From £20,0907
Insignia is handsome, smooth and quietly brisk, but can it prove there's life in the combustion-powered saloon segment?
Felix Page Autocar writer
13 April 2021

What is it?

The transformation of Vauxhall’s line-up at the hands of parent company PSA Group (or, indeed, parent parent company Stellantis) is nearly complete. The Mokka has become a genuinely charismatic and desirable crossover, the optionally electric Corsa is giving the Ford Fiesta a seriously hard time in the sales charts and the Astra is about to make the landmark shift onto the electric-capable EMP2 platform, whereupon it will be radically redesigned inside and out. 

In fact, come mid-2022, the only ‘homegrown’ Vauxhall model on sale will be the Insignia. It's a historically popular and well-liked proposition, but one which faces a somewhat uncertain future. Designer Mark Adams hinted recently that the Insignia - or an as-yet unnamed indirect replacement - could be reinvented completely for its next generation. And why not? Hatch-backed saloons are no longer the cash cow they once were - the Ford Mondeo’s imminent demise serves as proof of that - and non-electrified examples especially are starting to look out of place. 

But to keep it fresh until a replacement is lined up, Vauxhall has updated the Insignia. Chief among the changes is the addition of a new 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol engine option, while at the other end of the line-up is a 227bhp, four-wheel-drive GSi variant. Diesel engines - of 1.5-litre and 2.0-litre capacities- remain available, although no powertrains are equipped with the hybrid technology (plug-in, mild or otherwise) that’s available elsewhere in this segment. 

The estate version has already bitten the dust, of course, so we’re left with the Gran Sport, available with a choice of two petrol and two diesel engines. We’ve driven the top-rung, warm-blooded, 4WD GSi car already, and walked away impressed, but here for our evaluation now is the second-from-top 2.0-litre petrol car in sporty SRi VX-Line trim. Priced from £33,165, it brings sportier styling to go with its agreeable 197bhp output, along with a selection of extras from the top end of the options list, including smartphone mirroring, an uprated sound system, perforated leather seats and a suite of advanced driver aids.

What's it like?

Particularly when presented, as it is here, in Summit White ( a £350 option), the Insignia has more than a whiff of motorway patrol car about it. Which goes some way to explaining why, if you sit at the speed limit on the motorway, few will be bold enough to pass you. Otherwise, I think we can agree it’s a rather handsome proposition, if one that’s a good degree more anonymous than its bold Peugeot 508 and DS 9 cousins. It’s deceptively large, too, measuring 4900mm by 2100mm, which lends an element of presence while making parallel parking a bit of a hassle.

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The SRi VX-Line package brings a welcome degree of visual flair but without indulging overly in the sort of ‘boy racer’ stick-on addenda you might associate with the acronym – souped-up Nova, anybody? Bumpers are suitably sporty at both ends, and the two-tone 20in alloys go some way to lending a bit of kerb appeal (and a good deal of kerb vulnerability - you’ll cringe your way through high-kerbed multi-storey car parks). It’s a shame to no longer have the estate at our disposal, but the long-roof car’s pleasing proportions failed to translate into strong sales, and so the Insignia is, these days, a one-shape-fits-all solution. 

Upon entry, any illusion of charisma is quickly quashed by the Insignia’s steadfastly bland cabin decor; the recent facelift wrought few tangible revisions to the interior, and so you’re met by a sea of not-all-too-premium-feeling black plastic and leatherette. It’s hard not to take issue with such unimaginative design when other PSA brands are successfully forging their own distinct - and appealing - interior identities. But as is the case with the Corsa and Mokka, the Insignia wins back some marks for all key functions being within reach and clearly visible, a sensible balance between touch and physical controls, and an intuitive driving position with plenty of adjustability. The sloping roof means taller passengers will be happier in the front seats, but legroom in both rows is more than ample, and while its 490-litre boot won’t win class honours, there’s room for the weekly shop and plenty more besides. 

We’ll single out our test car’s seats for a mention: they’re nicely cushioned and reassuringly firm, but their ‘sporting’ bent means the bolsters are so close together that I almost phoned up Joe Wicks to complain about my pre-summer weight loss routine. He’s off the hook, though, as a much smaller passenger said much the same thing as me. Definitely a point to consider, as just 10 miles would be enough to have you shuffling around to find a more comfortable position. 

The Insignia otherwise makes for a competent long-haul cruiser. Rolling noise is kept to a minimum at speed - and would no doubt be even better subdued with chunkier rubber underfoot - and it clears gaps in the Tarmac with impressive composure. The 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine, while not as rorty as the nameplate and decoration would suggest, serves up its 197bhp and 258lb ft convincingly, pushing the Insignia to 62mph in 7.2sec. 

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It helps that it’s married to Vauxhall’s own nine-speed automatic gearbox rather than PSA’s languid eight-cog unit; ratios are changed snappily enough, and at about the point you’d think about shifting yourself. It’s an intuitive powertrain, if not one that’s buzzing with character and verve: the engine note is loud but uninspiring, and even under kick-down, there’s little to elicit an eyebrow raise from the keen driver. 

It’s much the same story if you take the scenic route. In terms of outright pace, the Insignia is appreciably quick, but numb-feeling steering and a gross weight of 2160kg means ground is covered effectively rather than excitingly. We’d be pretty tempted to put another £5000 on the sales rep’s desk and walk away with the keys to a four-wheel-drive Insignia GSi, were we hunting for a genuinely hot Vauxhall. 

It’s not the most frugal of powerplants, either. Despite being the first Vauxhall engine to use cylinder deactivation technology at a cruise, the WLTP average is posted at between 33.1 and 37.7mpg, and even with start-stop activated, we struggled to nudge above 30mpg in the congested suburbs.

Should I buy one?

It’s hard to say just what the future holds for sub-premium saloons of this ilk, particularly ones untouched by electrification. Attractive finance schemes mean jumping up to an Audi A4 or Mercedes-Benz C-Class is far more feasible for most than it once was, and in this modern commercial environment that’s increasingly driven by Skype and Zoom calls, the days of the motorway-schlepping sales executive look to be numbered. 

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You’d have to jolly well like the Insignia, really, then. As tested, this SRi VX-Line Nav tipped the scales at £33,525, which is around £5000 more than a comparably specified, and altogether more well-rounded Skoda Superb. And even if, as a business buyer, the outright outlay isn’t of huge concern to you, the hefty 36% BiK tax rating just might be. But viewed in isolation, this a sensible and practical commuter car with just enough poke for an occasional giggle and even a helping of kerb appeal.

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LucyP 14 April 2021

No one pays list price for these cars. Just look at Autotrader and there are several brand new ones available at between £3k and £6K below list price, and that is before you have even set foot in the Vauxhall showroom. Most are bought by fleets and hire car companies anyway at nothing like list price.

As others have said these are best bought used. There are plenty of examples from 2019 around the £13K mark. That is good value for a car with a massive boot and rear legroom like a limo that will be cheap to run and repair.

sbagnall 13 April 2021
Some superb deals available on this spec at the moment, which makes it considerably better value than the Superb. A colleague I work with has got one for 10k deposit and 200 per month over 60 months with 60 months warranty and serving. Ain't gonna get that with yer Skoda.
Peter Cavellini 13 April 2021

Vauxhall won't build anything new to replace the Insignia, we're being coerced into crossovers, SUV's etc, the days of a 4.5 m , big backseat with a Hatchback Family Car are gone, same for Estates, Vauxhall are building small cars like the Corsa and Mokka etc, and there are lots of them on the roads, so this Insignia will be the last maybe.

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