What is it?
Having sampled the entry-level diesel Insignia Grand Sport, we move straight on to the most expensive petrol-driven version, the 2.0-litre 4x4 Turbo, which is sold exclusively in range-topping Elite Nav trim. With a 2.0-litre petrol engine and eight-speed auto, the model develops 256bhp, but the real windfall is the GKN-developed four-wheel drive system, derived from the same Twinster technology used in the Ford Focus RS.
Costing from £27,710, this go-faster variant pushes the Insignia firmly into the fringes of Audi A4 and BMW 3 Series territory, although similarly priced versions of either aren’t nearly as well equipped as the Vauxhall.
Alongside the standard family-pleasing 4G wi-fi hotspot, you also get LED matrix headlights, heated seats, a larger 8.0in touchscreen, sat-nav, dual-zone climate control, a Bose sound system and 20in alloys.
What's it like?
The last car I drove which mated a 250bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine to an eight-speed automatic was the Audi A5 Sportback we road-tested a few weeks ago, which went like stink, sounded like a suppressed gunshot and engaged each of its gears with the precision of a nine-dart finish.
The Insignia’s most notable shortcoming then is not that its powertrain is bad, but that the latest comparable backdrop is so transparently good. Trivial irks prevail in retrospect. Fast starts in the Vauxhall tend to want an old-fashioned buildup of engine revs before anything much happens; on the motorway, downshifting from the ultra-long final ratio into something more productive seems to take a while, because the 'box is a little too intent on dabbling with seventh before summoning up fifth or sixth.
Its lack of a bespoke, lever-finding ‘Sport’ mode or else paddle-shifters feels like an oversight even at half the price of the A5 Sportback. Nevertheless, this absence best demonstrates the sort of car Vauxhall actually intends the Turbo to be. Regardless of the badge, this isn't an Ingolstadt-style hard-charger - it mostly wants to be thought of as a distant relative to the long-dead big-capacity option: amenable, quiet, and just brisk enough to be considered effortless.
This it manages rather well, driven with the right kind of consideration. Like the cooking model (and much like the Astra, too) it is the saving in weight which makes the Insignia immediately more biddable than its predecessor, and more obviously likeable, too. Adaptive dampers are standard in the 4x4 Turbo, and in their more submissive settings, they do a remarkably worthy job of isolating occupants from the nastier side effects of the car's outsized alloys.
The four-wheel-drive system, bolstered in this case by winter tyres, feeds into much the same usable theme. The Twinster’s ability to move torque either side of an axle is intended to deliver a pleasantly neutral handling bias - but it was equally unfazed by a Norwegian blizzard, which easily qualifies the Insignia as a credible all-weather option.
Should I buy one?
Probably the best point to make about the 4x4 Turbo is that it costs almost exactly the same as an entry-level Audi A4 with a 148bhp 1.4-litre TFSI engine, and is also significantly cheaper than the four-wheel-drive 236bhp Ford Mondeo Vignale. Against either rival, this model makes a fine case for itself, being better value and (to these eyes at least) comfortably better looking. It's also worth remembering the quantum leap made inside, where the old Insignia's ergonomic fluster has been put aside for the kind of slick interior that - while not overtly luxurious - proves virtually impossible to tire of.
Broadly speaking, the Insignia is less rewarding to drive than its badge and output might have lead you to assume – and with official fuel economy of 32.8mpg, it’s hardly setting the niche’s economy benchmark – but if those factors are lower down the list than plenty of kit, a hugely practical interior, sterling functionality and commendable all-round comfort, the priciest Grand Sport makes its own peculiar kind of plush sense.
Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport Elite Nav 2.0 Turbo 4x4
Price £27,710; Engine 4 cyls, 1998cc, turbocharged, petrol; Power 256bhp at 5300rpm; Torque 295lb ft at 2500-4000rpm; Gearbox Eight-speed automatic; Kerb weight 1649kg; 0-60mph 6.9sec; Top speed 155mph; Economy 32.8mpg combined; CO2/tax band 197g/km, 36%; Rivals Ford Mondeo Vignale