Swimming in the Bight

So, Lancia Delta, what are you like to drive? Driven To Write continues its quest to test every Lancia available. 

2008 Lancia Delta 1.6 Oro

The Lancia Delta appeared under the banner of spearheading a rebirth at Lancia. The background to the Delta looked like this: a replacement for the Lybra saloon and estate and also a vehicle to cover a market the Bravo didn’t reach. As such, the Delta had to be luxury and estatey-wagony. Thus Lancia based it on the Fiat Bravo but with a longer floor-pan and a half-hatch, half-estate profile. Lancia sold the car with a quite broad engine range.

One could have two petrols – a 1.4 turbo and a 1.8 turbo. And one could have three diesels: 1.6, 1.9 and a 2.0 multijet turbo. All of them were burdened with six-speed manuals or a “robotized” semi-automatic. The car weighed about 1400 kg. All of the engines were the same as ones available in Fiats. VW does the same thing.

The Delta had a longer wheelbase than was typical, making for a car 4.5m long with 2.7 m between the axles ( 40 cm more than a Focus Mk2). That allowed much more interior room than a Focus or Golf without increasing the overall length very much. Two, it could

2008 Lancia Delta 1.6 – attractive and alluring

really be said to have striking styling. The bold grille and elegant vertical slit tail lamps drew from the Lancia Thesis of 2002 and also made a visual link to Lancia’s perennial best-seller, the Ypsilon. The interior also offered features that tried to put clear water between it and its peers: soft leather seating, nice colours, opulent-looking metal and distinctive seat forms. The dashboard spoils this by being carried over from the Bravo almost wholesale apart from a modified centre panel and rotary dials instead of HVAC buttons. Flashes of bright metal adorn the doors and the rear passenger area is actually quite nice to look at; it looks as you would draw it.

Classical and modern at the same time: 2008 Lancia Delta rear lamps.

Another handy feature of the car is the fact that the rear seats can be moved forward to increase the boot volume from 350 to 450 litres, making it very flexible. With the seats forward, the rear legroom is more super-mini though not unacceptable. Lots of i20 owners get by with that kind of space.

Familiar? 2008 Lancia Delta interior

Despite using mostly the same engines and dashboard as the Fiat Bravo, Lancia still didn’t save enough money to stop the rest of the trim being problematic. I will come back to that.

2008 Lancia Delta brightwork.

Setting off, one immediately encounters the rough rattle of the engine. For this test the 1.6 diesel-burner did the pulling duties. The engine provides 120 PS or 88 kW. The gearbox is about up to the usual standard one finds these days: mostly smooth changes but occasional rubbery shifts that seem to

Setting a trend: the tricksy C-pillar.

go nowhere. The pick-up is good and the car moves off the line smartly. The steering wheel spars are annoying imediately. They stand proud of the plane of the wheel and when one tries to twirl the rim using the palms the spars get in the way. I know driving schools don’t encourage this style of steering but it’s what one tends to do in town when using full lock or navigating winding lanes. It’s like having a pebble in your shoe.

The Delta’s ride quality isn’t at all bad. The car ran on 16” rims while the 17” received criticism for their rumbling. The car handles road humps with creditable aplomb and the suspension absorbed pavement scars quite well though I did notice a rattle and also creakiness all around, as if the extended floorpan wasn’t structurally rigid enough.

Damningly, the Lancia failed to be as smooth as the Astra estate I tested in the spring. The body rolled a bit on sharp corners. I tend not to mind this but perhaps passengers would. Body roll isn’t a necessary corollary of a plush ride: that Astra stayed upright despite its well-damped and well-sprung chassis.

Some people dislike light steering. I don’t. The Delta’s felt light and also pleasant, with the option of an extra feathery town setting which I appreciate. Characteristics like turn-in and road-feel didn’t register meaning they were adequate: not good, and not bad.

2008 Lancia Delta HVAC panel

If I turn to things such as minor controls, one finds those rotary HVAC controls. Credit for that. I hate buttons. The credit is cancelled by dint of the controls being loosely anchored and having glutinous action. The air-con didn’t con that well though even at full-blast the fans made little noise. The radio controls are as bad as anyone else’s. A general summing up is that everything in the Lancia felt slightly below par.

