Lancia Delta 1.9 Multijet

The wait is over, as famous Italian brand heads back to the UK with premium hatch.

Overall Auto Express Rating

4.0 out of 5

When it arrives here next year, the reborn Delta is sure to win Lancia a new band of fans. The blend of distinctive styling, a strong engine and versatile interior make it an interesting alternative to its German opponents. Slightly uninvolving driving dynamics and some cheap plastics take the shine off the experience – but they can’t detract from a model that is packed full of character and is sure to have exclusivity on its side.

It’s been away for 15 years, but now Lancia is back in the UK. From summer next year, buyers will be able to get their hands on the all-new Delta, which is spearheading the brand’s revival over here.

There’s no doubt the car has a tough task ahead of it. Lancia left Britain under a cloud back in 1994, when a reputation it gained in the Seventies for unreliability and rust eventually caused sales to dry up. Only the angular, rally-bred Delta Integrale of the late Eighties and early Nineties remained popular. So, has this absence made the heart grow fonder? To find out, we got behind the wheel of a range-topping version of the Delta.

The mid-size hatch turns its back on the brand’s motorsport heritage, and instead promises enough sophistication and luxury to rival the likes of the Audi A3 and BMW 1-Series.

Its distinctive wedge profile, grille and two-tone paint finish make the Delta stand out from the crowd. Neat features include LED headlamps and dished, multi-spoke alloy wheels. At the back there are upright tail-lamps and a low-slung roofline. Inside, you’re greeted with a stylish, well built cabin that’s packed with standard kit. Overall, material quality is impressive, and although some of the plastics felt hard and scratchy, the soft-touch leather and Alcantara trim that covers the seats makes up for this.

There’s plenty of space, too, even though the car is based on the same platform as the Fiat Bravo. A 100mm stretch in wheelbase and a sliding rear bench mean legroom in the back is generous, although the sloping roofline eats into head space. Surprisingly, luggage capacity doesn’t suffer as a result of the novel seating arrangement. Depending on the position of the rear chairs, boot space ranges from 360 litres to an impressive 465 litres.

Out on the road, it’s clear the company’s performance past hasn’t been forgotten altogether. Under the bonnet is a hi-tech twin-turbo diesel that delivers a 190bhp punch.

The Lancia is impeccably refined. Optional adaptive damping provides the new car with a comfortable and relaxing ride, while wind and road noise are very well suppressed. Straight-line performance is strong, with the Lancia covering 0-60mph in 7.9 seconds. But it’s the mid-range pace that really surprises. With 400Nm of torque, the 1.9-litre oil-burner serves-up genuine sports car acceleration and makes light work of overtaking.

Flick the Sport button on the centre console, and the suspension stiffens, helping to reduce roll in corners. The Lancia also features Torque Transfer Control, which boosts front end grip in sharp turns.

Sadly, lifeless steering lets the new car down, while body control can be upset by large mid-corner bumps. It certainly can’t match a BMW for driving fun or agility.

Nevertheless, fans of the Italian brand will no doubt celebrate the Delta’s exclusivity. It’s guaranteed to be rarer than its German competitors, as Lancia UK aims to sell only 2,500 in the first year.

Rival: BMW 123d twin-turbo 1-Series is the only rival to match the Delta for pace, and it’s much more entertaining to drive. But the BMW is left trailing in terms of performance and refinement, and has less equipment, too.

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