Why we’re running it: To discover if Vauxhall’s flagship offers an unbeatable mix of practicality, value and executive comfort in estate form
Life with the Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer: Month 3
Our estate played the perfect host on a busy Easter weekend - 25th April 2018
It’s the Easter bank holiday. The M40 turns into its very own Highway of Death as the mass evacuation of southern suburbia feels like the single-file traffic jam of an Iraqi diaspora. Cars strewn by the side of the road, oil everywhere it shouldn’t be and Warwick services in the same state of disrepair as Basra.
Like 19 million others, I’m spending Good Friday and Easter Monday on the road. My abandonment of south London entails the all-important quarterly parachute drop into the out-laws, stationed ‘on’t Moors’ just outside Manchester. The 500-mile round trip is a good test to see how leggy, refined and bomb-proof the Insignia is.
Lane Keep Assist comes into its own over this distance. On the rare stretches of motorway where the 20in alloy wheels are allowed to get up to speed, the safety system takes some of the stress out of a long journey. I can feel it nudging the steering back into the centre of the lane and it allows the driver to trust the car’s positioning and relax a little.
Up front in the cockpit, the pilot’s seat adjusts in all sorts of ways to aid the relaxed feel too. There’s electronic lumbar support and a steering wheel that moves up, down, forward, backwards and over the Persian gulf, as the old folk ditty goes.
Our car also has a wi-fi hotspot. On previous trips, there’s been a comms blackout west of the Chiltern hills when trying to stream music on a mobile device. But when my wingwoman wants to wave her jazz hands to the depths of Spotify’s archive, we’re uninterrupted when connected to wi-fi. And that’s important because we’re the type of couple who sing along. But we’re both atrocious singers.
As such, it’s imperative that we have a decent sound system to drown out the missed high notes. Luckily, the Bose speakers can provide. In our opening report, Steve Cropley alluded to increased road noise in this spec over other versions of the Insignia: a result, he proposed, of the four-wheeldrive transmission and, I propose, of the larger optional wheels.
It’s true, the Insignia’s road noise is noticeable, but at this price point you can’t expect a total limousine-like experience. And when the sound system is off, we certainly don’t have to raise our voices to hold a conversation. I wouldn’t trade the all-wheel-drive performance that came in handy in the snow, as mentioned in previous reports, for a quieter ride.
There’s one other foible of this specification on a trip like this: fuel economy. The 2.0-litre biturbo diesel is achieving 35.4mpg over a mix of London potholes, motorway chugging and a cross-country, northern A-road. Vauxhall only claims a combined figure of 40.4, so our figure is about as expected in the real world.
While it continues to improve from our early reports as we run the car in (the range has gone up by about a third), this is arguably the only reason I’d rather be in Iraq: for the fuel prices.
This mix of road surfaces also confirms my favoured drive mode. ‘Tour’ offers a waftier ride and lighter steering than ‘Sport’ or ‘Normal’ (although those are customisable). So, with the safety systems on, ‘Tour’ selected and the tunes ringing out, Vauxhall’s flagship chews up the miles. While the carnage ensues around us, the interior of the Insignia is a picture of serenity.
IN-CAR WI-FI The network is great for streaming music and offers a so-far-uninterrupted 4G service.
VOICE CONTROL I’ve had to learn another language to use it, memorising new pronunciations of my phone book.
On reflection, some things are worth keeping - 11th April 2018
A colleague once pronounced in these pages: the vanity mirror is dead! He feels a smartphone set to ‘selfie’ mode is now of sufficient quality to use as a mirror when applying his blusher in the passenger seat. My bowls partner and I disagree. She styles her lippy on the way to the mats and the brightness of the Insignia’s sun-visor lights, one either side of the mirror, is important.
Life with the Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer: Month 2
Exploring the drive modes - 28th March 2018
Our Sports Tourer has three drive modes. ‘Sport’ and ‘Normal’ can be customised to set up the chassis, steering weight and engine response. This affords the luxury of combining maximum performance and sportier suspension with the lightest steering. ‘Tour’, meanwhile, offers a lazy waft that suits both motorway touring and speed-hump wrestling.
