Road impressions

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The Lancia Delta HF Turbo

There are those with long memories for whom no modern Lancia quite compares with the Aurelias, Aprilias and Flavias of old, just as some MG enthusiasts find a Maestro or Montego a poor substitute for an MG-A, MG-B or whatever. However, all this lies in the past, and while it all somehow changed with the Beta, where Lancia is concerned, the present Lancia Delta HF Turbo is a very fine little car, of highly impressive performance and good road manners. I much enjoyed quite a long mileage in one, collected from the premises of Mike Spence at Shinfield, Reading, conveniently close to exit 11 of the M4, where they also deal in Lotus and Morgan cars.

The white Delta Turbo was adorned with blue “Lancia-Martini” speed stripes, rather conspicuous for a car of this sort, while some may object to carrying advertising on their private car. Personally, I found it all quite acceptable, as a reminder of how proud Lancia are of having won the 1983 Rally Championship. The five-door hatchback is no rorty rally-type offering and it has a manual sunroof, central door-locking, two external rear-view mirrors, electric front windows, demisters for those windows, alloy wheels, headlamp washers, etc.

Mechanically, the Garrett T3 turbocharger boosting to 10 lb/sq in, applied to the transverse twin-cam four-cylinder 84 x 711/2 mm engine with a cr of 8 to 1, results in a maximum power output of 130 bhp at 5,800 rpm and 140 lb/ft torque at 3,700 rpm. The Mardi Microplex electronic ignition with knock-sensitive timing adjustment contributes to the engine’s outstanding smoothness, and fuel is supplied from a Weber 32 DAT 18/250 carburetter. In a compact car weighing 21.3 cwt at the kerb the outcome is truly impressive performance, enhanced because the ZF five-speed gearbox has well-chosen ratios. If the driver so chooses, this Delta Turbo can be a veritable road-burner, yet is a comfortable family-type car. Top speed well exceeds 120 mph with impressive maxima in third and fourth gears, respectively, of 82 and 110 mph. Power does not really come in before some 3,000 rpm. but if in a correct gear, acceleration from quite low speeds is not only enjoyable but reassuring, because quick pick-up is a key factor in safe motoring. And this the Delta Turbo has it in very good measure! No one can quibble at 0-60 mph in eight seconds flat with intermediate acceleration well in keeping, and a ss 1/4-mile devoured in only 16.3 sec. There is not a trace of turbo-lag and the engine is not only notably smooth but it will run unconcernedly at very low speeds in the higher gears. In fifth, 4,000 rpm equals 83.8 mph. From cold, starting took a few churns.

The engine is apt to be somewhat noisy when working hard, but not objectionably so, and to its very impressive performance the Lancia Delta couples handling qualities that make driving it a rare pleasure. The manual rack-and-pinion steering, controlled by a thick-rimmed 121/2 in diameter wheel, asking 3.6 turns, lock-to-lock, is light once on the move, very accurate, and responsive. The lock could be more generous. Cornering is as near as dammit neutral, with just a trace of understeer at times, the tail following through nicely, with no oversteer tendencies, under normal conditions. The Michelin TRX tubeless radial 170/65R tyres, on 51/2 in alloy wheels, gripped reasonably well in the wet and the all-disc servo brakes behaved admirably. The handbrake was reluctant to hold on hills.

Apart from its refreshing urge, another pleasing aspect of the Delta Turbo is the neatness of instruments and controls. To the left of the sensibly-sized, square-dial speedometer and tachometer a panel contains bar-gauges recording oil-pressure (5-bar), oil-temperature (72 deg C), waterheat (93 deg C) and fuel contents. Such gauges save space and are easy to read unless exact calibrations are needed. There is a triple-stalk system of controls, for wipers on the left and for turn-indicators an the right, enabling one to signal while changing gear, a longer stalk below on that side controlling the lamps-settings. The multiple heater controls have a panel to the left of the instrument panel, with seven push-buttons for the various symbolised services lined neatly along its upper edge. Below the usefully lipped, divided, fascia-shelf is the Pioneer radio/stereo, using Panasonic T65 Coaxial 2-way door speakers. The electric window switches are on each side of the gaitered gear lever and the console carries, low down, the boost-gauge and voltmeter. The five-speed gear shift, of non-dog-leg kind, is reasonably acceptable, but has a rather rubbery feel, especially when selecting bottom gear. There is a tiny Vegliaflash digital clock in the roof.  The front seats are of Recaro rally-type, comfortable and supportive, with built-in soft headrests and upholstery of Italian wool-fabric. Two substantial keys are supplied, and the hatchback is lockable, opened by a handle that tends to get dirty. There is rear wipe/wash but unfortunately it functions only when its button is depressed.

