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The new Insignia is essential to Vauxhall’s future and needs to be good. So is it?

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It’s impossible to consider the arrival of the all-new Insignia without briefly reflecting on the tribulations of Vauxhall and its parent, Opel.

The latest model is, after all, a significant cog in a global machine – designed and developed in Europe yet also sold in North America and China as the Buick Regal.

Previous Insignia’s chrome-heavy grille makes way for a more conservative affair mounted much lower, in order to emphasise the car’s new stance

Consequently, its lifecycle is likely to be defined by the upheaval of a brand in flux, as new owner PSA Group asserts control over its unwieldy acquisition from General Motors and eventually gets around to segregating asset from redundancy.

In that light, it’s quite possible to view the Insignia as a considerable virtue of the procurement.

Imperfect though the outgoing version was, it finished a stronger prospect than it started in the UK and proved a considerable success even when faced with the oft-mentioned squeeze of this class, the D-segment, from all sides.

Certainly, it overshadowed the comparatively puny impact made by PSA’s own contenders and counted only the likes of the Ford Mondeo and Volkswagen Passat as direct rivals in terms of size and prominence.

Both of those admittedly much newer models made the outgoing Insignia look every bit as old as nearly 10 years on sale suggested it was, though.

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Updates kept the car’s nose above water, but it was still too heavy, too flaccid to drive, too muddled inside and too drab to be thought of with much enthusiasm beyond its cadre of business users.

The new version, dubbed Grand Sport in hatchback format, is a conspicuously handsome attempt to address all of those faults. It promises to be lighter, leaner and better thought out than the car it replaces.

Historically, it’ll represent one of General Motors’ last half dozen or so solo rolls of the dice in Europe. Topically, it’ll become one of the most recognisable cars on British roads.

We drove a 2.0 Turbo D in SRi VX-Line Nav trim to assess its worthiness for either accolade. 

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Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport rear

Considerable attention has been lavished on the way the new Insignia looks.

That’s indicative of not only Briton Mark Adams’ talent and influence as chief designer but also the emphasis now placed on fostering desirability among buyers.

The Insignia’s Lane Keep Assist is way too intrusive and turns on by default every time you start up the car. Can we have it the other way round, Vauxhall?

Red, admittedly, is not the car’s colour, but in other, more subtle shades the 2013 Monza Concept-inspired shape – a raked collection of sophisticated angles – is about as eye-catching as a modern mainstream hatchback currently gets.

Its proportions are aided by the introduction of a new modular platform, dubbed E2 by General Motors.

Its introduction makes an already ample product even larger, with a wheelbase that’s 92mm longer and an overall car length of almost 4.9m, even though the overhangs have shrunk.

The extra size is about increasing interior space – particularly in the rear – although it has not been achieved without due attention being paid to the scales.

A more innovative approach to build materials has resulted in the body-in-white being 59kg lighter than before.

Depending on engine choice, Vauxhall quotes as much as 175kg being shed overall. Even allowing for its predecessor’s datedness, that’s a credible reduction – especially for a longer, lower, wider car that is still without a three-cylinder motor.

Instead, the line-up is underpinned by a new 1.5-litre four-cylinder petrol unit in 138bhp and 163bhp variants and twinned with a six-speed manual gearbox.

The engine is a mildly brawnier development of the 1.4-litre version found in the Astra, although there’s also a 256bhp 2.0-litre engine, which, alongside an eight-speed automatic gearbox, comes with the added incentive of a GKN-supplied all-wheel drive system based on the firm’s torque-vectoring Twinster clutch pack arrangement.

On the diesel side, the bulk of the volume will be attributed to the 1.6 Turbo D, available in 109bhp and 134bhp outputs, while the range is headed by the 168bhp 2.0 Turbo D tested here. All come with a six-speed manual gearbox as standard, with an eight-speed automatic optional on the top-line 2.0 Turbo D.

Aside from the petrol-powered four-wheel-drive model, all versions drive the front wheels on a chassis consisting of front MacPherson struts and four-link rear suspension (the 4x4 gets five-link).

Adaptive dampers, still dubbed FlexRide, are a cost option (and fitted to our test car) on all but the range-topper, and Vauxhall has beefed up the available safety systems to include Lane Keep Assist, Automatic Emergency Braking and Rear Cross Traffic Alert.


Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport interior

Although it has grown in size, the first thing that strikes you about the Insignia is less its spaciousness and more the obvious effort expended on making you feel more at home.

The previous model, blighted by unyielding front seats and a general air of ungainliness, was a prospect you sat on top of – barely any more integrated than an umpire at Wimbledon.

