If you choose a Vauxhall Insignia, chances are you'll choose a diesel one. Here's a petrol model that more than earns its starting place. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
The Vauxhall Insignia has quietly become a secret best seller, but with over 85 per cent of sales accounted for by diesel models, petrol models hardly get a look in. Despite featuring an effervescent 170PS 1.6 SIDI Turbo engine that gets to 62mph in 9.2s yet averages 45.6mpg and emits 146g/km, this one's likely to remain a rare sight.
Pity the poor petrol engine. While it still holds sway at the very top and the very bottom of the price structure for cars in this country, smack in the middle is where it gets a good kicking. Nowhere is this more sustained than in the middleweight sector, and no better exemplar of that trend is available than the biggest selling medium-ranger, the Vauxhall Insignia. Here, over 85 per cent of all sales go to diesel-engined cars. The petrol engine is largely reserved for those who want to cremate some rubber in the sporty VXR versions. That could well change if more were to take notice of a genuinely impressive downsized engine that punches well above its weight. A 1.6-litre petrol powerplant in a car with the heft of an Insignia doesn't sound instantly appealing, but back it up with a turbocharger and you get a 170PS output that combines with wholly presentable economy and emissions. Say hello to the Insignia 1.6 SIDI Turbo.
'SIDI' stands for 'Spark Ignition Direct Injection', a more efficient way of delivering fuel to the cylinder, and while efficiency is all well and good in order to carve a niche against diesels, it's good to feel a bit of pep under the throttle pedal that only really comes from a good petrol powerplant. The Insignia develops its peak torque of 258Nm from a diesel-like 1,650rpm and gallops to 62mph in a respectable 9.2 seconds before running onto a top speed of 133mph. There's nothing too exceptional about these figures, but you'll love the feel of the engine, with a taut throttle response not normally associated with a turbo car. The lack of weight in the nose makes this Vauxhall feel pin-sharp on turn in, the Insignia getting retuned dampers, anti-roll bars and subframe bushes in the last round of revisions. In addition to this, the Electronic Power Steering system has been reprogrammed for better feel. Noise, vibration and harshness levels have also been reduced for enhanced occupant comfort. The six-speed manual gearbox isn't the car's highlight but the ratios are well-chosen and pedal positioning is exemplary.
Design and Build
Most felt that whether you opted for the Insignia hatch, saloon or Sport Tourer estate, you always ended up with a rather handsome car and the styling of the latest version is probably best described as evolutionary. So what's changed? The grille is wider and the headlights look a bit squintier, with bi-xenon lamps on the top Elite versions. Vauxhall has tried to give the hatch version more of a coupe silhouette while the saloon features an extended swage line aimed to emphasise the body's length. At the back, you'll spot a chrome logo bar that's now mounted lower and extends into the LED tail light cluster. The biggest change existing Insignia customers will see when they sit in the car is a completely re-designed centre console and instrument cluster. The centre console has been simplified and now has fewer buttons for more intuitive operation of common functions, such as air conditioning and infotainment, while the instrument cluster has new dials and a cleaner look. Vauxhall has worked at improving the perceived materials quality in the latest Insignia and offers better grades of leather and cloth, as well as enhancing the look and feel of dashboard materials and door trims.
Market and Model
Vauxhall isn't exactly spreading the good news far and wide by only offering this engine with the range-topping Elite trim level, although word is that enthusiast take-up is prompting a reconsideration and a possible SRi trim as well. The Elite model brings you a tall stack of gear for around £23,000, but you ought to be able to negotiate the price down to just under £21,000 without having to put your local dealer principal in a flying arm bar. As I said, you get a lot of kit for that sum, including dual-zone electronic climate control, 18-inch alloys, front and rear parking distance sensors, self-levelling headlights, leather trim with heated front seats, an eight-way electrically adjustable driver's seat with memory and electrically folding door mirrors that self-dim on the driver's side. And that's on top of rain-sensitive windscreen wipers, Bluetooth, a USB port, six airbags, electronic stability control, a tyre pressure monitoring system and a DAB digital radio.
Cost of Ownership
The major caveat with this model remains depreciation. While you may value this car's smooth-revving petrol engine and sharp turn-in, remember that maybe eight out of ten used car buyers are not even going to see it as they filter their search results for a diesel engine. That coupled with the fact that you're buying one of the priciest trim levels means that the pence per mile figure for one of these is around 65ppm, against around 60ppm for an equivalent diesel. Budget on this car being ten per cent pricier to own then, and you're not far off the mark. Specifics? You'll get 47.9mpg from the manual car but if you do want an automatic expect to see that drop to 42.8mpg. It's a similar story with emissions, a manual netting you 139g/km and an auto 155g/km.
Vauxhall is well aware that it's playing to a relatively select audience with this 1.6-litre SIDI petrol-engined Insignia. The big fleet buyers that account for the majority of the sales that have pushed the Insignia to the top of the sales charts aren't going to be particularly interested in a top spec petrol car. The 1.6 SIDI engine's 47.9mpg fuel consumption and 139g/km emissions are very good for a contender of this size, but still not a patch on the 76mpg you'd get from a similarly-priced but less powerful 2.0-litre diesel model. So an Insignia to appeal to private buyers then? This vanishingly tiny sliver of the market is probably going to warm to this model. It's well equipped, drives really well and probably isn't going to cost a whole lot over £20,000 once they've gone all Mike Brewer on their local dealer. But a mainstream car that's set to be incredibly rare? There might be some logic there somewhere but it's lost on me.