Spending some time in our long-term Vauxhall Insignia this weekend brought back a lot of happy memories for me of how saloon cars used to be.

I grew up on a diet of watching saloon cars go racing in the BTCC in the 1990s. These cars were my real boyhood motoring heroes and I used to love seeing the Mondeos, Vectras, Accords, A4s and co crashing into each other on a fortnightly basis.

The real appeal with these cars though was the fact you could carve out some real brand loyalty. You could roll up at Brands Hatch or Snetterton in your Renault Laguna and then go and cheer on the same motor – on the outside at least – around the track. Volvo were always my favourites if you're interested.

It was watching these races where I picked up most of my initial impressions about brands that I still have today. Audi were the innovators, Ford and Volvo the dependables, Alfa Romeo the style conscious. And then there was Vauxhall.

Right up until I drove Insignia, my overriding memory of Vauxhall saloons was of a plucky but flawed effort, more concerned with coming along for the ride rather than going all out to produce something really special. This was personified by its performance in the BTCC, spearheaded by the ‘good ol’ boys’ Derek Warwick and John Cleland.

The Insignia deeply impressed me on so many levels and certainly ditched the ‘good ol’ boys’ image I still associated with Vauxhall. The styling is a real triumph, with subtle touches including the chrome piping around the windows and the gently raking roofline.

I showed me how good a car can be for simply being a pain-free, effortless experience. The smooth 2.0-litre diesel helped covered the miles at a quick rate and for £20k, there aren’t too many interiors that have the sophistication of the Insignia’s.

It wasn’t just me singing the Insignia’s praises, either. At least 30 people I know saw it or spent some time in it over the weekend and not one could fault it. The benchmark saloon in my eyes has been set and I’m looking forward to having a go in some of its rivals to see what can better the Insignia.

Driving it also got me thinking how good a modern BTCC would be with all the current guises of the 1990’s saloon classics. Now there would be a proper race series to get excited about…

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,