As a potential family car, the Lancia offers the possibility of impressive rear leg-room and a centre arm-rest. There is an air-vent in the centre of the console too. The view out matched that of other cars in the class: large head-restraints and thick pillars cropped the view out markedly.

Looks good but…

Where it falls down very badly is that the seat is not just flat but feels as if it is inclined very slightly forward (though it is not). This impression is created by the large radius on the leading edge and the flat surface of the rest. The seat is also too short so it offers no thigh support. One’s weight rests on one’s

…is not. The seats are too flat and have no thigh support. The head restraint pillars were rusting.

feet and hips. It quite simply wasn’t at at all comfortable. I think the large radius was there to make the rear seem roomier. I call this a major demerit. The driver’s seat, though, did provide good support. Dragging that down: the centre armrest is angled forward so one’s elbow can’t rest on it. It slides forward. That makes it useless.

It´s nearly alright: notice the bump where the light and dark meet.

So, in terms of driving and passenger comfort, the Delta is very patchy indeed. For every good point there is a clear black mark cancelling it. What hammers the final nails in the coffin is quality. The Delta is, wherever you care to look, the most carelessly detailed and poorly

This is really careless.

assembled car I have been in. Even quite old cars I have driven do not have as many failures as this one. It is as if the design team had never been in a Kia or Hyundai, Opel, VW or Ford never mind cars from the

Uneven fit; the leather is not creased evenly either.

classes above. The list of gaffes is a long one, detailed in the photos accompanying the text. Stand-outs are the exterior plastic trim coming adrift, the uneven gaps on the door window consoles, the mismatch

Rath holes: the brightwork is coarsely finished.

materials on the dashboard and the simply crude fitting of the hard trim around the doors. The strip which is there to close the gap between the hand-brake and the surrounding trim screamed cheapness: a thin, flimsy and frail corrugated grey plastic part with a visible sharp edge. I don’t

know which manufacturer offers this kind of thing at any price. At a distance the interior looks opulent and inviting. Once inside, this impression dissolves into a muddle of badly detailed parts badly assembled.

The kickplate is not set straight. Note the shingle joints on the black trim.
A rather useless set of chopped up space in the glove box. Why was this sabotaged like this?
More rat holes and that bump again.

With its unusual package and striking looks it could so easily have been a good, steady seller to people wanting a distinctly different car from the common herd. But it doesn’t drive particularly well (the 2009 Astra beats in every area), is not especially comfortable and is splattered with the evidence of careless craftsmanship. Given how much I wanted to like this car it has overcome with inexorable force my goodwill to Lancia. It is hard to believe that such a poorly-conceived car managed to make its way into production. Quite simply the Delta is a tinselly car that sets out to deceive and fails.

[There will come a more impressionistic musing on this car soon.]

Author: richard herriott

I like anchovies. I dislike post-war town planning.

28 thoughts on “Swimming in the Bight”

  1. The Delta’s perceived quality is truly abysmal. I’ve sat inside a few during numerous car shows, most of which were equipped with Poltrona Frau leather seats. The contrast between the soft leather and the Kinder Surprise plastics was simply absurd.

    Its shapes are fine, but the Delta’s materials and build quality are just shoddy. It’s a very Rocher car.

  2. This is a very sobering review indeed.

    I can relate to your feelings, it’s about the same as when I tested the DS5: you want to like the car, but it just doesn’t let you. I wouldn’t even mind sloppy fittings as you mentioned, provided the atmosphere is inviting and comfortable. But having also uncomfortable seats would be a no-go for me. And it also sounds like it’s neither comfortable nor fun to drive in a sporty sense – again a parallel to the DS5 I mentioned.

    1. Ooo! That’s an interesting comment … in what way do you find it the least tedious affordable car available? Having been pretty damning about it in so many ways, that was an unexpected comment.

      Just on Simon’s commented parallels with the DS5, I hadn’t made that connection before, but he’s bob-on (as ever)!

