Lancia Delta

Debut: 2008
Maker: Lancia
Predecessor: Delta II

Sergio Marchione made a big mistake: named this car as "Delta"

To many people, Lancia is a forgotten name in automotive industry. Acquired by Fiat group in 1978, it was never turned into a successful business model. The early Lancia under Fiat group concentrated on rallying campaign, but after its mother company found rallying success would not turn into sales success, it abandoned racing and was turned into a premium brand. Unfortunately, without the necessary funding and long-term development (remark: see how long VW took to sort out Audi), the luxury strategy did not really take off. Sales in recent years remain flat at only 120,000 units per year. Part of the reason is its absence in many markets. Today Lancia is sold in only 14 European countries, without UK (because it does not make right-hand drive versions anymore) and Scandinavia, let alone America and Japan.

The poor sales reflects in the lack of new models. Since Musa in 2004, Lancia has not had any new car launches. Its current lineup consists of only 4 models - the supermini Ypsilon, the small MAV Musa, the large luxury car Thesis and the large MPV Phedra. Obviously, a big gap exists between Musa and Thesis, which could fit a C/D-segment model, or what you call "Golf / Passat" segment.

It should have had a boring MAV looks, but its designers shaped it to be sleek and sporty.

Fiat boss Sergio Marchione also saw this problem. A couple of years ago he revealed his plan to increase the sales of Lancia to 300,000 units by 2010. This will be driven mainly by a new C/D-segment model and supplemented by a niche model (probably a new Fulvia coupe). However, he made a serious mistake in the plan: he named the C/D-segment car "Delta". In many people's mind, this name is strongly associated with the most successful rally car in history. It represents a bullet-proof, fast and exciting driver's car rather than a compact luxury car that Marchione had in mind. And as you will see later, the wrong name draws a lot of unnecessary expectation, comparisons and criticisms.

If you can forget the name, you will understand the new Delta better. This is a semi-premium car (not exactly a rival to Audi or BMW) majoring on style, space and versatility. Handling is not its core value.

Based on Fiat Bravo, Lancia adds 100 mm to the wheelbase and 100 mm to the rear overhang...

The highlight of this car is a brilliant packaging. It is based on the platform of Fiat Bravo but has its wheelbase stretched for 100 mm to 2700 mm, which matches some D-segment cars like Volkswagen Passat. The rear overhang is also extended by about 100 mm to accommodate a boot measuring 465 liters. Apart from the usual hatchback versatility, its rear bench can slide back and forth for a range of 150 mm to reallocate the space between rear passengers and luggage. At 1.5 meters tall, the Delta should have had a boring MAV looks, but its designers shaped it to be sleek and sporty. Moreover, there are plenty of stylish elements for us to have a visual feast, and plenty of elegant details to remind us this is a Lancia.

The cabin of Delta provides more rear legroom than regular hatchbacks and match many a class above. To deliver an open feeling to the rear passengers, it mounts the rear seats higher than the front. This mean headroom is not as excessive as it appears to be. Materials and build quality are where it fails to match German premium brands. Basically it is only a Bravo dashboard decorated with some leather and aluminum lookalike plastics. I have never been a fan of the dashboard design of Bravo, so this dashboard washes out some favourable feel its exterior design gained. Nevertheless, the leather trim on seats and doors are real and feel high quality. Of course, at a higher price point, the Lancia offers higher equipment specifications than Fiat Bravo. This include a full-length glass roof, an advanced sat nav and infotainment system and a Lexus LS600h-like self parking system.


I like the downsized turbocharged engines introduced by Fiat group recently. They offer plenty of low down torque for relax driving. They are frugal and they head towards the right direction of saving our planet. The new Delta offers the best of the bunch. Petrol engines are 1.4 T-Jet turbo in 120hp or 150hp form. Diesel engines include 1.6 M-jet with 120hp, 2.0 M-jet with 165hp and the latest 1.9 M-jet twin-turbo with 190hp. The latter's 2-stage turbocharing system, which employs a small turbo for low rev and a large turbo to take over at higher rev, provides serious performance in real world - which is not exactly reflected by the 0-60 mph time of 7.5 seconds. The only downside is a gruff top end delivery.

Next year will join a 1.8-liter turbo petrol engine. It comes with direct injection and dual-VVT to produce 200 horsepower. This will be the ultimate range topper. Well, I know the last Delta had 215 horses on tap, but as mentioned before, comparison with the old Delta is pointless.

Tracing back to the years of Fiat Stilo, we can't ask too much from this platform...

As mentioned before, the new Delta is built on the platform of Fiat Bravo. This is a conventional family hatch platform riding on MacPherson strut suspension up front and torsion beam suspension at the rear, and steering is provided by Fiat's notoriously lifeless electrical power steering. The platform can be dated back to the years of Fiat Stilo, so we cannot ask too much from it, especially when the Lancia application has a higher center of gravity. What Lancia could improve is to add an electronic adaptive damping as optional equipment, and a more advanced traction and stability control with fancy names - "Absolute Handling System" and "Torque Transfer Control".

Forget these names, on the road the Delta displays quite a lot of body roll and understeer in tight corners, even when you switch on the "Sport" mode of its adaptive damping. Clearly, this car doesn't like to be pushed. And you won't enjoy doing so because its steering doesn't respond quickly to your wish. There is no much communication from the front tires to your hands, or from the seat to your pants. On the positive side, the ride is good because of the soft suspension setting and long wheelbase.


You can't deny that it fits well into the new role of Lancia...

So this is the new Delta. Fans of the old car will be disappointed by its change of character. However, you can't deny that it fits well into the new role of Lancia, which speaks luxury. Fiat will relaunch this car and the Lancia brand in UK, Scandinavia and Japan. It should have no problem to lift the company's sales from 124,000 units last year to 150,000 units this year. But to reach the 300,000 units sales goal in 2010 will be very difficult, considering the Delta's mass-market interior and poor handling will be difficult to lure customers from German premium brands.
The above report was last updated on 21 Jun 2008. All Rights Reserved.


General remarks

Delta 1.4 T-Jet
Delta 1.9 Twin-turbo Multijet

Front-engined, FWD
Front-engined, FWD

Steel monocoque
Steel monocoque
Mainly steel
Mainly steel
Length / width / height 4520 / 1797 / 1499 mm 4520 / 1797 / 1499 mm
Wheelbase 2700 mm 2700 mm
Inline-4, diesel

1368 cc
1910 cc
Valve gears
DOHC 16 valves
DOHC 16 valves

Other engine features

Max power
150 hp / 5500 rpm
190 hp / 4000 rpm

Max torque
152 lbft / 2250 rpm 295 lbft / 2000 rpm
6-speed manual
6-speed manual
Suspension layout
F: strut
R: torsion-beam
F: strut
R: torsion-beam

Suspension features
Adaptive damping
Adaptive damping
Tyres front/rear

Kerb weight
1320 kg
1430 kg

Top speed
130 mph (c)
138 mph (c)

0-60 mph (sec)
8.2 (c)
7.5 (c)

0-100 mph (sec)

Performance tested by: -

Copyright© 1997-2009 by Mark Wan @ AutoZine