Chrysler: a name that’s more likely to conjure up images of woeful 1970s Eurometal or more recent bruising 300Cs and Voyagers than it is Italianate hatchbacks bristling with styling brio.
Yet half of the American marque’s current UK range are smaller offerings that wear Lancia badges in Continental Europe; a quick and relatively easy fix to solve two problems.
By badging the Lancias as Chryslers in RHD markets, Fiat, Chrysler’s parent company, is able to shift more of Lancia’s product without having the expense of re-establishing the brand’s presence in Britain. Chrysler on the other hand, gets much needed smaller models to flesh out its showroom space and draw in customers who’d otherwise walk straight past the plate glass frontage.
As with the first generation Delta (we missed out on the second generation after Fiat pulled the Lancia plug here in 1994), the newest model is a C-segment car, aimed at a more discerning clientele preferring luxury and comfort to a sportier, filling jarring ride.
Has the wait for the return of the Delta nameplate been worth it?
During its hiatus in right hand drive sales, Lancia’s models have remained plushly trimmed, upscale Fiat derivatives but with a daring flamboyance employed in the styling department. The Delta is no exception.
Related to the Fiat Bravo with which it shares its drivetrain and chassis hardware, the Delta enjoys a 10cm increase in wheelbase length, specifically for the benefit of rear seat dwellers. Sit in the palatial surroundings of the Delta’s rear bench, trimmed in an appealing combination of leather and Alcantara and stretch your legs in the roomiest rear of any car in its class.
The front of the cabin also feels spacious, with plenty of headroom by virtue of the Delta’s high roofline, with further hints that Chrysler is marketing the Delta as a cut about the usual mass-market thrust of its rivals. Although the dashboard is relatively straightforward in its styling, there’s an elegance to it and a quality feel to much of the mouldings, with soft padding to the majority of the upper dashboard panels. It helps lift the ambience but it doesn’t quite feel special enough to be considered luxurious.
Outside, the Delta’s a different story, looking fresh and distinctive, in spite of being on sale across LHD Europe since 2008. Some may find the styling overdone with its plunging shoulder line, deep shield-like grille and glassy rear but the additional centimetreage in wheelbase lends the Chrysler an elongated elegance rarely enjoyed in this sector.
On the road you’ll discover the Delta occupies a Rover-shaped void in the market place, that long wheelbase resulting in a compliant and cushioning ride quality. Although the focus is definitely orientated towards wafting, the Chrysler suffers limited body roll before the front wheels breakaway into understeer. Not that your hands are experiening communicative levels of feel up to that point.
Forget Lancia’s proud rallying heritage, this is a car that’s best sampled pressing on along the straights and tackling sharper bends in a sedate state of driving exuberance.
Its 1.4-litre MultiAir engine is technologically interesting but despite its 140bhp and 170lb/ft of torque it combines to feel merely adequate for propelling the Delta’s considerable heft along. The torquier MultiJet diesels offer improved economy and a longer-legged experience that better suit the Delta’s nature as a comfortable cruiser.
Chrysler’s Delta isn’t the most exhilarating, thrill-a-moment driving experience you’ll sample but this isn’t the negative trait it initially sounds like – it should be celebrated for it.
In a C-segment brimming with me too hatchbacks, all promising to offer a sportscaresque feel from the driver’s seat, its refreshing that a brand has the confidence to tread a different path.
Delta looks special, feels reasonably special and is one of the most relaxed cars in the ‘Focus’ class. For the commuter looking for a car with reasonable pace, lots of space and a healthy dose of refinement, the Delta deserves serious consideration.
Model Tested: Chrysler Delta 1.4 MultiAir 140 SR
Top Speed: 126mph
Combined cycle fuel consumption: 49.6mpg
CO2 emissions: 120g/km
VED Band/Cost: D/£100pa
Engine size: 4/1368cc fuel injection, turbocharged petrol
Boot space: 380-1190l
Kerb weight: 1395kg
Price: £20,500 (April 2012)
All photographs © Chrysler 2012