Vauxhall Insignia Review

A sign of things to come
Vauxhall’s new Insignia heralds an age of design and technology lead products from GM. It drives well too.


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Amid the global financial turmoil that will come to characterise the end of 2008, General Motors, itself not immune to the credit woes, is launching one of its most significant new cars ever. Replacing the big-selling – if rather forgettable – Vectra is the Insignia, its new name representing a ground-up redesign and, if GM is to be believed, a new age of Vauxhall and Opel products focusing on style and cutting edge technology.

In the Metal

GM’s designers have seemingly invented a whole new language to describe the various flourishes and details in the Insignia’s design, such as the ‘cascading waterfall’ front wings, the ‘blade’ shape cut into the car’s flanks (and echoed throughout the interior) and the ‘wing motif’ described by the LED daytime running lights and vaguely visible in the shape of the dashboard.

Fancy phrasing aside, the Insignia is a striking car. The extra room required around the engine for pedestrian safety has been disguised by the prominent chromed grille and new large badge design. Though the front is a little bulbous, the rest of the car’s detailing is quite sharp and more than a little reminiscent of the GTC concept.

Inside, the Insignia takes a substantial step away from the Vectra in terms of ambience and design. The upright dash of old has been replaced by a shapely new item with several parts – such as the main centre console and the gearlever surround – seemingly ‘floating’, which also cunningly avoids the need for awkward join lines. Not only does it look good, but GM has used plastics that stand up to comparison with the best in class. The switchgear is neatly designed too and tactile to touch, something you’ll notice from the electric window switches to the buttons for the climate control.
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What you get for your Money

UK pricing starts at £15,935 for the entry-level 1.8-litre petrol Insignia S, which comes as standard with air conditioning, cruise control, steering wheel stereo controls, ESP, automatic headlights and part-electrical driver’s seat adjustment. The ‘S’ trim is the only to ride on steel wheels, with a range of 17 to 20-inch alloys available elsewhere in the range. Above the S sits Exclusiv and SE models with the luxury spec Elite and sportier SRi variants currently the range toppers.

The next step up from the basic 1.8-litre engine (in petrol terms) is a new turbocharged 2.0-litre unit putting out 217bhp, which utilises direct injection to rein in fuel consumption and emissions. The big sellers though will undoubtedly be the 128 and 158bhp CDTi 2.0-litre turbodiesels, and some markets may even get a 1.6-litre petrol model in the future. Topping the range is a 2.8-litre V6 model that features turbocharging and a significant 256bhp fed to a four-wheel drive system.
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GM calls this Adaptive 4×4 and it is a sophisticated system that apportions the engine’s torque to the wheels with the most grip. It’s standard on the turbocharged V6 model and optional on the 2.0-litre turbo petrol version. The other most significant option is Flexride, which controls GM’s latest adaptive damping system, which now allows the driver to choose between Sport, Tour and normal modes, encompassing the damping, power steering assistance, throttle calibration, traction control threshold – and the gearshift strategy in the automatic models. It’ll be standard on some Insignias and optional on many.

Driving it

Before getting very far into the test drive it’s very apparent that the Insignia is much more than a reskinned Vectra. Even at low speeds the steering feels wonderfully linear and direct and the wheel itself is a good size and easy to position to your liking. In fact, the seat too seems infinitely adjustable so it’s simple to get comfortable.
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Though the 2.0-litre diesel engine is audible when on the move, it’s on a par with the better cars in the D-segment for suppression of vibration and harshness and the turbocharged petrol engines are particularly refined. Although the 2.0-litre Turbo makes itself heard when you want to use all of its performance, it remains smooth regardless of engine speed, while the 2.8-litre V6 is virtually silent most of the time.

Unsurprisingly, the latter’s performance is impressive and the 0-62mph time of 6.7 seconds tells only part of the story. We were initially disappointed to find that this model only comes with an automatic gearbox, but actually it’s well suited to the linear, effortless power delivery. Perhaps of more surprise was that the automatic transmission is particularly well-matched to the CDTi models’ diesel units, while the six-speed manual was found to be positive, but with a long, slow ‘throw’ through the ‘box.

Regardless of engine, all models display an unexpectedly polished chassis, managing to be comfortable in most situations, yet with remarkable body control, even when pushed beyond the call of typical D-segment duty. The Flexride-equipped versions do a good job of allowing the driver to customise the settings, but even in Sport mode the ride is far from harsh and rest assured that the standard chassis does an admirable job without the expense.

Worth Noting

GM’s initial line-up covers most bases, from entry-level to sporting needs to a luxury specification, but there are several key cars to come as yet. Most important is the ecoFLEX model, which utilises a 2.0-litre turbodiesel with 158bhp and 280lb.ft of torque and achieves less than 140g/km of CO2. That’s thanks to sophisticated engine hardware and significant aerodynamic modifications. As well as being frugal, the ecoFLEX will manage 0-62mph in 9.5 seconds and a top speed of 135mph, indicating that GM has the Ford Mondeo Econetic firmly in its sights.
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At the higher performance end of the scale there’ll be a twin-turbo version of the 2.0-litre CDTi engine with about 190bhp and of course a flagship model to sit under the VXR brand (marketed as OPC outside Britain). Little detail is known as yet about the VXR model, but there are already murmurings about a possible twin-turbo diesel version to sit aside the traditional petrol car.

Summary

The D-segment has turned into one of the most hotly contested sectors in the car world, with each new model moving the game forward a notch and hoping to move up the automotive food chain. While the new Insignia is unlikely to tempt owners out of their premium brand saloons, it has what it takes to battle it out on an even footing with the best of the group such as Ford’s Mondeo. Its timing is good too, as there are even more worthy competitors due for release in the near future. GM is confident though, and it has good reason to be.

vauxhall_insignia_2008_099_250Performance: starstarstarstarstar
Engine & Transmission: starstarstarstarstar
Ride & Handling: starstarstarstarstar
Fuel Economy: starstarstarstarstar
Tactility: starstarstarstarstar
Appearance: starstarstarstarstar
Interior: starstarstarstarstar
Safety: starstarstarstarstar
Value for Money: starstarstarstarstar

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