Vauxhall Insignia review
by David Finlay (27 October 2008)
Although Vauxhall isn't making much of the fact, the Insignia is the latest in a long line of so-called medium-sized cars which extends back through more than ten years of Vectras and further still through a series of Cavaliers. Whatever your opinions of those models (personally I never drove a Vectra I liked apart from a 1996 British Touring Car Championship version, though I've always been a staunch fan of the Mk3 Cavalier) it would be difficult to argue that any of them looked especially distinguished, but you're not going to mistake the much more adventurously-designed Insignia for anything else on the road.
It's large, of course (all medium-sized cars these days are enormous compared to those of, say, the early 1990s), and it's also very curvy thanks to GM's efforts to make it as aerodynamic as practicalities allow. The styling is also held together by repeated use of an effect known as blade-wing, which appears all over the place but is most obvious in the interior design, the most dramatic Vauxhall has ever attempted in a car of this class.
The general bigness means there's quite a lot of room, though not quite so much for rear passengers as in the Ford Mondeo or - outstandingly - the Skoda Superb. There would be no problem, however, in accommodating four six-footers, but taller folk in the back, or in the front passenger seat if this is not height-adjustable, may start to feel slightly claustrophobic since the window lines tend to curve below eye level.
There's no shortage of luggage space, either. From launch, the Insignia is available in four-door saloon and five-door hatchback body styles (the Sports Tourer estate will arrive in 2009), and capacity is 500 and 520 litres respectively. Fold the seats of the hatch and load it to the roof and you get 1463 litres.
These are impressive figures, though not ones that rewrite the rule book for this kind of car, and if there's one criticism it would be that with both body shapes you have to contend with a high sill and a fairly narrow opening.
Those little issues arise because the boot and tailgate respectively are the way the stylists wanted them to be. A high-level GM engineer once told me, shortly before he retired, that in the 80s and 90s Vauxhall/Opel design was largely governed by which department held the most political cards (the example he gave me was the Astra GSI, which was spoiled by the marketing people to such an extent that it had to be changed back to the way the chassis guys originally intended after three years).
If this is still going on, I suspect that the stylists are in charge now. That would explain the rear window, which certainly fits with the overall design but is so hopelessly small that I'm tempted to refer to it as a porthole. I don't care what the artistic justifications are, and I won't accept that the presence of rear parking sensors overcomes the problem - it's a terrible piece of work which, along with the colossal rear pillars, reduces rear visibility to ridiculous levels. And the blind spots created by the large central and windscreen pillars are nearly as bad.
The Insignia range is quite expansive, as we'll see, but there are several features common to all models. They all handle well, they're all quiet (to the extent that road and wind noise seem significant, but only because you can barely hear the engines) and they all handle rather well. Some colleagues object to the steering, which though precise certainly lacks feel, but I don't have a problem with this in a car which is intended to be relaxing and comfortable.
Ride quality depends on which car you buy. There's a choice of standard suspension and something called FlexRide, which is an adaptive system that adjusts the damper settings according to road conditions. Manufacturers have been known to tie themselves in knots with systems like this, but I'd go for FlexRide every time - not just because there are soft, standard and sporty modes available at the touch of a button (though the Insignia behaves well in all of them) but because the ride is so much better than in the non-FlexRide cars.
The first Insignia I drove didn't have FlexRide, and it bumped and jiggled on every road I took it along, including a motorway. The next two did have FlexRide and were outstandingly better. A fourth, with standard suspension (which I tried mostly for comparison) was as bad as the first. So, FlexRide it is, where available - some models have it as standard and it's a £750 option on most of the others.
The engine line-up, which will be expanded in 2009, includes 128bhp and 158bhp versions of a two-litre turbo diesel, and since they're the most economical and least CO2-emitting (48.7mpg combined and 154g/km in each case according to the official figures, though the 128bhp car will certainly use less fuel in the real world) those are the ones you'll probably be more interested in.
The petrol range starts with a 1.8-litre engine which, at 138bhp and with much less mid-range pull than either of the diesels, is at the bottom end of acceptable performance for a car the size of the Insignia. It also uses much more fuel (36.2mpg combined) and, with CO2 emissions of 184g/km, will be more expensive to tax.
There's then a big jump to a 217bhp two-litre petrol turbo, available in manual or automatic form and with front- or four-wheel drive. I tried a manual 4x4 on a really challenging road and thought it handled exceptionally well, though it's not likely to sell in great numbers. Finally, there's a 2.8 V6 turbo petrol (four-wheel drive automatic only) which is certainly a refined cruiser.
I liked it a lot, but it costs £28,085 in either body style, and 272g/km of CO2 makes it as expensive to tax as any other car in the UK, so expect sharp intakes of breath and the sound of coffee mugs clattering to the floor if you go into your local Vauxhall dealership and ask for one of those.
The V6 comes only in Elite trim and is the most expensive car in the range. At the other end comes the 1.8 Exclusiv at £15,935, a price which makes it almost impossible to reach the end of this paragraph without at some point using the phrase "a lot of car for the money". Exclusiv is not in fact the lowest trim level; that's called S, but for complicated business reasons the less well-equipped S is more expensive than the Exclusiv. If you're a private buyer or a user-chooser on a budget, go for the Exclusiv.
The next trim level is SE, which has bigger wheels (18" rather than 17"), an upgraded audio and various other goodies including that height-adjustable passenger seat that's so necessary if you want to transport tall people. Elite models have full leather trim, dual-zone climate control air-conditioning, nine-mode adaptive headlights, folding mirrors and so on, while the SRi is the sporty version with seats and trim to match the enhanced driving experience.