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Author Topic: Forza Delta - South African driving impressions  (Read 1911 times)
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St Volumex
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« on: 18 March, 2008, 10:14:58 AM »

Foreword
My apologies to any forum members who may feel this is a bit long-winded, but it was written with the readers of “Viva-Lancia!” in mind, and has been sent to the Editor for that purpose too.  I suppose I also want to test the forum as a meaty news medium, although I fear this won’t be read by as many Lancisti as it should.  If anyone has any suggestions for improvement, or how this might reach a wider audience (as a blog perhaps), please drop me a Private Mail.


Forza Delta!
"Today the appearance of a motor-car is a most important factor in the selling end of the business—perhaps the most important factor— because everyone knows the car will run” – Alfred P. Sloan, former CEO of General Motors.


My grandmother who was prescient and superstitious always insisted that “Bad things happen in threes”, and to prove that adage my week began with the DVD player, food processor, and steam iron all coming to the end of their expensively short, but useful lives.  Ralph Nader would probably blame planned obsolescence, but I was beginning to think of it as more than just an unfortunate coincidence, especially as all three appliances were high quality brands.

Three’s the charm
In excess of the superstitious three, various other bad experiences which I won’t bore you with followed mid-week, so that by Friday when I got a call to ask if I would mind changing a three o’clock afternoon business meeting from Fourways to Midrand, you can imagine that I was a bit less than enthusiastic about my fate. (For those who don’t know, the traffic around Midrand at that time and day is especially horrendous, as it is situated on the confluence of the three main roads linking Jo’burg, Pretoria and the international airport.  Consider yourselves prematurely warned in time to make contingency plans for the FIFA 2010 Soccer World Cup!)  However, things took a turn for the brighter as soon as I discovered that the cause of moving our meeting was so that we could be closer to Fiat Auto's South African headquarters…

But later, stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic, I wondered if I might own Lancias mainly for the pleasure of standing back and admiring them, or perhaps even just working hard at restoring and maintaining them, but that would be plain masochistic of me, wouldn’t it?  Still, pain and pleasure aside, I was beginning to think that finally the automatic stop-start mode, and hands-free, drive-by-wire technologies for inner city traffic which appeared in the 2001 Lancia Nea concept car would be a welcome relief.  As one who enjoys driving, I had viewed these inventions with some jaundiced suspicion during our visit to Turin for the Lancia Centenary in 2006 when we actually saw the Nea and an experimental Alfa Romeo utilizing some of that technology.  Now my mind was toying with all sorts of possible illicit laptop and Blackberry pleasures which are currently prohibited whilst ‘driving’, if that’s what one can still call it.

Beauty and the beast
Finally inching through Fiat headquarters’ main entrance I was looking for parking, and drove around a corner to be greeted by a sight which would gladden any true motorist’s heart. “What a lovely car you have brought us!”, exclaimed an excited Italian, but he wasn’t referring to the heavily-disguised, Lancia Delta prototype covered in black duct tape, nor the incognito Fiat Nouvo Cinquecento Abarth I parked next to.  Without being at all ‘fogeyish’, but perhaps just a little biased, I have to admit I agreed with him completely, as he was referring to my Montecarlo which seemed absolutely minute compared to the ‘hunched-up shoulders’ stance of both the test cars. 

Especially noticeable on the Delta are the broad, shield-shaped grille, and opaque LED taillights curving down the rear flanks, which keep it true to the ‘Granturismo’, ‘Stilnovo’, and early virtual computer concepts. Yet it also has a strong and distinct family resemblance to Lancia designer Michael Robinson’s Thesis and Nouvo Ypsilon, as his original style cues live on.  The glass roof of the concept car was nowhere in evidence, and the grille was an unattractive, un-chromed white plastic – perhaps also part of its disguise.  Matt black, pressed steel wheelrims, the duct tape-covered badges, and dark red metallic paint didn’t help things in the looks department either.

To compare it with non-Lancia contemporaries for looks, think Honda Civic R type (but sleeker and less bulbous), Mazda 3, or Opel Astra, about the same size as a Ford Focus, which Jeremy Clarkson proclaimed a while ago as ‘the ideal family car’. (That was excepting for what he claimed was the lack of space for a third passenger in the back.  But I suspect that was just a well-planned ploy of his to go off at a tangent as usual, and pick the unexpected Fiat Multipla as his choice of ‘the ideal family car’.  Since then, I catch Clarkson out every time before he does the complete opposite.)

