What is it?
The new Vauxhall Insignia Country Tourer is a significant departure from its predecessor and underpinned by new vehicle architecture.
It goes on sale with the 172bhp version of Vauxhall’s 2.0-litre Turbo D engine and a choice of either a six-speed manual or a new eight-speed automatic gearbox. In December, the range will be expanded to include a new 213bhp, bi-turbo diesel.
The car's all-wheel-drive system is based on the same torque-vectoring GKN Twinster technology which debuted on the Range Rover Evoque and is used on the Ford Focus RS and the regular Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport. The system isn’t identical in each case, but is configured by the manufacturers for each individual model.
Instead of a conventional geared differential, the Country Tourer's rear axle contains two electronically controlled, multi-plate clutches, which provide the ability to direct torque more to one side than the other. The system interacts with the car's chassis control systems and can send more torque to the outside rear wheel when cornering for sharper turn-in and steering response.
The Country Tourer rides 25mm higher than the regular Insignia Sports Tourer estate, allowing it to tackle slightly more rugged terrain. Extra cladding on its wheel arches and the fitment of front and rear skidplates help to protect against bumps and scrapes.
It’s also larger than the old model, with a 92mm-longer wheelbase. Boot space is up by 135 litres to 1665 litres, the rear seats split-fold 40/20/40, and the roof rails have a carrying capacity of 100kg – all of which makes for a pretty capable workhorse.
The Country Tourer's Flexride chassis includes adaptive damping and steering and can be set to Standard, Sport or Tour mode. These also affect the shift-points on the automatic gearbox.
Interior equipment includes Vauxhall’s OnStar concierge feature, which includes two new features: Personal Assistant, which helps subscribers make hotel bookings, and a service to locate parking spaces.
What's it like?
The interior is snug and comfortable, with fully adjustable driver’s seat and steering wheel making it easy to find a good driving position.
Clear instruments flank a driver's information screen, and the sat-nav-equipped infotainment touchscreen is set high up on the instrument panel. On the driver’s door, a knob controls how far the powered tailgate will open: off, maximum or 75% for if the car is parked under a low ceiling.
The Country Tourer's 2.0-litre 172bhp diesel engine is refined, strong and flexible, pulling well from 2000rpm and delivering enough punch for confident overtakes or heavy load-lugging. The six-speed manual gearbox is light and accurate, with little slack across the gate. The combination of the two makes the Country Tourer fun to drive. The all-wheel drive system is transparent to the driver under normal conditions, but the car is agile and the handling is as promised on country lanes, with crisp turn-in, good body control and little roll.
Off-road, the effect is much more obvious. Even on grass, understeer is kept in check and oversteer reigned in under hard acceleration. The 25mm extra ride height pays off – the Country Tourer can tackle quite steep approaches and departure angles without a problem. Ground clearance on rough woodland tracks is adequate, too, so moderate off-road excursions are a reasonable proposition.
With Flexride, the Sport setting firms up the dampers, adds more weight to the steering and sensitivity to the accelerator, while the Twinster system is given added rear bias to create an edgier rear-wheel-drive feel. The Tour setting is softer all round and the Standard setting sits somewhere between the two. We found the Sport setting with the damping set to its default gives a good balance of ride and driveability.
The estate package is a simple to use, fuss-free proposition. The rear seatbacks drop down easily via the usual latches next to the headrests, folding flat, and creating a generous extended load bay, made more accessible by the powered tailgate.
Should I buy one?
The new Country Tourer is a massive leap forward from the previous model in terms of size and accommodation, driveline and equipment.
The Twinster system should provide safety and traction benefits in foul conditions, especially when used in conjunction with the appropriate tyres.
At £27,235, the all-wheel-drive model is significantly cheaper than any of its main rivals, including the Audi A4 Allroad, Volkswagen Passat Alltrack and Volvo V90 Cross Country.
While the Grand Sport is first and foremost a fleet car, this spacious and capable estate model is expected to attract mainly retail sales. The starting price for the range in front-wheel-drive form is £25,635, and Vauxhall expects to sell only around 500 in the UK, mainly to country dwellers who should find the extra ground clearance and off-road capability appealing.
Vauxhall Insignia Cross Country 2.0 Turbo D 170PS 4x4
Location Oxfordshire; On sale Now; Price £27,235; Engine 4 cyls, 1956cc, turbocharged diesel; Power 172bhp @ 3750rpm; Torque 295lb ft @ 1750-2500rpm; Gearbox 6-spd manual; Kerb weight 1633kg; Top speed 135mph; 0-62mph 9.3sec; Economy 43.5mpg; CO2/tax band 172g/km, 36%; Rivals Audi A4 Allroad, Volkswagen Passat Alltrack, Volvo V90 Cross Country