Delta goes with the flow
By David Morgan
YOU won't see many of these on the road – but the Chrysler Delta is a familiar car.
Under the spectacularly styled bodywork of this revived badge beats the heart of a Fiat Bravo or more accurately, the Bravo's upmarket Italian cousin the Lancia Delta.
Confused? You're not alone.
The mighty Fiat Auto group has owned Chrysler since 2009 and is marketing three models in the UK under the well-known American name – the entry level Ypsilon hatch, the mid-range five-door Delta and the familiar Chrysler staple, the Grand Voyager people carrier.
It's a bit of a mixed up range that's soon to be joined by the relaunched 300C executive saloon – a US-built car that's also sold in Europe as the Lancia Thema.
It's not much clearer, is it?
Basically, Fiat markets these four Chrysler models only in the UK. The badge is not sold on mainland Europe but you can buy the same models over there, badged as Lancias.
It's enough to make your head swim.
But the good news is that if you like the avant-garde style of the Lancia family, the Chrysler Delta has it in bucketloads and delivers a stylish five-door hatchback that's practical with an upmarket look and trim level.
This is a car that stands out from the crowd. The Delta's sweeping body lines are real head-turners and few new cars I've driven recently have triggered the level of interest I received with the 1.6 SR turbodiesel version I drove for a week.
There are seven models in the Delta range – all five-door hatches with roomy interiors and powered by a mixture of high technology petrol and M-Jet diesels from the latest Fiat engine stable.
Prices kick off from £16,695 for a smooth 120bhp 1.4-litre T-Jet petrol model in S trim that will average 44.8mpg on the Government's sometimes optimistic combined cycle.
Next up is a 140bhp M-Air version of the sweet little 1.4 petrol in SE trim at £18,495. The third petrol is the 140bhp 1.4 M-Air in luxurious SR trim and a price tag to match at £20,495.
But it's the four M-Jet turbodiesels that are attracting most attention – three 120bhp 1.6 units with a combined average of 60.1mpg and a two-litre flagship which churns out 165bhp that will cover 55.4mpg on a gallon of diesel.
The oil burners are all strong performers that cost from £19,195 for the 120bhp M-Jet SE to a very steep £25,695 for the 165bhp 2.0 M-Jet Limited flagship model.
All offer the same interesting mix of Lancia style and panache with the excellent performance of Fiat's latest engine technologies coupled with the "romance" of a rather tarnished American badge.
But as General Motors has done with the similarly tarnished image of the Chevrolet badge, Fiat is reinventing Chrysler in the UK with a basically sound design that should deliver dependable family motoring. I spent my time with a £21,195 1.6 M-Jet 120 SR model – the most expensive of the three 1598cc turbodiesels that comes with a well-spaced six-speed manual transmission.
You can buy a similarly powered and five-door Fiat Bravo in Dynamic trim with Dualogic transmission for around £2,000 less – a car that is slightly shorter, weighs less, is marginally more frugal but, crucially, has none of the Delta's unique style.
It's the style factor that singles out the Delta. It's an elegant hatch that's 4.52 metres long and tips the scales at just under 1.5 tonnes.
The body's curves and swage lines catch the eye with the divergent sweep of the down-turning rear body waist line and the upward sweep of the neat rear window line granting real style to this family newcomer.
In the six months the front drive Delta family has been on sale in the UK it has picked up a more discerning buyer – people looking for something different and appreciate Italian car design features. They get plenty of both.
It's a docile handler with a reasonable ride and, apart from its gruff engine note, the cabin is well insulated against road and wind noise.
Acceleration is on the lethargic side, although the six-speed gearbox helps to hustle the car through an overtake manoeuvre.
The car's extra body length compared to its Bravo cousin delivers elegance – a sophisticated line that's matched by a luxurious interior with a touch of the "designer" about it.
The brilliant white SR test car's roof sweeps aft and ends in a subtle spoiler and was finished in a dark satin paint which contrasted well with the dark upper tailgate glazing.
The lower body sides and rear sill are finished in black to help give the car a more slender profile, and the "designer" theme is carried through to large front and rear light clusters that are bold and add function to style.
The front is the car's most striking statement. It might work for some, but I think the new Chrysler "shield" grille is too small and makes the Delta look as if it's just detected a bad smell.
But it's different, undeniably stylish and gets the attention of passers-by.
The boot offers a useful 380 litres with an underfloor storage bin that is also home to a pump and gunge puncture repair kit. Sadly there's no spare as standard.
But the rear seats fold to increase maximum capacity to 1,190 litres, although they don't fold flat and leave a substantial step in the load floor.
Lower parts of the dash are trimmed with rather hard plastic – a reminder that this car is a Fiat. It all adds to the Delta's upmarket "designer" feel and helps to justify its higher prices over a Bravo.
The Delta is playing its part in re-establishing the Chrysler name in the UK and comes with a three-year/60,000-mile warranty and has excellent service intervals of 21,000 miles.
Underneath its well-trimmed body the Delta is a rather ordinary car. It's odd, it's different and has something of an identity crisis – but the Delta is a pleasant car that does what it does with style.
FINAL THOUGHT: Interesting take on familiar front drive Fiat and Lancia models but with genuine designer style and presence to justify its Chrysler character. Very roomy, forgiving handling with excellent Fiat turbodiesel power and a touch of class that makes it stand out from the crowd. Resale values may be weak as Chryslers generally do not fare well here.
Chrysler Delta 1.6 M-Jet SR
- Price: £21,195
- Capacity: 1598cc
- Power: 120bhp
- 0-62mph: 10.7 seconds
- Maximum speed: 120mph
- Economy: Combined 60.1mpg, Urban 48.7mpg
- CO2 emissions: 122g/km (VED D)
- ESP: DSC Standard
- Insurance guide: Group 16 (new 1-50 Grouping System)