We’re into the minutiae here, although I’m sure I won’t be alone in thinking that the car’s icon on the sat-nav map is too big. Get the scale wrong and junctions start disappearing behind it

But in the new version, courtesy of a 30mm drop in the hip point, hugely improved seats and a judicious raising of a more imposing centre console, Vauxhall’s flagship has become a car much better able to have you sink into it.

This low-key but telling upgrade of driving position predisposes you to like (or at least forgive) much of what’s going on around it. In the Insignia’s case, there’s much to objectively appreciate. Any horror-show memory of the previous car’s button-heavy arrangement of switchgear has been swept aside. The model now wisely partitions its functions at different levels of the dashboard and retains physical buttons for only the sought-after functions.

Flanking the latest 8.0in infotainment screen, you’ll find the volume control, ‘Home’, ‘Back’ and a track/radio skipper – essentially everything you need 90 percent of the time.

This level of sound thinking pervades most of the cabin. Certainly, it appears evident enough in the rear, where, as promised, the Insignia seems less pinched in vital places – the 25mm quoted gain in shoulder and knee room paying particular dividends.

There’s sufficient space now to make a BMW 3 Series or Audi A4 look measly, if not quite enough to overthrow the extravagantly generous Skoda Superb.

The previous Insignia’s boot space is not improved upon but, at 490 litres with the seats up, it remains a voluminous prospect and not far short of the Ford Mondeo’s. Fit and finish are roughly at eye level with the Ford, too, making it less sophisticated in perceived quality than the Volkswagen Passat and a squadron of compact execs, but not so distant from them as to bemoan the comparative cost saving.

Our test car sported the abbreviated ‘Nav’ suffix at the end of its lengthy model designation, which meant that it came equipped with the full Navi 900 IntelliLink infotainment system and its associated 8.0in central touchscreen display. Do without it and you’ll get a slightly inferior 7.0in screen.

By and large, the interface and software are fine. It’s not the slickest or prettiest set-up we’ve seen and we still query the amount of spidery black font that’s being presented on a white background,
but navigating around it isn’t fraught with difficulty.

The actual navigation is also entirely functional (if a little short on graphical niceties), but given the car’s high level of standard internet connectivity, we would question the need to pay the premium.

Speaking of which, Vauxhall’s OnStar 4G hotspot capabilities, while now not alone in the market, remain a highly attractive feature for family buyers — or indeed anyone with a pressing need to hook up their laptop to the web at inopportune moments.


2.0-litre Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport diesel engine

The 2.0-litre diesel engine, launched a couple of years ago under Vauxhall’s optimistic Whisper branding, is a known quantity.

With 295lb ft between 1750rpm and 2500rpm, it delivers a credible amount of shove through the mid-range – enough, one would think, to easily distinguish it from the 60lb ft less put out by the 1.6-litre diesel.

Car’s mass and relatively soft springing make it feel a bit unwilling to turn in to quicker corners

Unlike that engine, the bigger unit features a two-stage turbocharger rather than variable geometry, and its response is generally very decent.

Somewhat less convincing is the level of refinement. Despite its protestations, Vauxhall’s common-rail 2.0-litre diesel has never been particularly hushed and its dull-edged but distinctive rumble carries over.

Much of the familiar resonance is segregated by low crank speeds, making its most productive phases and cruising speed volume mostly acceptable.

Stray beyond the margins, though, and you’ll find a strained, old-fashioned clatter that Vauxhall’s premium-end rivals have started to damp out.

The same manufacturers have also become better at making the performance of their four-cylinder engines seem less noticeably tapered.

The Insignia revs to 5000rpm, but there’s a dwindling of productivity from 3750rpm onwards. That’s forgivable in a smaller diesel motor but less so in a unit that’s intended to compete with the increasingly punchy, freer-spinning oil-burners that all develop beyond 150bhp.

Even with a burly diesel engine over the nose, the Insignia’s weight loss is palpable, though – less in the margins that make up its mildly enhanced 0-60mph time (a few tenths of a second, according to our 8.7sec measure) and more in the slightly liberated way it gets under way for such a large car.

It’s a subtle gain perhaps, yet, like the driving position, it permeates the experience from behind the wheel with a wider sense of amenability. In a car intended to function as a mobile workspace, that upshot repeatedly pays dividends. 


Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport cornering

Naturally, as with the Vauxhall Astra, the kerb weight advantage is of significant benefit to the car’s dynamics.

In the smaller hatch, Vauxhall used the reduction in mass to make a much more engaging and agile car than before; in the larger Insignia, the pay-off is inevitably smaller, but much that the model now does better has its roots in the virtue of weight loss.

It turns in well enough and with decent steering load but will understeer if you’re too aggressive mid-corner

Most of this is manifested in the way the car feels a mite more limber than its stolid predecessor and therefore easier to navigate at low speeds.

