What is it?
It was the fastest sub-£30,000 drive you could buy when it was launched, and that remains true today of this usefully improved Vauxhall Insignia VXR, in hatchback form if not as the pricier Sports Tourer tested here.
The Insignia’s mid-life polishing includes a freshened nose and tail, a major upgrade for its instruments and infotainment and some chassis modifications. The 321bhp 2.8 litre turbo V6 remains unchanged, driving all four wheels to produce a 170mph top speed and a 0-62mph sprint of 5.9sec.
The chassis benefits from all the ride-smoothing changes made to mainstream Insignias, besides some VXR-specific mods. Its highly effective torque-steer quelling HiPerStruts, remain, but the front subframe now sits in softer mounts, there are new suspension control arms and the Sachs adaptive damper and roll-bar settings have been rethought.
The VXR’s rear suspension has also been lightened and rebushed, and its ESP and traction control algorithms have been refreshed too. Plenty of mods then, but the all-wheel drive system is unchanged, the Haldex-style system directing a nominal 90 per cent of torque to the front axle in the standard and Tour settings, this ratio shifting to 60:40 front:rear split when the VXR button is sunk.
Pressing the VXR button also sharpens the throttle (too much for delicacy), stiffens the dampers and slightly alters the weighting of steering gear that still feels over-springy and unmechanical.
What's it like?
Vauxhall reckons the Insignia VXR to be the GT member of its high-performance VXR pack, and that’s a realistic take on this rapid and sizeable machine.
On the wet, twisting roads of the test route the Insignia is certainly quick if you work it hard, but it’s also quite quick to run out of grip if you’re over-enthusiastic. The result can be a juddering understeer moment that the ESP system is a bit too casual about catching, although it gets there in the end.
You soon learn to drive with cautious circumspection through the first half of a bend, before safely exposing the driveline to the turbo’s full strength.
Switching to the VXR mode for a more helpful 60:40 torque-apportioning aids the car’s balance before adhesion fades, but in slower bends you can forget imagining that you’re aboard a car whose balance approaches a rear-driver. In the dry, though, you can expect decidedly more limpet-like grip.
Despite its generous 321bhp and 321lb ft the V6 turbo needs low gears and revving to give it its best, which again makes this car a bit less of a weapon than you’d hope for on snaking backroads. Factor in a relatively inert chassis and the remote steering and you’ll see that Vauxhall is right to describe this car as a GT.
At a high-speed cruise it’s decidedly more accomplished, the engine’s torque delivery providing promptly responsive autobahn zest as well as an easy triple-digit gait. Particularly impressive is the suspension’s calm absorbency, even on choppy backroads, and a bodyshell that feels admirably robust and well-insulated.