A worthy competitor for any car in the segment, premium or not

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.

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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.

Steve Cropley

Steve Cropley Autocar
Title: Editor-in-chief

Steve Cropley is the oldest of Autocar’s editorial team, or the most experienced if you want to be polite about it. He joined over 30 years ago, and has driven many cars and interviewed many people in half a century in the business. 

Cropley, who regards himself as the magazine’s “long stop”, has seen many changes since Autocar was a print-only affair, but claims that in such a fast moving environment he has little appetite for looking back. 

He has been surprised and delighted by the generous reception afforded the My Week In Cars podcast he makes with long suffering colleague Matt Prior, and calls it the most enjoyable part of his working week.

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jskater 3 October 2008

Re: Vauxhall Insignia 2.0T Saloon

I see the logic, but Vauxhall has too strong a brand image in the UK (Good or bad), to warrant rebranding it's cars as Opel, versus how much it little it would cost GM to do so.

Me, I like the Insignia's styling, and instead of preferring Fiestas new and old to Corsas, and Focuses to Astras, I quite like the idea one over a Mondeo, especially a 4wd turbo estate version.

If they could mate the diesel to the 4wd system and to the automatic transmission then, although it's dynamics are apparently massaged more by electronic not mechanical means, the Insignia might have Ford, Audi and maybe Subaru more than slightly worried...

Me, I've always liked the idea of non SUV, turbocharged 4x4 road cars, probably inspired by my love of rallying, but haven't been given the opportunity to want to own one made by Vauxhall since the Cavalier or Calibra.

Never thought I'd say this, but if it really is that good, and engine/ transmission options become available then I'm probably not alone in wanting one...


ThwartedEfforts 2 October 2008

Re: Vauxhall Insignia 2.0T Saloon

Looks fine until you get to the back, at which point it turns into a Hyundai Coupe (made worse by the fact the front could stunt double for an Elantra). So many new cars about at the moment - the new Superb, XF, this thing - are handsome beasts from one particular view only.

The point about dropping the awful Vauxhall name comes up every time the company launch a new car. Why aren't they calling it Opel? Don't they know what everyone here thinks? The merest mention of the 'V-word' makes any car sound like a dud, a taxicab, or a box for sales drones.

moe360 1 October 2008

Re: Vauxhall Insignia 2.0T Saloon

Looking at the pictures of this road test I love the design. In Black with those wheels and 2.0T it looks very cool, I would by this over any Ford Honda etc even over a Bmw just to be a little unique :)