THE American car giant Chrysler’s merger with Italian small car specialist Fiat was almost bound to turn up an oddity or two.
But the first joint effort is an elegant and accomplished surprise.
Called the Chrysler Delta, it’s sold in other markets as a Lancia and if the one I drove on the recent launch is anything to go by, it’s a belter.
Although Lancias have not been sold in this country for many years, they have still carried on making very different cars based on Fiat floorpans, and the Delta is the latest incarnation.
The same name was used on its all-conquering Integrale four wheel drive rally winner back in the day and that was most definitely a car to be reckoned with.
Based on the Fiat Bravo platform, and with the same excellent range of bang up-to-date power units Chrysler’s version is aimed fair and square at those Vauxhall Astra and Renault Megane drivers who would rather have something that stood out from the crowd and something with more space and more luxury.
Or of course it would appeal to anyone downsizing from something a couple of sizes up.
At the launch, Chrysler Group president Saad Chehab said the company did not want to do things the same as other manufacturers.
He said Chrysler had emerged from the dark days three years ago (when it was in danger of closing down) and its alliance with Fiat had brought great benefits to car buyers.
“The Delta and our other new model the Ypsilon, form the new small car range and make luxury available to all,” he added.
The Delta looks very different certainly, with sleek, strong lines sweeping back from a chrome grill, chrome exterior door handles and a curved rear with LED lights and darkened glass.
The company claims it has the biggest interior in the class, and with sliding and reclining back seats, there is legroom to spare for one six footer to sit behind another.
Obviously, pushing the seats right back reduces the luggage space, but then how often do we really need it?
The dash layout is simple and sophisticated with chrome and aluminium-look touches all around.
And the stereo system can play from a USB stick or MP3 player, with controls on the steering wheel for safety and ease of use.
Supportive and well-shaped seats had all the adjustment I needed and I liked the whole feel of the classy interior.
There are 120 and 140bhp versions of the same 1.4 litre turbo petrol, plus 120bhp 1.6 and 165bhp 2 litre turbo diesels..
I drove the Multi-air 140bhp petrol and it’s a gem. With an economy average of 49 miles per gallon, it’s more economical than the cheaper M-jet 1.4.
It’s willing and torquey, smooth and quiet. It will pull from almost tickover in sixth gear and when the turbo starts to spin, there’s enough acceleration in the same gear for many manoeuvres.
Drop a gear or two however and things get much quicker with plenty of verve for easy overtaking.
The roadholding and handling are very good, with steering that is perhaps a touch too light at some speeds and some angles, but not much roll.
And comfort is excellent – just what many drivers would want when scaling down from a larger car.
I question whether the Fiat-Chrysler group chose right when they decided to launch the car as a Chrysler instead of a Lancia – which many in Britain still remember as the maker of excellent sporting cars from the earliest days of motoring.
However, the Delta is good enough to stand any scrutiny whatever badge is on the front.
Prices range from £16,700 to £25,700 and the MultiAir SE I drove costs £18,500.