The all-independent strut suspension has been suitably stiffened for the Turbo but the ride is still very good, even over bumps promoting bump-thump. Apart from the aforementioned badges, two bonnet air-intakes and a wind-deflector on the o/s wiper-blade add to the car’s impressive appearance. Stowages within comprise an illuminated lockable cubby, front-door wells, a neat spring-out coin box, and a smaller well behind the gear lever. The wide doors shut nicely, the full boot-capacity it 35.3 cu ft, and there is ample ground clearance. The fuel tank has a screw-type filler protected by a lockable flap on the n/s. The tank holds 9.9 gallons. I was unable to resist exploiting the Lancia’s splendid performance but refrained from progressing at a personal “ten-tenths”, or taking the engine up to its unnecessary 6,500 rpm limit, and obtained an overall fuel consumption of 27.2 mpg. Incidentally, this 11/2-litre car had no difficulty in passing, with flying colours, my personal assessment of a truly fast car, that of reaching a speedometer 100 mph at the top of a short, quite steep hill (never mind where, starting from cruising pace.

This Lancia Delta HF Turbo puts a real slice of fun into family-car motoring without losing the desirable qualities of comfort and flexibility. The basic price is £7,990, which the extras named increase to £8,280._ WB.

The MG Maestro EFi

I reported on the then-new MG Maestro in 1983, when it had the 1.6-litre engine, and noted that it was a competent car but without much character. It has since been given the O-series 2-litre fuel-injection engine, mated to a Honda, instead of a VW, five-speed gearbox and has become a very impressive package. Power output has been increased by 12 bhp and torque by 34 lb/ft at an engine speed lower by 1,200 rpm. That means 115 bhp at 5,500 rpm from the 841/2 x 89mm (1,994 cc) overhead-camshaft engine, and 134 lb/ft torque at 2,800 rpm.

The MG Maestro thus becomes a truly significant British car and we might well shout it to the far housetops, assuming reliability is in keeping with performance that is close to the best achieved in the fast hatchback class. Couple this — and I mean 114 mph or so top mph and 0-60 mph acceleration in less than 81/2 seconds — with two other important factors and the 2-litre MG is quite a car. These other factors are more interior space than most of the sports-hatch rivals and a remarkable fuel economy. So the revived MG Maestro can truly be called the thrifty family-man’s ideal. The low petrol thirst means something like 36 to 37 mpg driving gently (some reports say aunties might get over 43 mpg, almost unbelievable from a 2-litre car) and in my case 30 to 32 mpg driving quickly but sensibly. Indeed, the overall consumption of four-star, kept in a thief-protected 50-litre (111/4-gallon) tank, was a notable 32.8 mpg, so local journeys improve rather than detract from figures achieved in very fast Motorway runs.

There are a few reservations. The engine is somewhat noisy most of the time and fifth speed, useable in towns, feels under-geared. The Honda gearbox I have seen described as “a gem” and as modern boxes go it is certainly very good, with a delightful 5th/4th change, although it asks for rather precise movements of the lever and perhaps needs a stronger centring-spring to protect fifth from very occasionally becoming third when in a snatch. Clutch engagement calls for a modicum of care, making this a better open road than traffic car, which is maybe how an MG should be! The ride is lively over the rougher roads, the brakes generally good but not possessing that feeling of “giant hand” retardation, the controls are well laid out, and the test-car’s digital instrumentation and voice warnings come with it. Brightness of the readings apart, I can live with this, but noted that, even with such sophistication, the fuel-gauge varies with gradient when the level is low.

The steering is a bit vague and in manual form heavy for parking, and quite lowgeared. I found the seats on the hard side and not altogether to my liking but the doors shut well and the manual sunroof would have been appreciated had there been any sun. This Maestro was free from rattles. I have never liked the look of the “hot-cross-bun” wheels, but they are of light alloy, with 51/2 in rims, Michelin-shod on the test car. The Unipart lamps gave a good dipped light and wide but somewhat short fall beams. Central locking is standard but electric front windows, which the width of the body warrants, costs £187.11 extra. Under the easily-opened, rear-hinged prop-up bonnet all is accessibly arranged around the engine with its slim cam-box, including the Unipart Samson battery, and no oil was needed after 1,000 miles. To sum up, the MG Maestro EFi, prices of which start from £7,525, is not only a much improved car, it is a real flier of its kind, yet more apt to appeal to family users than most of its kind, and there is that very welcome fad economy. Britain can do it when she tries! — W.B.

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