      As a piece of exterior styling, it certainly stands out from the crowd in an attractive and appealing manner. I love the rear lamps, the grille and headlight arrangement, and, strangely for me, the upward curve of the rear section of the DLO – the bright-work set off by the small Lancia shield (on non-UK cars). The effect is somewhat spoiled in the UK by the fact that this very Italianate car is marketed as a Chrysler. As such, Chrysler decided that the main marketing USP to be stressed in its advertising was that the car had the most rear legroom in its class. For context, the last new model launch in the UK in my memory that resorted to such worthiness was the Austin Maestro in 1983. And, in any case, I doubt the truth of the claim (being the owner of an Octavia, I find it hard to believe there is anything in the ‘Golf’ class that can get close). But, I digress, Chrysler clearly felt too coy to call out the Delta’s distinctive and elegant styling lest the public guessed the real provenance of the car and so decided to focus on the prosaic.

      The real problem for this car was a lack of back-up across the rest of the Lancia range, a common problem for FCA marques, meaning that it never really made an impression in the public’s consciousness.

    2. What I mean is that it´s so markedly different from the rest of the grey, white, black and silver metallic FWD hatchical cars on sale that I am not far off overlooking the very poor detailing and not-very-comfortable rear seats. That says a hell of a lot about the rest of the car market. If Opel or Ford offered a very cheerfully trimmed version of the Asta or Focus they could certainly attract people depressed by the uniformity of the market. In the case of Ford the Vignale name could be used to lure ex-Lancia people and ex-Citroen people: imagine a Focus-based derivative with two engines (decent ones) and a few choices in the interior colours. Opel do something like this with the former Meriva and Zafira. The uptake in Denmark has been nil (except one, I saw) but maybe the French, Swiss, Italians and Germans might want this option. As my rag-bag article showed, Kia aren´t afraid to offer a semi-luxury colourway for their i30.

    3. “Kia aren´t afraid to offer a semi-luxury colourway for their i30”

      Really? Each time I look I find you can have any colour you want as long as it’s black. Maybe that’s just in the UK…

  3. It’s worth bearing in mind that the Delta was launched in 2008. Compare it to the Astra and Focus of that year and you’ll get a different impression. All three Deltas were based on contemporary Fiat C segment cars and as in the case of this one, was built on the same production line as the Bravo, you’d be somewhat optimistic to expect a higher level of quality. Having owned one for three years, I can testify to its reliability and was confident it would be after five years with a Bravo.
    Impressions are a subjective thing, my view is that while fit and finish aren’t great, the overall feeling of the interior is pleasant enough, durable and surfaces you touch are superior to its contemporaries and some current cars like the Cee’d. The HVAC controls are the same as the Bravo, push buttons for the dual temp climate control on higher trims. The front seat lacks thigh support like many cars in this class but lumbar and lateral support are excellent. The armrest slopes forward to make it more comfortable and to facilitate gearchanging, it is adjustable in that it can be moved forward for shorter drivers. The gearchange is baulky at low speeds but rapid and easy at higher speeds. Steering feel is no worse than other electric setups and is certainly adequate. Grip is prodigious as is high speed stability. The pedals have nicely weighted short movements. There is a slight buzz from the floating centre dash panel which disappears when warm and an occasional buzz from the steering column. Otherwise the interior is rattle free. The 1.6 diesel engine is almost silent on the move and wind noise is very low. Most important of all, the sunroof opens, something that not all its competitors have as an option. It has plenty of low down torque and fuel economy is fair. No, it’s not like Lancias from the 50’s and 60’s, it’s just an interesting and stylish alternative to mainstream Euroboxes.

    1. Having sampled the equivalent
      Astra I have to disagree. The Astra is very nicely made and I’d have to hunt to find fit/finish errors. The rear seats are also better, much better even if the centre armrest is absent. I am glad you found it reliable though.

    2. I was very pleasantly surprised when I got a Kia Cee Apostrophe Dee rental car the other week. It was no brilliant drive, but the interior was a marked step in the right direction compared with the first generation of Peter Schreyer Kias. The current Cee’d is leagues ahead of the Delta in terms of fit & finish and perceived quality, I’m afraid.