Our wagon was well prepared for the Beast from the East - 14th March 2018
February was freezing, wasn’t it? Well, it certainly felt it, standing on an Oxfordshire verge, filming m’colleague Matt Prior buzz up and down in a Ferrari GTC4 Lusso T, with his heated seats and his throaty V8 to keep him warm. Luckily, my load-lugger of choice, our Insignia Sports Tourer, is well equipped to deal with the ‘Beast from the East’, ‘Polar Vortex’ or any other tabloid-headline-weather-front nature could chuck at it.
That’s largely down to the new ‘intelligent’ all-wheel-drive system. The GKN-developed system comprises a pair of clutch packs on the rear axle electronically delivering torque vectoring – the first time such a system has appeared on a four-wheel-drive Vauxhall. The torque distribution adapts to steering and throttle inputs as well as road conditions to apportion power to the inside or outside rear wheel and increase stability in all conditions. And it really works. There’s no hint of understeer in freezing temperature, in snow, or in lashing rain.
On my commute to Autocar Towers, there’s a steep hill start out of a partially unsighted junction. Where many front-wheel-drive and rear-wheel-drive test cars have slipped before, the Insignia’s eight-speed auto hooks up on request to smoothly and briskly tackle the ascent, without hesitation or squeal. For a 1633kg large executive estate, the traction is really rather impressive.
But it’s not just the dynamics of our Sports Tourer that coped with the Arctic conditions. We specced the optional, but feature loaded, Winter Pack 2 for £400. So the car not only has heated front seats with three temperature settings but also a heated steering wheel, front windscreen and rear windscreen.
As part of the infotainment system, the driver can choose to receive – and trust me I have – what the Vauxhall marketing department terms a ‘Warm Welcome’. No, not a hug and a cup of char. Rather, the car judges the exterior temperature and sets the heated leather seats appropriately when you jump in. Heated buttocks are an essential part of any warm welcome, I find.
In the Insignia, this is not a luxury consigned only to the front row either. Rear-seat passengers, who for years have been without one of the essential ingredients of a warm welcome, have been liberated by Luton’s flagship.
Other extremities that can now be kept at an optimum temperature include the driver’s hands. Being of a generally clammy genetic disposition, I didn’t initially think I’d get on with the heated leather steering wheel. But, by gum, is it a game changer at –2deg C when you’ve just been working outdoors without gloves for four hours. Now I use it all the time.
Interestingly, when we first collected the Insignia, I feared fighting the frost might be an area where the Vauxhall would fall short of its main Czech rival. The Skoda Superb Estate comes with an ice-scraper stowed in the fuel cover that’s one of the cleverest touches on the market. But I needn’t have worried. Very occasionally, in certain light, I can spot the fine wire element that constitutes the heated front windscreen on the Insignia. Partnered with a heated rear screen and wing mirrors, there’s no need to even consider getting your cuffs wet.
As I stand in the cold filming my colleagues in supercars, I can’t wait for spring to have properly sprung. But, frankly, the Insignia will take your ‘Polar Vortex’ and show you where to stick it.
PRACTICAL STORAGE The FlexOrganiser system of rails and divider nets makes loading my video kit easy and keeps it secure.
BLANK BUTTONS In the climate-control cluster, there are two blank buttons that could’ve housed the two functions hidden behind the touchscreen.
Life with the Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer: Month 1
Welcoming the Insignia Sports Tourer to our fleet – 21st February 2018
This 67-plate Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer lands on our shores having been on quite a journey.
As you will have read in these pages, the Vauxhall and Opel badges had long been foundering under GM ownership. They declared losses of £190 million in the second quarter of 2017 (an average of £3m a day), before the high-profile takeover by PSA Group at the end of last year. As the listing begins to settle under the new admiralty, it is paramount that the marque’s new flagship leads the incoming flotilla of models – that will in future be based on shared PSA Group architecture – to forecast profit in 2020.
And so it’ll have been with a wide grin that PSA boss Carlos Tavares received the news that 100,000 orders of the second-generation Insignia, which we’ll be running, have already been taken in its first year on sale. The tide starts to turn. A new era begins. Exciting times. As it is for us, running the D-segment fleet favourite in Sports Tourer form.
Ours, appropriately, has been given the honourable task of voyaging up and down the country’s motorways with a videographer and all his kit on board – similar to how a lot of business drivers will use the car (albeit with a few more lenses and tripods). And we’ve specced it accordingly. To give our car its full name, it is a Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer Elite Nav 2.0 210PS BiTurbo D 4x4 Auto.
