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