  4. They sell these in the UK with a Chrysler badge. Seriously, how toxic does your brand have to be before it’s preferable to be a Chrysler?? It’s like choosing between going around in life looking like Fred West or Jimmy Saville.

  5. It´s a Hobson´s choice: silver grey competence or stylish shoddiness. What does one do? I will be seeing a Lybra on Friday. It has 100,000 more kilometres on the clock and it´s grey/black leather.

    1. Richard, I’ve lost track of your Lybra review.
      Sorry this is 6 weeks later, but I’m still looking for the right Lybra.

      Surprised that so many (of its mere 160,000) buyers chose silver when buying such an individual car. The other colours are as good as the Kappa’s, but I might have to go as far as Hungary to get it! Low milers are less than €3k, many decent ones half that.

      What the Lybra has, which Delta III doesn’t (I think) is separate heating controls for the front passenger, which will please Mrs Vic no end. And I’ll like heated seats, rain and sun sensors but they’re only on later cars which are even rarer.

      But if you see a 2003ish 2.0 auto (which has sequential option) SW in rich red/green/blue not due a belt change soon, and service history, let me know. (Berlina might be OK.)

      Delta III’s only attraction is the slidable rear seats, but they have strangely high residuals in France – maybe because so expensive to start with.

  6. both the Delta III and the DS5 were small deceptions to me. the former, for the reasons mentioned in this great article (thanks, Richard). moreover, I think the Beta nameplate would fit it better; even if the Delta II has no Integrale version, the first image that comes to mind when I think of “Lancia Delta” is a turbocharged Mark 1 Integrale in Martini livery, dealing with the worst roads one can imagine.

    1. Thanks. Many share the association with rally Deltas. I don’t. However, Lancia probably thought it made sense and it doesn’t. The Delta 3 is not a rally car and it’s not sporting (which is nice).

    2. Fully agreed, Richard. Hence I think Beta would be a better name.

      Do you (and fellow DTW writers/readers) think there’s any chance for Lancia amid these FCA spin-off talks?

    3. Eduardo: not a tiny chance. It’s too hard a brand to place in today’s rigid market. Eoin and I are the only people with a worked out vision for Lancia and FCA still haven’t contacted us.

    4. Seconded. No amount of money, engineering resource, styling genius or marketing nous could possibly save Lancia now. It’s just too big a task and to be frank, too much damage has been done to make it worth the toil.

    5. Eduardo: you’re hired!
      Actually when Eoin and I hatched our plans AR had a model range Lancia could have dovetailed with. I’d have to rethink the idea in the light of the SUV situation: a supermini and two SUVs sounds plausible.

  7. I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again – Fiat missed a trick by not making the Delta an SUV. In 2008 that wasn’t exactly a radical or reckless idea; the Nissan Cashcow had been on sale for a year before the Delta showed face at Geneva.

    If Lancia had seized the Zeitgeist, they could now be selling more cars than Alfa Romeo.

    Oh, hold on…

    1. Funny you should mention that. Luca Ciferri noted as far back as 2002 that…

      “‘A couple of years ago Giugiaro proposed a new Lancia Delta,’ di Giusto said. ‘It was to be a compact sport-utility vehicle with four-wheel drive. That project will never be produced, but it was the seed that will lead to a compact crossover for Alfa Romeo.'”

      http://europe.autonews.com/article/20021118/ANE/211180797/after-years-of-neglect-fiat-rediscovers-turins-design-houses

  8. Stradale: IIRC, the Alfa Romeo 145 (developed circa 1993) was also supposed to be a Lancia. so that makes two times Alfa stole a project in less than a decade – even if the Stelvio only hit the road last year.

  9. Taxi ride today. 2017 Audi A6. What did I notice? The rear seats have the same lack of thigh support as the Delta. It has good door-mounted ashtrays though. The points of contact were pointy and hard: centre armrest like a lunch box and a nice sharp edge on the door. Whatever happened to comfort?

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