The Insignia was the car that turned Vauxhall's medium range offering from risible to respectable. The improved version built on that showing and has now been given a hi-tech 170PS 2.0-litre diesel engine option. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
It's easy to forget quite what a massive step forward the original Vauxhall Insignia was, taking over from the little-lamented Vectra in 2008. When Vauxhall improved it in 2013, we got sharper looks, a better finish, more comfort and some far more efficient 2.0 CDTi diesel engines. The best of these is profiled here, the 'Whisper diesel' 170bhp unit. Get your Insignia with one of these units fitted and you should agree that this Vauxhall remains a car that you really can't afford to overlook.
Almost all Vauxhall Insignia buyers choose a 2.0-litre diesel. The question though, is which 2.0-litre CDTi diesel they should opt for. When the much improved facelifted version of this car was launched in 2013, entry-level ecoFLEX 120 and 140PS versions of this engine were introduced. Though very efficient, ther were still rather unrefined, an issue Vauxhall has tried to resolve with the 'Whisper diesel' 170PS unit we're looking at here. If the Griffin brand has achieved that, then this Insignia really will be worth looking at in this segment, despite the recent arrival of a host of new arrivals, including new versions of the Volkswagen Passat and the Ford Mondeo, plus upgradesd versions of cars like Peugeot's 508 and the Mazda6.
With this 170PS 2.0 CDTi unit, the brand says that second-order vibrations have been slashed by 80% and you certainly notice that - not so much at idle but certainly once you get on the move. True, there are still quieter black pump buys in this class but at least this car will no longer wake the neighbours when you fire up on a cold morning or tire you in traffic with its constant rumbling thrum. 0-62mph from rest occupies 9.0s en route to 139mph, so performance is quite up to class standards. Although this powerplant is related to the 161bhp 2.0-litre CDTi unit it replaced, Vauxhall says that over 95% of the parts used in it are completely new. It offers 4% more power and 14% more torque than the outgoing engine, meets Euro 6 clean-air standards, and still manages to maintain the outgoing engine's highly competitive CO2 output of 114g/km. Otherwise, all the usual Insignia comments apply. If you haven't tried one of these since the 2013 update, you'll notice improvements to the car's ride and handling. Damper and anti-roll bar settings have been revised for better ride and control, while the Electronic Power Steering system has been reprogrammed for better feel. Noise, vibration and harshness levels have also been reduced for enhanced occupant comfort. For most of the people, most of the time, this, dynamically, is all the car they will ever need, quietly and effectively getting on with the job of getting you from A to B.
Design and Build
Most have always felt that whether you opted for the Insignia in hatch, saloon or Sport Tourer estate guises, you always ended up with a rather handsome car and the styling of the improved post-2013 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. Insignia customers still only familiar with the original version of this car will see more changes inside - notably 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
Insignia diesel pricing starts at around £19,000, but that's for the older CDTi 120 and CDTi 140 ecoFLEX unit. The newer 2.0 CDTi 170PS 'Whisper diesel' engine we've been looking at here costs from just over £20,000. That means a big saving over the 195PS Biturbo 2.0 CDTi model, for which you'll need to have a £25,000 budget. Saloon and hatch models cost the same but you'll need to allow a £1,500 model-for-model premium if you want the Sports Tourer estate. If you're looking at that estate and want the all-wheel drive capability of the Country Tourer version, then you'll find that there a choice of 2.0 CDTi 163 or 2.0 CDTi Biturbo power at prices ranging between £25,000 to £30,000. As for equipment, well, it's a pity that on base models, you have to pay extra for the two 8" high-resolution screens (one for the instruments, one for the infotainment) that really bring the look and feel of the cabin up to date. Beyond that though, all the key features seem to be present and correct. So all models get LED daytime running lights, auto headlamps, smart alloy wheels of at least 16" in size, Bluetooth 'phone compatibility, electronic climate control, a driver's seat with powered height and lumbar adjustment, a trip computer, cruise control and a decent quality stereo system with a DAB digital radio plus USB and aux-in compatibility controllable from the leather-covered steering wheel.
Cost of Ownership
Most buyers in this sector realised quite some time ago that the bargains are back for those that care to go looking. Take the Insignia range for example. Even the outgoing car had its premium-badged rivals on the back foot. Fleet News calculated that a £20,000 diesel Insignia would cost 58 pence per mile to run over three years and 36,000 miles. If you wanted a prestige badge, you'd be looking at fronting up more than £5,000 extra to land a BMW 3 Series diesel which would offer you less gear, less space and would cost from 62 pence per mile to run. The latest Insignia range improves efficiency still further. Those 2.0-litre CDTi engines are a case in point. The 170PS version we've been looking at here manages 65.7mpg on the combined cycle and 114g/km of CO2. If you can be content with the older-tech 120 and 140PS 2.0 CDTi ecoFLEX units, then you could achieve 76.3mpg and 98g/km of CO2. These kinds of figures look tempting, given the upfront price savings this Vauxhall offers over other conventional segment choices like Ford's Mondeo and Volkswagen's Passat. A Passat 2.0 TDI 150 BlueMotion Technology model, for example, would cost over £3,000 more to buy than a directly comparable Insignia 2.0 CDTi 170.
Almost steathily, the Vauxhall Insignia has become a real conender in the medum range Mondeo class - and engines like the 2.0 CDTi 170 unit we've been looking at here are part of the reason why. It's hard to argue with a diesel-powered 170PS Insignia pitched at pricing starting from around £20,000 that comes a huge specification list, allowing first owners peace of mind for as long as they own the car, up to 100,000 miles. Vauxhall just needed to tidy up some of the aspects of this model that were beginning to date. It's done that and more. Here's to unsung heroes.