Over the years there have been many examples of car manufacturers producing ostensibly credible and capable cars only to torpedo their chances of success thanks to some daft slice of alleged strategy thought up by someone in marketing. Usually the weapon used to blow holes in both feet is overly ambitious pricing, but not always. Fiat has found a novel new way of launching an interesting car and hobbling it from the outset.
What it has done is decide to sell Lancias in the UK once more, but instead of calling them Lancias – a name that retains a cool mystique thanks to none of the fairly dreadful Lancias of the past 15 years having been sold here – calling them Chryslers instead. When I think of Lancias I think of the Integrale, Fulvia and Stratos; when I think of Chryslers, well to be honest I don’t think of Chryslers that much.
The shame is that a swift fling around a test track in the new Delta – I can barely bring myself to write ‘Chrysler Delta’ – showed it to be not only a good-looking and distinctive alternative to the predictability of a VW Golf or Ford Focus, but a surprisingly good car to drive too. The one I drove shares its 1.4-litre turbo motor with the Alfa Giulietta to provide fully competitive performance and economy, while its ride and handling were far better than I’d expected given the inherent limitations of its torsion beam rear suspension.
True, there was too much cheap plastic inside and the ergonomics are as disorganised as they’ve always been on Italian hatchbacks, but overall this car is good enough and by some margin to find a small but comfortable niche in the UK market, particularly given its competitive pricing.
But will it? If sold as a Lancia from cordoned-off corners of certain select Fiat dealers I could see it gaining a faithful following. But are those who buy into the style it offers and statement it makes also going to be happy explaining that it’s not really a Chrysler every time a friend asks what it is? I fear not.