes them quite difficult to use. Also, why does the gear knob need to be shaped like that? What’s wrong with a simple ball?
Sadly the Alcantara and leather front seats (standard on the SR model), whilst stylish in appearance and initially quite comfortable, aren’t that supportive. Even after relatively short journeys my lower back started to ache a little bit and it’s the first time in any press car I’ve had to complain about this. They just don’t seem to offer much in the way of support.
But on the whole, the Chrysler Delta feels every inch the cut-price luxury car it’s designed to be. It also has bags more character and charm that the market leaders. Good work, Chrysler. Er, I mean Lancia. Oh, you know what I mean.
Which brings me nicely on to the outside of the Delta.
Now be honest, what do you think of the styling? It would appear that there’s an awful lot of people who reckon it’s hideous. Then there’s a lot of people who just think it looks weird. And there are those who love it. If you happen to be in the latter category, the chances are you would have seen it in the metal. Because there’s absolutely no denying it, the Delta has a huge amount of presence. I’d go as far as saying that the Delta is a rather beautiful car. Yes I know I’ll have rocks thrown at me for saying this, but the Delta is one of the most appealing looking cars available in Britain today.
Colour plays a big role in this, with my test car’s optional bi-colour Zenith White and matt black roof showing the Delta in its best light. The side view is simply magnificent. Look at the Delta side on and you’re greeted with the high waistline that rises to the rear. I also like the rear side window triangle that meets at a high point on the roof and is immediately met by the rear spoiler. Equally impressive are the curved LED tail lights that seem to float on the rear end, plus the surround-less rear window that gives the appearance of split tailgate.
Oh, and surely those optional 5-spoke 18″ alloy wheels are amongst the coolest on any car currently available to buy new?
Don’t get me wrong, I think there are some clumsy features on the Delta, most notably the huge overhang at the front. The high waistline also means the side rear windows are positioned on the high side, making it difficult for smaller passengers, i.e. children, to see out. The new Chrysler ‘family grille’ also looks like the afterthought that it so obviously is. The original third generation Delta looked far more elegant with the Lancia grille. It’s also fair to say that the Delta can look clumsy from some angles, but overall I think it’s a success.
So what’s it like to drive? Well let’s get one thing out of the way first – the Chrysler Delta is not a drivers’ car. You need to think of it as a kind of luxurious sub-premium hatchback that prefers a slow and considered waft to a Sunday morning B-road blast.
Its 140bhp 1.4 litre MultiAir engine is more than adequate and can propel the 1,395kg Delta along at a brisk rate, but its 0-62mph time of 9.2 seconds tells you that this is no hot hatch. On the plus side, you can expect to see a combined MPG figure of 49.6 and the CO2 emissions is a respectable 132g/km.
Hurrying the Delta is not an option. It is possible to drive the car quickly on a twisty B-road, but it really doesn’t inspire much confidence. There’s very little sense of being connected to the road, with a fair amount of body roll and overly light steering being the main culprits. The whole driving experience can be summarised as rather vague. Take your eye off the road for a second to adjust the radio or temperature and you find yourself in a different position on the road to where you expected.
But I think we need to cut the Delta some slack here. Chrysler hasn’t made any wild claims about its handling prowess or performance. It’s neatly positioned as an alternative to the mainstream that offers a little more space in a unique piece of packaging. Careful and measured drivers will be rewarded with a relaxed, quiet and supremely comfortable ride. The long wheelbase and sound deadening combine neatly to create an ambience that’s reminiscent of my old MK1 Skoda Superb. I rather enjoyed driving it, but for very different reasons to something like the Ford Focus. I know some people have criticised the ride quality on the optional 18″ alloys, but I didn’t find it a problem. It’s just a shame that the seats weren’t more comfortable.
The Chrysler Delta’s biggest problem is that it really is competing in a difficult sector. When you’ve got the likes of the Volvo V40 arriving very soon, it’s hard to see where Chrysler is going to steal sales from.
I can’t see buyers of the premium German marques switching to the Chrysler and I can’t foresee Ford, Vauxhall or Volkswagen losing any sleep over it.
And this is a shame, because I really grew to like the Delta during my week with it. I’m a big fan of its styling and I enjoyed seeing people literally stop in their tracks when they set eyes on it. It definitely divided opinion, but more often than not, people were impressed when they took a good look at it.
Delta ownership can start from as little as £16,700 for the S model, but my SR test car would cost £20,495 before adding the optional (but essential!) bi-colour paint and 18″ alloys. We’re into Focus Titanium X territory here, which offers improved dynamics and a larger dealer network.
But when you start to think of the Delta as car that sits between the C and D sectors, it begins to make more sense. It’s spacious, nice to drive and is going to be quite a rare site on Britain’s roads.
I predict that we’ll look back on the Chrysler Delta in ten years time in much the same way as we do with the likes of the Renault Avantime, Renault Vel Satis and Passat W8. A bit of an oddball when new, but once depreciation has taken a massive bite out of its value, it will be a more appealing prospect.
In the meantime though, no matter how hard I try, I can’t look past the fact that this is a Lancia wearing Chrysler badges. At one point I actually got quite depressed driving it because I can’t help thinking that this is a missed opportunity for the brand. It makes a good account for itself, so it’s a shame that for the most part, people will be unaware that it’s just a Lancia wearing American trinkets.
Look, I get the fact that the existing Chrysler network and infrastructure means it makes more sense to badge it as a Chrysler. I also get the point about Chrysler’s brand being stronger in the UK, although aside from the Grand Voyager, I’m not sure how far this stretches. But as a Lancia fan, it would take all my willpower not to order a set of Lancia badges from Italy and put the Delta back in its rightful place.
If you can look beyond this though, the Chrysler Delta makes for an interesting, slightly quirky and spacious alternative to the norm. I really like it and would applaud anyone who buys one.
It isn’t perfect, but then Lancias never were, were they?
Chrysler Delta 1.4 MultiAir SR
Details of scoring can be seen here.