But whatever motoring pundits like Clarkson may say, the Delta’s spacious interior should satisfy almost everyone with its plush seats, sculpted door panels, and brushed metallic detail finishes and trim.  This is reminiscent of Audi’s new TT interior which many feel sets a benchmark in this department and class.  The Delta’s particularly cunning rear seats which split one-third, two-thirds, and individually slide fore and aft so boot space can be fully utilized according to load, provide plenty of rear legroom even with the seats fully forward.  The jack, toolkit, and a full size spare wheel are all situated under the boot’s floor in a well.  (I’ve heard that BMW’s specification of run-flat tyres without any spare wheel has led to their loss of sales down here in Africa where potholed roads are notorious, so a full size spare would be welcome in any developing-nations’ market.)

‘I love the smell of chlorine in the afternoon’.  
If you stand on the beach of “The Valley of the Waves” at Sun City, with the warm water lapping around your ankles, you’ll find that it’s the strangely  incongruous smell of chlorine wafting on a sudden ‘sea breeze’ that breaks the perfect illusion of this fake paradise.  Just so the ‘chlorine’ smell of the Delta’s exhaust reminded me that this was no ordinary petrol engine, but a very clean-burning, eco-friendly turbo diesel like the very best that Mercedes Benz and BMW have to offer.  Having recently driven the latter’s new 330d which I thought was phenomenal, especially as acceleration through the gears from 3rd to 5th on the highway was very brisk, even between 120 to 180 km/hr, I was wondering what to expect.  Unfortunately there was no time nor space for a quick giro in the Delta down the gridlocked highway, only a quick zip down a nearby access road and back, but under the circumstances I was not disappointed in the least. 

The key is a neat, black ellipsis, adorned with the familiar Lancia metal logo, and the key shaft shoots out like a mini switchblade when you press it – a Sicilian touch perhaps?  There’s no fancy ‘start button’ on the steering column or dashboard –  just a simple twist of the ignition stirs the engine quickly to life.  It’s so exceptionally quiet one can hardly hear it when idling, so that at times one almost needs to check the dashboard to make sure it’s really running.  The LCD digital instruments take some getting used to, but are clustered straight ahead in a binnacle, and the dashboard is not so deep as to provoke the kind of Concorde aircraft pilot feel I experienced when I first tried Fiat’s Grande Punto.  Mechanics will be glad to learn the engine’s not stuck up against the firewall, nor under the dashboard area out front, thus providing reasonable access for servicing.  As I almost burned my hand on the metal bonnet stay afterwards, I hope that testing in our hot African climate will cause Lancia to reduce those high, under-bonnet, turbo-induced temperatures.  Otherwise the Delta may be a bit like my HPE VX, whose bonnet steams mightily like an old steam engine in the rain when stationary, even though the supercharged engine temperature is ‘normale’.

This Delta's power comes through creamy and smooth under hard acceleration up to 4,000 rpm (redlines begin at 5,000 - I was sticking to a self-imposed limit so as not to wreck Lancia’s African test before it had hardly begun!), and it pulls strongly without any noticeable turbo lag or roughness at all.  This provided plenty of impetus as we whooshed past, overtaking slower afternoon traffic.  Yet it’s also tractable enough to go slowly around traffic circles or ‘roundabouts’ in 3rd gear without any judder from very slow pickup. The plastic engine cover read 1.6 litres, but a windscreen sticker confirmed that a ‘2 litre 145 horsepower JTDi’ was fitted.  To put that into perspective, that’s about the same power output as Aprilia’s new Mille (not a kitchen appliance, but a one litre superbike!), so the Delta is no fireball, yet it takes off pretty smartly.  Bear in mind that we were testing at a fair altitude (1,740 metres above sea level), which always adversely affects the performance of cars on the South African highveld.  But as powerful as this Delta is, if the marketing people know what’s good for Lancia, higher performance versions must surely follow, regardless of whether Alfa Romeo is the designated ‘performance brand’ or not – one lives in hope of an Integrale quattro version someday.

The Delta's manual, five-speed gearshift lever falls nicely to hand, and slots into the various ratios positively, although I managed to stall it a few times by trying to pull away in third gear.  Perhaps I can blame the quiet engine, or even driving my wife’s five-speed Fulvia with its dog-leg gear change?  The Delta prototype being a Left Hand Drive didn’t help me either.  The ABS brakes may prove a bit sharp for some tastes, but I found them excellent, hauling us back from speed with absolute ease, and showing just how much braking technology has improved over even the relatively ‘modern’ Lancias I’m used to driving.  Drivers used to really old classic cars may just find themselves going through the windscreen while getting used to these new brakes!