But it is present, too, in a moderately heightened sense of composure, where the longer wheelbase has not overly stifled a modest deftness in the car’s very orthodox front-drive handling.

Entertaining or incisive it most certainly isn’t, yet with thickly accurate steering and no shortfall of directional stability, the Insignia is a broadly easy car in which to push on.

Its real strength, though, made plain enough by the long-legged way in which the model is sprung, is an affable ability to hoover up monotonous motorway miles.

The benchmark here is the Ford Mondeo’s muffled isolation of its occupants, and although Vauxhall’s flagship doesn’t quite replicate the same degree of benevolent wheel control, it summons up something of the same impassive attitude when it comes to dealing with long-wave intrusions.

Away from the comparative smoothness of three lanes, the Insignia doesn’t always settle so consistently. It has a habit, on 18in wheels, of occasionally bristling at minor surface infractions, even with the FlexRide set to its floaty Touring mode.

But it doesn’t significantly detract from the benign way the Insignia goes about its business, which, as ever, revolves around turning mind-numbing journeys into a tolerable part of the working day.

The Insignia’s outright size and bias towards comfort both make their presence felt when you drive the car to the limit of grip.

The handling precision, body control and cornering balance are all creditable, and although none is convincing enough to make the car feel like much of a sporting option, the Insignia remains stable, controllable and secure with its electronic stability and traction controls disabled.

Body roll gathers progressively with your cornering commitment, to the point where the front wheels begin to scrabble for grip and gently push on through tighter turns.

Other family saloons grip harder, remain more composed for longer, feel lighter and involve more. The stability control begins to feel a bit rudimentary with lots of speed and lateral load in the mix, but it works well enough.


Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport

The Insignia has always been sold in a slightly baffling array of trim levels, and the new model is no different. For the record, there’s Design, Design Nav, SRi, SRi Nav, SRi VX-Line Nav, Tech Line Nav and Elite Nav.

Each level comes with its own peculiarities, although (roughly speaking) Design is the £17k entry-level car, SRi the mid-spec competitor, Tech Line the business user special and Elite Nav the range-topper (which costs just under £28k for the 4x4 petrol model).

Super-competitive pricing is expected to work well for the Insignia, at least in the short to medium term

The presence of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone integration alongside Bluetooth, Vauxhall OnStar, a DAB radio, 17in wheels, keyless entry, air-con, cruise control and a 7.0in touchscreen makes the Design trim look like remarkable value for money.

For a sub-£18k car, you’d need to have the 163bhp 1.5 Turbo model, but you couldn’t have a Mondeo, Passat or Superb for that price in any spec.

Granted, by the time you get to middleweight grades – SRi Nav or Tech Line Nav being arguably the sweet spot – and added the 134bhp 1.6 Turbo D for £21,580, you’ll be closer to Ford’s and Skoda’s equivalent values, but expect Vauxhall’s aggressive pricing to still admirably undercut its closest rivals.

That’s a useful incentive, because the Insignia’s fuel efficiency is competitive rather than class-leading. As far as CO2 emissions go, the range pick is the 108bhp 1.6 Turbo D at 105g/km, which is commendable but still behind the 94g/km of the Mondeo’s 118bhp 1.5 TDCi. Our more powerful test car emitted 136g/km – also decent, yet distant from the 108g/km of the 148bhp 2.0 TDI found in a Superb.

Furthermore, its quoted 68.9mpg is obviously superior to our Insignia’s 54.3mpg – a figure we only approached at touring speed. Overall, the car returned 39.2mpg. 

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4 star Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport

The job of making the Insignia not just better but also more relevant in a market slowly falling out of love with non-premium flagships like this was considerable.

For the most part, with the stakes impossibly high, Vauxhall can consider its job well executed. No one – not buyer nor dealer nor tyre-kicker – could move from old to new and fail to commend the differences. In places, it feels like the manufacturer has gone all out: the model could hardly be larger, prettier or priced more affordably.

Rethought Insignia has a lot going for it — but no more than its rivals

Those virtues alone – on top of a huge customer base – ought to ensure continued big-volume success.

Conquest sales might be trickier, though. For all its enhancements, the Insignia hasn’t fallen far from the tree.

There are better and more economical cars to drive, just as there are nicer, finer-feeling ones to sit in.

Thus, the blurry line between genuinely appealing and simply proficient at its job is still not one the Insignia motors confidently across.

Be that as it may, PSA will be delighted to find its subsidiaries’ new flagship in comparatively fine fettle.

In this guise we rank the Insignia Grand Sport third behind the formidable Ford Mondeo and Volkswagen Passat, but impressively ahead of the Skoda Superb and recently facelifted Mazda 6

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Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport First drives