What is it?
This is a facelifted version of Britain’s most popular mainstream large family car.
The Vauxhall Insignia regularly outsells the VW Passat and Ford Mondeo, and Vauxhall is keen to maintain the momentum with these upgrades and an average £2000 price-cut across a simplified range. There are visual tweaks of course, including a fresh grille, new bumpers, new lights and the three-inch slithering southwards of the chrome strip across the Insignia’s rump. All of these changes are intended to make this Vauxhall look wider and lower.
More meaningful improvements include some fresh engines, new instruments, major infotainment upgrades that reduce the dashboard's button-count, and some refining of the chassis.
The 1.6 SIDI (for Spark Ignition Direct Injection) sampled here is the first of GM’s new Family Zero four cylinder petrol engines, this downsized turbo providing 168bhp, a fat 191lb ft spread of torque from as little as 1650rpm and in-built balancer shafts for refinement. It’s hooked to a six-speed gearbox and rides in a chassis extensively recalibrated to improve ride quality across a range of stylish rims whose diameters stretch from 16ins to 20ins.
So, up front there are revised dampers, anti-roll bars and softer front subframe bushes, while the rear suspension gets new springs, roll-bars, dampers and bushings too. Quite a comprehensive list of upgrades then, and more than most cars receive during a mid-life refresh.
What's it like?
It doesn’t take long to notice the eagerness of this engine, which soon has you driving with zest. Vigorous low-end pull, a pleasing pulse and smooth power flow are your encouragements, especially as the noise level barely rises with revs. It’s the kind of zip that the ancient front-wheel-drive Cavalier was famed for half-a-lifetime ago. Also impressive is the smoother ride.
On the absurd (but often-demanded and undeniably handsome) 20in rims of the test car there was some small bump disturbance, but no crashing and excellent suppleness over speed bumps. The Insignia now handles with more precision too, but while the steering’s accuracy is crisper, its slightly springy resistance masks most feel.
More important for company car drivers will be the improved switchgear, much of it now located on the steering wheel. There's a bigger eight-inch infotainment screen with improved features and in its ultimate form it's provided with a touchpad that theoretically allows you to operate the system without taking your eyes off the road, as do its voice commands.
The demo unit on the launch wasn’t quite foolproof and certainly requires some learning, but it will give Insignia drivers plenty to occupy themselves with on motorway trawls. So will stabbing the touch-sensitive buttons for the seat heaters, which are often as responsive as a hibernating bear.
Should I buy one?
Although Vauxhall is forecasting pretty low sales for this engine – 85 per cent of Insignias are diesels, and this 1.6-litre is available only with the pricier Elite trim – this car is actually one of the most satisfying models in the range.
It’s the appealing engine that does it, this brisk, enthusiastic and civilised turbo powerpack bringing the car to life in a way that the diesel motors and even the VXR’s turbo 2.8 V6 can’t quite manage. The result is quite an engaging all-rounder. It handles well enough to please, it rides with calm pliancy, it’s comfortable, decently refined, very well equipped and with the Elite’s full-on sat-nav, provides another dimension of long distance entertainment.
That springy steering leaves the Mondeo well in front dynamically, but the more stylish Insignia is quite an alluring company package, especially at these new, more realistic prices.
A shame, then, that it's only available with the priciest trim, although Vauxhall is now considering a cheaper SRi model. It would make an attractive package.
Vauxhall Insignia 1.6 SIDI Elite
Price £22,764; 0-62mph 9.8sec; Top speed 133mph; Economy 45.6mpg; CO2 146g/km; Kerbweight 1613kg; Power-to-weight 105bhp/tonne; Engine 4 cylinders in-line, 1598cc; Installation transverse, front-wheel drive; Power 168bhp at 6000rpm; Torque 191lb ft at 1650-4250rpm; Gearbox six-speed manual