We saw the flash of his camera before we saw him.
Stark, inimitable white pops against the hell-black bluster of a cold night in Denmark. No other patron of the three-hour slow ferry to Norway had chosen to brave the rain, but our man was on a mission. Working his way methodically around our car, he had the cherished event committed to memory card in moments before making good his escape back up the queue of bemused North Sea crossers.
Such behaviour isn’t uncommon in the esoteric world of driving just-launched cars, yet it generally doesn’t occur when you’re sitting in a three-box D-segment hatchback. The occasions when I can recall it happening to something sporting a Vauxhall badge (without a VXR emblem also attached) was bumped up from zero to one while we were waiting to board the boat at Hirtshals. But then I can’t recall another recent Griffin wearer looking quite as good as the new Insignia Grand Sport, either.
Later, as we returned to the car after a substantial on-board buffet, our Norwegian shadow reappeared, keen this time to speak. Ours was the first new Insignia he had seen and he was very excited, albeit in a typically understated Nordic way. He was definitely getting one. He didn’t enquire about the comparative quality of the car. That piece of information felt like a given.
The days of Vauxhall, Ford or even Volkswagen rolling out another so-so mainstream saloon-shaped product are long gone. The D-segment, while at the moment stalwartly big-selling, is being squeezed from all directions – and most of all from above. The day BMW and Audi discovered they could sell entry-level compact executive saloons for D-segment money was a dark one indeed for the old batting order. It didn’t stop the outgoing Insignia from selling like a hot cake, but even Vauxhall would admit that the premium manufacturers are now watched like W hawks seen from a rabbit warren. Hence the prospectively greater need for high-spec, high-powered bolters like this one: a 256bhp 2.0-litre petrol-fuelled, automatically geared, tri-coat painted, four-wheeldrive Norwegian heart breaker.
At £27,710, this model is almost the same price as an Audi A4 in SE trim with a 148bhp 1.4-litre TFSI engine. Except, of course, the Insignia comes exclusively in Elite Nav spec, the apex of Vauxhall’s always perplexing grade triangle, which means you get all manner of highfalutin features, including LED matrix headlights, heated seats all-round, an 8.0in touchscreen, a Bose sound system, dual-zone climate control, sat-nav, OnStar connectivity (including a 4G wi-fi hotspot) and pretty 20in twin-spoke alloy wheels.
One of the few things not standard is the rubber orbiting those rims, the factory-spec set having been swapped out for Pirelli Sottozero mud and snow tyres – and that’s a good thing, not only because it’s March and it’s the law in Norway, but also because we have not disembarked at Kristiansand to loiter in the fairly mild surroundings of the south.Instead, our destination, another coastal city named (irresistibly) Kristiansund, lies 620 miles to the north – handily adjacent to the Atlanterhavsvegen (Atlantic Road), an archipelago-hopping strip of tarmac often rated among the best road trips in the world.