June Neary is impressed by Vauxhall's classy medium-range challenger, the Insignia.
Will It Suit Me?
A Vauxhall Insignia isn't a car that I would ever have previously considered as a private purchase. This was a fleet rep mobile, something that I'd have been stuck with if I'd worked for a photocopying sales company. Getting away from that kind of image has to be something of a challenge but with this car in its latest form, I reckon that Vauxhall have managed it. To be honest, I was pretty shocked when this much improved Insignia rolled up on my driveway: it's now arguably the best looking of all the 'C'-sector Mondeo-sized cars. It also demonstrates just how far Vauxhall design has come in the last few years. First the ADAM lifestyle citycar. Then the swoopy Cascada convertible. Now this: all great-looking cars by anybody's standards.
So, it looks good, whether you order it as a five-door, a four-door or a Sport Tourer estate. The five-door hatch and four-door saloon versions are nigh-on impossible to distinguish at a glance. Both have the same bowed roofline which drops dramatically towards the rear and, perhaps the Insignia's signature stylistic device, the "blade" feature that's cutaway behind the front wheelarches. As to the most recent changes, well at the front, the grille is wider and the headlights look a bit squintier, with bi-xenon lamps on the top versions. 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. Still, I've tried plenty of cars that were good-looking inside and out but fell down majorly when it came to practicality. This one though, should suit most family buyers, even though the coupe-like roofline does still slightly compromise back seat headroom. There's still plenty of luggage space though - 490-litres in the five-door model I tried, with the cargo area extendable to 1010-litres by flattening the split-folding seats. In the Sport Tourer estate, that total rises to 1510 litres.
Behind the Wheel
Motoring journalists might tell you that this car isn't quite as sharp as a Ford Mondeo but most actual owners probably won't notice a difference which is pretty slight anyway and primarily centers on a slightly vague steering response. Anyway, the Insignia holds an advantage when it comes to the more important issue of ride comfort and there are all manner of hi-tech handling solutions to counter Ford's justified hold on budding Lewis Hamiltons. The Insignia range's engine line-up has been 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, 163PS and 195PS. Petrol buyers get the old 140PS 1.8-litre unit from the Astra (plus a 1.4 Turbo petrol with the same output) but can also choose a much higher-tech 1.6-litre SIDI (Spark Ignition Direct Injection) engine producing 170PS, a unit first seen in the Cascada convertible. Plus there's a 2.0-litre SIDI powerplant, producing 250PS. Both 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, the 2.0-litre SIDI Turbo is also available with four-wheel-drive.
Value For Money
Prices start from around £16,500, about what you'd expect in this sector. 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-litre CDTi engines are a case in point. They offer drivers ultra-low CO2 emissions of 99g/km (76.3mpg combined) for the 120 and 140 PS units and 114g/km (65.7mpg combined) for the 160PS engine. The 170PS 1.6-litre SIDI petrol hatchback manages 144g/km and 46.3mpg on the combined cycle. 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. The Insignia has daytime running lamps, the must-have automotive feature of the moment and uses an improved version of AFL, Vauxhall's Adaptive Forward Lighting system that allows the headlamps to swivel with the car. 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.
Could I Live With One?
For the first time, Vauxhall has produced a medium range family car that I really would be proud to have on my driveway. All right, for budding Lewis Hamiltons, this car might not be as sharp to drive as its Mondeo rival but there's not much in it and the clever FlexRide system gives it a technological edge. On the debit side? Well, there's not too much to report here, unless you're worried about depreciation or the unremarkable fuel economy of the entry-level 1.8-litre petrol variant. Overall, what's important is that the basics seem to work within a stylish, attractive and most of all desirable package.