First DriveInsignia gets new 'Whisper' 2.0-litre diesel, which promises better refinement and company car-friendly figures
First DriveThe refreshed Insignia is a capable all-round machine with notably better driving dynamics
What is it?
This is the new Vauxhall Insignia, the creators of which I found myself admiring a little bit more with every mile I drove it. Not just for their handsome new car’s performance — we’ll come to that later — but for the way they have fallen to the daunting task of creating a great product for a sector which has halved in size in half a dozen years.
However, ten per cent of car sales in the UK alone still amounts to 200,000-odd cars a year, worth billions. The sector was clearly worth fighting for. The question was how the mainstreamers should arrest the trend.
Some, like Honda, started touting their cars as “near premium”. Ford, already improving, had its Driving Quality message to extend and improve. Vauxhall’s mission was clear but tough: invest and make massive improvements on every front.
Matching the other mainstreamers wouldn’t be enough: GM would have to go to the top of the class with the Vauxhall Insignia.
To achieve this there is a new name, a new chassis, optional full-time four-wheel-drive, an enticing array of Euro 5 engines, an impressive ‘Germanic-precision-meets-sculptural-artistry’ coupe shape and several thousand words of good intentions.
What’s it like?
Our Vauxhall Insignia test car was a 2.0-litre 16-valve petrol turbo four, featuring twin balancer shafts and variable value timing, producing a healthy 217bhp at 5300 rpm and an even more impressive 258lb ft between 2000 and 4000 rpm.
What strikes you first about the Vauxhall Insignia is how imposing its styling is. The Insignia comes as both saloon and hatchback, but they’re so similar that you have to examine the rear shut-lines to tell the difference.
GME design director Mark Adams has always said that, if anything, the Vauxhall Insignia’s interior design takes an even bigger step than the one taken with the exterior.
The wraparound architecture of the cabin and most of the trim and switchgear would do justice to a car at Jaguar XF level. It’s a shame for GM that a new VW Golf VI was on hand to show that in matters of trim grain, instrument graphics and fine switchgear detail, the Insignia still has room to improve.
But our early production car was on a par with Ford’s latest Mondeo, perhaps better, and there was a warm and comfortable ambience about the cabin that well and truly beats the Ford.
The engine pulls strongly right to its redline, and sounds and feels more sophisticated than any four-cylinder Vauxhall in your memory-bank. The six-speed gearbox’s change quality sets it far ahead of any Mondeo, and it doesn’t hurt that the lever, its gate and trim surround are all things of beauty.
Used to the full the Insignia 2.0 turbo is a true 150mph car, with a 0-60mph sprint time of 7.2 seconds thrown in.
You can also vary the steering effort and throttle sensitivity by choosing different suspension regimes. I was pleased to find that the Sport setting wasn’t so hard that for practical purposes it would be ignored, as in many systems, and that its slightly firmer steering and brisker throttle were the settings I’d choose for all driving.
Grip is plentiful, even in standard two-wheel drive guise, and damping at high speed over undulations wouldn’t disgrace a BMW.
For me, the Insignia disappoints in one major area: rear room. This is a big car, on a long wheelbase, yet with the front bucket seat set comfortable for me in the front, I’m as cramped for knee room as in some of the larger superminis.
For many owners that won’t matter, especially those who are persuaded by its 70-litre fuel tank and its giant boot.
Should I buy one?
Bottom line: the Insignia is so far ahead of the Vectra that comparison is useless. It’s also a very tough Mondeo rival, possibly not quite as crisp when it comes to near-limit handling, but more composed, quiet and comfortable over difficult surfaces.
The buyer who opts for a Vauxhall Insignia is choosing a damned good car, even when the field includes Mercedes, BMW and Audi.