Let me break that down for you. ‘Sports Tourer’, as you can see, is marketing pidgin for ‘estate’. More than 135 litres have been added over the predecessor’s boot capacity.
Larger than a Mondeo Estate’s loadspace, but not quite as big as that of the more expensive Passat, it’s suitably cavernous to swallow the entire Autocar video kit when the rear seats are folded down.
Now, the eight-speed auto ’box was a no-brainer given the mileage that the Insignia will have to deal with. And we’ve paired it with the higher-powered turbocharged diesel unit that produces 207bhp. This engine will be remapped and re-tuned in the upcoming hot GSi variant of the Insignia due this year. Here’s hoping for a hearty blend of response, economy and cruising comfort over the next few months.
The four-wheel-drive system will likely get a good run out on some wet and cold Welsh mountainsides. Which leads me to the first of our optional extras: Winter Pack 2 (£400). Seats front and rear are heated, as is the front windscreen and steering wheel: a luxury that’s hard to live without after it has been experienced for the first time.
These are on top of a gargantuan list of features that come as standard with the Elite Nav level of trim, including European sat-nav, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, Bose sound system, 8in touchscreen, DAB radio, leather seats, cruise control, Isofix points, forward collision alert and automatic emergency braking.
Also standard-fit, the IntelliLux Matrix LED headlights are breathtakingly effective. When switched to full beam, they detect traffic and patch out one LED at a time so as not to blind other road users while maximising the driver’s view.
Driver Assist Pack 4 chucks in even more safety features. These include a blind-spot sensor, parking sensors and a rear-view camera – all handy given the large barge’s track has been widened by 11mm for this generation. At £650, these seem a bargain compared with the options lists of slightly more premium badges.
The penultimate box ticked was another slam dunk at £120, the FlexOrganiser: a simple set of rails and ratchets in the boot that allow you to harness kit – and, in controlled environments, photographers – flexibly.
Finally, we added the £565 Flip Chip Silver two-coat metallic paint. It’s an iridescent light blue in colder light that completes what is a rakishly handsome design.
Now, ordinarily, we wouldn’t pass too much comment on a car’s looks. Being subjective and all that, we tend to let you make your own mind up. However, given that the bloke who designed the thing (Mark Adams, Vauxhall’s design chief) took time out of his busy schedule to hand over the keys to our new motor, we may as well pass on a nugget or two of insight.
Adams tells us that, as with much of the current range, there is heavy influence from the ‘Monza Concept’ that appeared at Frankfurt in 2013. You can see this especially in the headlights and the stylish ‘tick’ that flows down the side of the car.
So important is it to Vauxhall that this car creates a premium aura that Adams’ design team were involved from its very inception. Indeed, the all-new chassis architecture being used at the Rüsselsheim assembly plant was adapted geometrically to meet aesthetic requirements.
The metallic window surround that stretches from bonnet to boot helps to make the car look much longer, lower and wider – a feat that Adams is rightly proud of. All the while, interior touches have improved rear seat space and boot capacity.
Of course, all of these design touches will make the Insignia Sports Tourer more appealing to the business buyer and the fleet co-ordinator, and also to us.
We regularly turn up to various manufacturer HQs with a bootload of equipment, and desire comfort, premium infotainment and unassuming looks along the way. So over the next few months, we’ll ask if the Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer will be more executive than the Superb, more practical than the Mondeo, better value than the Passat and find the sweet spot in the large executive value estate market.
If so, it may well lead the much-needed fightback for Vauxhall.
I did most of the first break-in miles in the Insignia after we took delivery. Two things stand out: a dramatic improvement in fuel mileage on the open road (the trip computer now shows 40mpg) and extra road noise because it’s a 4x4. No disaster, but worth knowing before you pay for extra traction.
Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer Elite Nav 2.0 210PS BiTurbo D 4x4 Auto specification
Specs: Price New £29,960; Price as tested: £31,695; Options: Winter pack 2 (£400), FlexOrganiser (£120), Driver Assist Pack 4 (£650), two-coat metallic paint (£565)
Test Data: Engine 1956cc, twin-turbocharged diesel; Power 207bhp; Torque 354lb ft; Top speed 145mph; 0-62mph 7.4sec; Claimed fuel economy 40.4mpg;Test fuel economy 31.2mpg; CO2 186g/km; Faults None; Expenses None