Vauxhall is the latest mass manufacturer to launch a ‘near premium’ family car in the form of the new Vauxhall Insignia.
It’s viewed as so different from its Vectra predecessor that a new name was required – a change that’s also reflected in the redesigned Vauxhall badge that its debuts.
The Insignia looks nothing like a Vectra, or any other recent GM product, because the company has decided its models should be more widely differentiated in appearance than previously.
The Insignia has grown in size, it’s longer than both the Vectra it replaces and the Mondeo. GM has tried to keep the Insignia’s mass under control by introducing more light metal and plastic components, but it’s still 150kg heavier than the Vectra, model-for-model.
The Insignia’s design is described as being ‘coupe-like’, with wide haunches intended to give it a powerful look and a suggestion that it’s rear-wheel drive (although it isn’t.) ‘Blade’ shapes are integrated into the door surfaces, an idea first seen on the GTC concept coupe.
Vauxhall is proud of several Insignia-only innovations, including new generation adaptive lights (whose beam shapes adapt to prevailing speed and road conditions through nine settings) and a front-facing camera that reads speed limits signs and displays them on the instrument display.
The Insignia’s suspension sounds familiar, but its development underscores GM’s determination to challenge the likes of BMW and Audi. To cut unsprung weight (and improve ride) the steering knuckle/ strut carrier is made in aluminium, and the anti-roll bar is hollow. At the rear, the car gets a four-link, independent suspension (strategically strengthened for 4x4 applications) and there are also hydraulically damped bushes to aid noise suppression.
Some versions get a switchable three-mode damper system that offers Normal, Tour (relaxed) and Sport settings. As well as firming up the suspension and - for 4x4 Insignias – adding more rear-drive bias. Sport mode also changes the backlighting of the instruments from white to red.
Insignia buyers are offered a choice of five engines from launch, all meeting Euro 5 exhaust emissions standards.
The three-tier direct injection petrol range consists of a 1.8-litre/138bhp ‘eco’ four, a 2.0-litre/217bhp turbo four with twin balancer shafts for smoothness, and a 2.8-litre/256bhp turbocharged V6.
Two diesel powerplants will be available from launch, both using GM’s 2.0-litre 16-valve direct injection motor, and available in either 128bhp or 157bhp states of tune.
Vauxhall’s designers claim the Insignia’s interior is their biggest step forward. It has a cosseting cabin, bristling with impressions of quality and comfort you wouldn’t expect in a car of this price, not even a Mondeo or an Accord.
The cabin architecture wraps around the driver and the new-design seats are shaped for enhanced crash safety. Vauxhall claims it’s possible to achieve a comfortable, low-set driving position in keeping with the car’s sporty aspirations. Top-end Insignias get electric height and four-way lumbar adjustments too. Sports seats are optional.
There are five trim levels: S, Exclusiv, SE, Elite and SRi. They’re not merely arranged in ascending price order (the Elite and SRi diverge respectively towards luxury and performance), and wheel sizes vary through 16- to 20-inch.
All cars get impressive standard equipment including ESP, cruise control, automatic headlights, electric driver’s seat height and lumbar adjustment plus an extensive suite of airbags (front, side and curtain). There’s an all-new infotainment system with improved sat nav and a standard MP3/iPod port.
The new Insignia’s credentials — and Vauxhall’s track record — make it overwhelmingly likely that this new entry will go close to the top of the class.
How close? We’ll tell you as soon as we can put one up against its most significant rivals.