In its latest much improved form, Vauxhall's Insignia is a far more compelling car. Especially if you order it in Tech Line trim. Jonathan Crouch reports
Ten Second Review
Vauxhall's Insignia has evolved but to really appreciate the changes, you'll need a version like the Tech Line model we look at here with its sat nav system and Intellilink infotainment screen.
Medium range family models are very different these days. Want proof? Then just take a seat inside a Vauxhall Insignia. And ideally a Tech Line-specced one equipped with the brand's latest Intellilink infotainment fitted. This not only connects you into the standard sat nav system you get at this level but it also enables you to do everything from Bluetoothing your 'phone to accessing a whole series of Vauxhall-sourced apps. The future has truly arrived. Of course, there's a lot more to this latest Insignia than just a bit of interior hi-tech. Prices are tighter and running costs a great deal lower if you choose one of the latest 2.0 CDTi diesel engines developing either 120 or 140PS. Both these units are available to Tech Line buyers, along with the latest 170PS 'Whisper diesel' unit and a 1.4-litre turbo petrol option. Let's check this car out.
The Insignia now feels a far more mature car to drive - and all the main powerplants most British customers choose are offered to Tech Line buyers. These include both of the latest diesel units, the 120 and 140PS versions of the improved 2.0 CDTi engine. Plus the latest 170PS 'Whisper diesel' and the 1.4T petrol turbo with 140PS carried over from the previous Insignia line-up. The most efficient choice though, is the 136PS 1.6-litre CDTi diesel unit borrowed from the Astra. Under the skin, over 60% of the chassis componentry was new to this car when it was facelifted in late-2013 - but that wasn't enough to make it into a model you'd really describe as 'rewarding'. What it does do is perfect what was there in the first place. This Insignia really is now dynamically fit for family and business purposes, with no caveats. True, a Mazda6 or a Mondeo might handle the twisties with a little more elan, but 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. The 'quietly' bit's important. Almost all Insignia buyers want a diesel and though the original version of Vauxhall's 2.0 CDTi unit had many merits, refinement wasn't one of them. In fact, it was one of the noisiest, rattliest diesels in its class. But isn't now. 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.
Design and Build
Visually, there are no sheet metal changes to this improved Insignia. Instead, there are detail improvements front and rear that aim to bring a wider and lower look to the hatch, saloon and Sports Tourer estate bodystyles that, as before, make up the range. Inside, much of the switchgear has been tidied up onto a central 8-inch colour touchscreen that deals with everything from navigation to trip computer read-outs and audio selections, Bluetooth 'phone functions to a series of Vauxhall-sourced apps. There's even a touchpad behind the gearlever that accepts one, two or three finger gestures for the various operating functions - or you can press a button on the steering wheel and activate the whole thing by voice control. It's not the most immediately intuitive of systems to initially get to grips with but if you struggle a bit with these things, you can download a smartphone handbook app which you point at the switch in question for a tutorial. More hi-tech can be viewed through the redesigned three-spoke leather-trimmed steering wheel where you'll find an instrument cluster with another 8-inch high resolution display. This one, also optional and framed by conventional analogue gauges either side, is primarily there to show a virtual speedometer but can also be configured to display all sorts of information such as smartphone or audio use - or even navigation.
Market and Model
For Insignia buyers, there's a premium of around £2,650 to go from the entry-level Design trim to the Tech Line spec we're looking at here. That means a price span in the £20,000 to £25,000 bracket and an engine choice that gives you all three of the main 2.0 CDTi diesel units (the 120, 140 and 163PS engines), plus the 140PS 1.4 Turbo. The Tech Line asking price gets you not only satellite navigation and the Intellilink infotainment system but also a range of other added value features. These include 17-inch alloy wheels, auto headlamps and wipers, rear electric windows and an anti-dazzle rear view mirror. Other standard Insignia features include LED daytime running lights, 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. Insignia Tech Line buyers get the choice of a five-door hatch or, for a premium of around £1,700, the versatile Sports Tourer estate. As for safety, well, there's the usual standard stuff - twin front, side and curtain airbags, plus the usual electronic assistance for brakes, traction and stability control to hopefully ensure you'll never need to use them. It's enough to merit a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating. But of course, you can go a lot further than that if you're prepared to fund a few options. Parking knocks can be avoided with a Rear View Camera, a 'Rear Cross Traffic Alert' system that warns you of approaching traffic when you're reversing and an 'Advanced Park Assist' set-up which will help you identify a space, then automatically steer you into it.
Cost of Ownership
Around 85% of Insignia buyers go for a diesel - and you can see why. Both 120 and 140PS versions of the 2.0 CDTi ecoFLEX model return 76.3mpg on the combined cycle and put out just 98g/km of CO2, returns that at launch were comfortably class-leading. This gives this car an astonishing potential 1,175 mile range from its 70-litre fuel tank, which means that the average UK driver covering around 8,200 miles a year would only have to fill up with diesel seven times every twelve months. Or, to put it another way, an Insignia ecoFLEX driver could travel from London to Budapest on one tank of fuel. Bear in mind though, that if you want the extra punch of the 170bhp version of this engine, those returns will fall considerably - to 65.7mpg and 114g/km. Along with efficient electronic power steering, all of these variants get the full suite of ecoFLEX features to help achieve these figures, things like lowered chassis, low rolling resistance tyres, adapted final drive ratios, automatic front grille shutters and a Start/Stop system that cuts the engine when you don't need it, stuck in traffic or waiting at the lights. Plus the bodyshell's more aerodynamic and this, along with better under-body panelling, has lowered this Insignia's drag co-efficient to just 0.25Cd for the hatch and saloon models and to 0.28Cd for this Sports Tourer estate. As a result of all this, it's really not too hard to find yourself averaging well over 50mpg on a regular basis, an impressive return for a car of this size. Go for the 140PS 1.4T petrol turbo and you can expect 54.3 and 123g/km of CO2.
Vauxhall has brought its Insignia right up to date but you wouldn't necessarily know that at the wheel of an entry-level variant. If your budget can stretch to a Tech Line version though, it's very different. The two clever 8-inch Intellilink screens really lift the cabin and bring it bang up to date in any competitor comparison. In summary then, though this car isn't completely new, it feels that way behind the wheel. Those that are tempted by the shinier prospects of newer rivals will, Vauxhall hopes, be brought back into the Insignia fold by class-leading running costs. It wasn't long ago that it would have been simply inconceivable for a car of this kind to average over 75mpg and put out less than 100g/km of CO2. But that's exactly what the two most popular diesel versions of this model can now achieve. A tech spec then that sums this car up perfectly.