Vauxhall has done a thorough job of updating its Insignia Sports Tourer estate. Jonathan Crouch reports.
Ten Second Review
Families now have a wealth of choice at their disposal when choosing a new car but the estate models that used to be a default choice shouldn't be overlooked. Vauxhall's improved Insignia Sports Tourer has the quality, the looks and the practicality to prove a great addition to the household.
Many predicted that MPVs and 4x4s would be the death of the estate car. There's no doubt that they dragged it into an alleyway and roughed it up a bit but they failed to finish the job and the estate has come out fighting. With a smaller section of the market to compete over, the top estate products got their acts together. They're now more keenly differentiated from the saloons and hatchbacks that spawned them with sleeker styling and more innovative and practical load areas. If you'd written the estate off as an outmoded product, now might be the time to give the modern take on the genre another chance and there's no better place to start than Vauxhall's much improved Insignia Sports Tourer. The updated version we look at here gets a revised engine range, styling changes and the addition of an SUV-inspired fashionable 4WD 'Country' model at the top of the line-up. Let's try it.
The Insignia is available with a good spread of engines and Sports Tourer customers have the full range at their disposal, the offering now broadened still further with the addition of a couple of petrol powerplants and revisions of the existing 2.0 CDTi unit. This diesel's now offered in a choice of four power outputs - 120PS, 140PS, 170PS and 195PS - with the 120 and 140PS models producing up to 320 and 370Nm of torque respectively. The most modern unit of the quartet is the 170PS variant, which uses Vauxhall's latest 'Whisper diesel' technology. The most efficient choice though, is the 136PS 1.6-litre CDTi diesel unit borrowed from the Astra. Petrol buyers have an entry-level 140PS 1.4 VVT Turbo or a newer 170PS 1.6 SIDI Turbo unit, a unit first seen in the Cascada convertible. Plus there's a 2.0-litre SIDI petrol powerplant, producing 250PS/400Nm. Both SIDI petrol engines can be coupled with a six-speed manual transmission and Start/Stop function, or with a low-friction six-speed automatic gearbox. In addition to front-wheel-drive, a four-wheel-drive system is also found in the top-of-the-range 'Country' estate model. This has raised ride height and comes only with the two top diesel options. The way a particular Insignia drives will be determined by more than merely the engine plumbed into its nose. Vauxhall offer customers the option of specifying the FlexRide chassis that features electronically controlled damping. A FlexRide-equipped Sports Tourer can be placed in Sport or Tour modes. In the Sport setting, steering and throttle response are sharpened, as are the suspension settings for a more dynamic driving experience.
Design and Build
Style is a significant weapon in the estate car's armoury. In the war against chunky compact 4x4s and frumpy MPVs, the sleek, road-hugging lines of a well-conceived estate can have a major impact on its fortunes. The Insignia Sports Tourer definitely looks the part. So what's changed on this improved version? Well, the grille is wider and the headlights look a bit squintier, with bi-xenon lamps on the top Elite versions. 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. The elegant lines don't come at the expense of space inside either. A 540-litre load compartment can be extended to 1,510 litres with the seats properly folded. Mere space isn't enough anyway in this kind of car: it's got to be usable. Vauxhall set out to ensure that the Sports Tourer fits the bill by introducing a series of features unique to this estate version. Self levelling rear suspension is standard on all models dropping the loading height to a more convenient level. Then there's Vauxhall's FlexOrganizer system that can be used to secure cargo in a series of rail-mounted nets and dividers.
Market and Model
There are six main trim levels - Design, Energy, Limited Edition, Tech Line, SRi and Elite. Prices start at around £19,000, a figure that represents a premium of around £1,300 over the standard five-door hatch model. All models feature a DMB digital radio, Bluetooth connectivity, USB connection and AUX-in socket, LED daytime running lights, a leather-trimmed steering wheel, cruise control and trip computer, electric four-way lumbar adjustment and height adjustment on the driver's seat, six airbags, electronic stability control, electronic climate control, automatic lights and heated door mirrors. That's a pretty impressive showing on an entry-level car. Try getting all that when paying base price at your local Audi dealer. Optional is AFL, Vauxhall's Adaptive Forward Lighting system that allows the headlamps to swivel with the car, better illuminating corners. A clever Front Camera System is also offered with a Traffic Sign Recognition function that reads speed limit and no-passing signs and displays them on the instrument panel. There's also Lane Departure Warning which alerts dozy drivers when they unintentionally veer out of their lane. All Insignia's will be fitted with a SmartBeam High-beam Headlamp Assist Technology, which automatically switches the full beam on and off depending on light and traffic conditions.
Cost of Ownership
Vauxhall is proud to point out that the Insignia Sport Tourer is the most aerodynamic estate car it has ever made. The modest drag coefficient of 0.30 has a big positive impact on efficiency. Buyers intent on minimising their running costs will warm to the ecoFLEX model which brings together a number of special features designed to deliver the lowest possible emissions and fuel consumption. Running costs are a major concern in the Insignia's target market and the diesel models in particular should deliver the goods. The 2.0 CDTi ecoFLEX 140PS variant can manage 72.4mpg on the combined cycle and 104g/km of CO2. Even the top 195PS 2.0 CDTi BiTurbo returns 57.6mpg and 129g/km. As for petrol variants, well the entry-level 1.4i VVT Turbo delivers 50.4mpg and 131g/km. All versions come with a maintenance-free diesel particulate filter as standard and as you'd expect, meet Euro 5 emission levels.
The estate car's task has never been a tougher one with the sector of the market it once had to itself now swarming with compact 4x4 and MPV rivals. The solution, as employed by Vauxhall with this much improved Insignia Sports Tourer, is to concentrate on sleek styling, a polished driving experience and a premium feel. The car is certainly a desirable product. The question is whether enough people will desire it over the numerous alternatives available to the family with this kind of money to spend. If you're after a genuine all-rounder that's comfortable and entertaining on the road, has a decent carrying capacity and looks that can turn heads, it should make a sound choice.