The Vauxhall Insignia is GM’s answer to the rather thorny question of how to stop premium manufacturers from taking over the large car sector completely. Unusually buyers are given the choice of a hatch, a saloon, or an estate. The hatch makes the most sense most of the time so gets the full Green Car Guide review.
If, like Vauxhall, you are a mainstream car company, the large family/exec car sector is a very hard nut to crack. The problem is that the premium offerings tempt most buyers, and let’s face it, if you’re spending over £20,000 on a car, do you really want a mainstream badge? It is to Vauxhall’s credit that rather than give up completely it has taken the Insignia upmarket and tried to compete head on. With 167,000 sold it has gone pretty well, although it is interesting to note that 80% of buyers are business users.
The Insignia heralded a new styling direction for Vauxhall and we have to say that the current corporate look is well suited to the bigger dimensions of this model. The Insignia has a confident stance which instantly makes it look like a premium product. It is a styling trick that Audi has ruthlessly exploited and clearly something that Vauxhall was keen to emulate.
Unfortunately the illusion doesn’t quite hold once the door is opened. Vauxhall has managed to reduce the button count substantially which makes the dashboard look cleaner than before, but the overall design wouldn’t look out of place in an Astra so doesn’t quite carry off the premium brief.
There is however better news on the engineering front. The Insignia must have spent a substantial amount of time in a wind tunnel as it has an excellent drag coefficient of 0.25 which makes it one of the most aerodynamically efficient production cars in the world. This helps to deliver improved fuel consumption at motorway speeds and reduces wind noise, boosting refinement.
The ecoFLEX model gets active front air shutters which close when the engine is cold to reduce the time the engine takes to warm up, and when the engine doesn’t need maximum cooling to reduce aerodynamic drag, both of which contribute to better fuel consumption. If you have ever wondered just how much drag is produced by cooling air rushing intro the engine bay, with the shutters closed the Insignia is 8% slippier, so it is worth doing.
The first issue that the Insignia faces is its front-wheel drive platform which is trying to compete in a market dominated by rear-wheel drive cars. Of course it is possible to make a front-wheel drive car fun to drive but the Insignia suffers from a lack of traction which adversely affects the whole driving experience. Despite only having to cope with a modest 258 lb ft of torque the front tyres really struggle to deploy it to the road. In combination with a traction control system which cuts in aggressively it makes for frustrating progress. Peak torque arrives at a lowly 1,750 rpm, but low end response is poor because the traction control system is constantly trying to rein in the engine and there is no way of turning it off. This forces a very conservative approach to navigating junctions and roundabouts and makes the Insignia feel like it has an underpowered petrol engine.
If you stretch the engine out it lacks the refinement of the best diesel units in the class and lacks their punch too. Driven towards the limit of grip the Insignia reveals a preference for understeer which again is stamped on quickly by the stability control system. There is little here for the enthusiastic driver.
So the Insignia is better suited to motorway driving where it feels stable and composed but with the diesel engine operating at higher revs it lacks the refinement that buyers have come to expect and the suspension never settles down, leading to a jiggly ride. The motorway also gives you more time to explore the integrated Sat Nav and media system which is a bit too far away to reach comfortably and lacks the usability of the best systems. It also crashed during our week with the car, which revealed that the system can’t be restarted without turning the car off; not ideal on a long motorway run!
The electric handbrake also deserves a special mention as the button is tiny and there is no light to indicate if the system is engaged or not which can lead to some embarrassing and potentially expensive situations.
This is a strong point and goes a long way to explaining why the Insignia appeals to business users. Both the 120ps and 140ps ecoFLEX engines offer the same official fuel consumption which is a class leading 76.3 mpg (combined). This equates to just 98 g/km CO2 which results in a BIK rating of 15%, so there are big potential savings in tax.
During our test the Insignia averaged 50.7mpg but 50mph motorway running returned anything from 70-90mpg so if you kick back, stick to the motorway and take things easy there are big rewards to be had at the pumps.
Keeping pace with A-road traffic resulted in 48.2 mpg which has a lot to do with the monstrous gearing and poor low end response from the engine. 6th gear is effectively an old fashioned overdrive which means that you need to be doing well over 50mph before engaging it and you will be into licence threatening territory before the engine can really get on top of the gearing. This leads to more gear changes than you would expect with a 2-litre diesel engine and the need to explore the full rev range.
Even in SRi trim the Insignia is well priced. However we wouldn’t say that if offers great value as the overall quality of the interior, infotainment systems, and driving experience doesn’t warrant a higher price tag. However if you’re on a tight budget the Insignia does provide a lot of car for the money.
The most eye-catching example of this is the base 1.8-litre petrol ‘Design’ specification which kicks off the range at just £16,534, which means that you can get the big Vauxhall for the same price as a high specification Corsa.
The other model which guarantees pub bragging rights is the performance VXR variant whose ability to hit 62mph from rest in 5.6 seconds on its way to 168mph flat-out combined with a £29,824 price tag makes it the fastest car you can get your hands on for under £30,000.
The Insignia offers very attractive tax savings for business users thanks to the very keen pricing and the class leading CO2 emissions which explains why it appeals to this sector. The big boot also comes in handy for reps who need to lug sales props around the country.
Unfortunately it remains a one trick pony as once you look past the cost savings it falls short as it fails to deliver the quality of ride, drive, finish and toys that the premium opposition are so good at. Perhaps it is asking too much for the big Vauxhall to take on the executive end of the market, but more disappointingly it also fails to match the best of the mainstream options such as the Mazda 6 and the Ford Mondeo.
Our main observation is that the Vauxhall Ampera, with its extended-range electric technology, is a much better car – however it has less space and is more expensive, so the Insignia sales far outweigh those of the Ampera.
Ultimately the reduced prices aren’t enough to paper over the shortcomings so the Insignia is awarded a Green Car Guide 6 out of 10.