I recently had the chance to drive the Lancia Delta Integrale Evolution II, which is probably the all-time greatest hot hatchback. I wasn’t really expecting to think of it as the greatest hot hatchback — the greatest forbearer, perhaps — but that’s exactly how I ended up coming away from my Integrale experience. It’s great. Really, really great.
Before I get started, here’s the basic gist of the Delta Integrale. Back in the late 1970s, Italian brand Lancia came out with a little hatchback called the Delta. It was just a normal European commuter car until they decided to make a more powerful version — which originally just upped things by a bit. Eventually, there was a faster one, and then a faster one, and then a faster one, and then, finally, it got to the level of the Evo II, which was the best and final Delta model.
On paper, a Delta Integrale Evo II isn’t really much — at least by modern standards. It has about 220 horsepower and it’s an all-wheel drive (AWD) hatchback — and that means it’s like a slower version of the Volkswagen Golf R or the Ford Focus ST. Only, these days, a good Delta Integrale Evo II sells for massive money: One in great condition like the one I drove can bring $60,000 to $70,000, which probably seems excessive for an old hatchback.
And, indeed, it is — but when you get behind the wheel of the Integrale Evo, you really start to understand why it’s so tremendously expensive: because it ignited the hot hatchback world, yes, but also because it’s just so incredibly wonderful to drive. The thing you have to understand about the Integrale Evo is that it’s very light — around 3,000 pounds, or a little less, which very much separates it from more modern cars like the Volkswagen Golf R, which has 272 hp but weighs in around 400 pounds heavier.
The weight is one big reason why the Integrale is so fun to drive: You can just toss it anywhere, and you aren’t moving around a very hefty car as it excitingly goes through the gears. It’s light and that makes it fun, and it compensates for what we today would consider a lack of power. But when it comes to size, weight isn’t the Integrale’s only benefit: length helps, too. An Integrale is just 153 inches long, which makes it about the same length as a Mini Cooper. You aren’t just tossing around a fairly light car, you’re tossing around a fairly small one.
And it gets better. The coolest thing about this car, to me, is the fantastic steering. While cars today definitely feel more stable, none feel more connected, none with a simpler, more engaging steering rack. I truly loved throwing the Integrale into corners and steering out, and I remember why I just adore cars from this era: the steering feedback, the fun-but-not-too-excessive power … it’s all just perfect.
And, indeed, "perfect" is the word I’d use to describe this car — to the point where, when I brought it back to the owner, I inquired about whether he might be willing to sell it. I don’t blame him for saying no, considering just how rare these are, and how hard it is to find one in nice shape — but I know there’s no hot hatchback I personally would rather drive around, on canyon roads, or even just to the store, where I’d stare longingly at those flared fenders as I turned around and walked inside. This is a great car. These have been hyped for a long time, and this one lives up to the hype. Find a Used Hatchback for sale