I thought that the electrically-assisted steering was light yet nicely weighted, though some felt that it was a bit too light without enough self-centering feel.  While accelerating, the lack of torque steer from the driven front wheels was welcome too.  Instantaneous fuel economy on the digital LCD dashboard showed 13.5 litres / 100 km (20.92 mpg) even though I had been driving very hard, about the same consumption as when pussy-footing around in my thirsty Beta HPE Volumex.  Longer use on an ‘urban cycle’ is likely to yield a miserly 5.5 litres / 100 km (51.36 mpg), similar to Fiat’s Bravo.  Suspension is firm without being harsh like any Beta’s, yet quiet and comfortable, and copes much more admirably with traffic-calming speed humps, although I was unable to really test road holding limits and grip during my short drive.  Though it did have a ‘cruise control’, our Delta prototype had no electronic ‘driving aids’ comparable to those of the Nea, but rather a loom of bright yellow cables connecting the many test sensors all over the engine and curvy bodywork. 

Starck Salif Juicer anyone?
Although the new Delta may look like a bit like an industrial ‘appliance’ to some, it’s so different from most current modern cars and full of character it’s obviously a Lancia.  You’ll either love or hate the Delta’s looks.  Build quality of this prototype was excellent, and hopefully production quality and longevity will be much better than the three best branded appliances we’ve had lately in our kitchen.

All too soon my pleasure was curtailed as we headed back to Fiat H.Q. for an ubiquitous espresso or three.  There we learned that the first production Deltas would probably appear in early 2009, and that the Fiat group is so serious about the quality of the new Alfa brand products that the Pomigliano plant has been shut down for two months while it was being refurbished and the staff re-trained.  That kind of meticulous approach has to be good news for new Lancias too.

So if you happen to see some smug, self-satisfied occupants of a strange-looking, metallic red bullet in Upington, Pofadder, Springbok, and even Cape Town during the next few weeks, you’ll know for sure that Lancia is alive and well, and testing in South Africa.  I’m just sorry I’m not going with them even if some of our roads are chock full of traffic.


The author thanks Fiat Auto South Africa, Ian Huntly (President of the Fiat Club SA) and Guy Imbert for their kind invitation to test drive the Lancia Delta prototype. 

My photos of the Delta prototype may be seen at http://www.flickr.com/photos/guymcdougall/sets/72157604110590467
« Last Edit: 19 March, 2008, 09:26:15 AM by St Volumex » Logged

Guy McDougall
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Rare Parts for Rare Machines
Appia Coupé S3 (Rosina), Appia Berlina S3 (La Giaconda), Fulvia 1.3S 5 spd coupé (Tigger, belongs to Carol), Beta Spyder S2 (Vivaldi), Montecarlo Spyder S2, HPE VX (Pugsly) etc
Harvey
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« Reply #1 on: 18 March, 2008, 11:36:17 AM »

A fab article! I'm glad you've sent it to Jack as it's exactly the sort of content that VL needs (and a magazine is the ideal medium for!)
Did you send the photos, too?
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sparehead3
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« Reply #2 on: 18 March, 2008, 12:02:29 PM »

Yeah, just fab. Loved reading that.
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Steve Pilgrim
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inthedark
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« Reply #3 on: 18 March, 2008, 01:07:03 PM »

Excellent, thanks Guy
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fay66
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« Reply #4 on: 19 March, 2008, 01:41:14 AM »

Thank you Guy, for a nice bit of objective reporting.

Brian
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St Volumex
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« Reply #5 on: 19 March, 2008, 07:06:05 AM »

Thanks for your kind comments.

I've just received my March 2008 V-L (our local SA Postmonster has taken stick for the two recent issues that went 'missing') only to note that Jack's e-mail address has changed.

So I've forwarded the Delta info to his new one, but haven't sent him the photos directly, as I'm sure he'd rather download what he wants from www.flickr.com?
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Guy McDougall
www.facebook.com/RetroPart
Rare Parts for Rare Machines
Appia Coupé S3 (Rosina), Appia Berlina S3 (La Giaconda), Fulvia 1.3S 5 spd coupé (Tigger, belongs to Carol), Beta Spyder S2 (Vivaldi), Montecarlo Spyder S2, HPE VX (Pugsly) etc
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« Reply #6 on: 19 March, 2008, 09:38:17 PM »

In my experience you are best off sending high quality JPEGS to the magazine on CD ROM. Not sure they've time to download stuff.

Well done on great article!


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I'm entitled to my ignorance!
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