Putting a 1.4-litre petrol engine in a car the size of a Vauxhall Insignia sounds a terrible idea. Jonathan Crouch discovers that it's anything but.
Ten Second Review
The addition of a turbocharger gives the tiny 1.4-litre petrol engine fitted to this improved Insignia a decent 140bhp punch, exactly the same as the 1.8-litre petrol engine but with less effort required from the driver. It also reduces CO2 by around 30 per cent to just 123g/km and improves fuel consumption by about 25 per cent to 54.3mpg.
The death of the petrol-engined medium-range car has been predicted many times. True, sales have dropped off a cliff compared to diesel models but peer over the edge and the petrol-engined car struggles on, proclaiming a mere flesh wound. Vauxhall has witnessed this first hand with its Insignia, a car that brought new levels of build quality to the mainstream market when it first appeared in 2009 and has now improved further in facelifted form. Just before the latest updates, the petrol-engined part of the range was given a shot in the arm in the shape of the 1.4-litre Turbo engine we look at here. At first this seems not so much a booster as a pinprick, but the 1.4T punches well above its weight. A small engine with a smart turbocharger installation offers excellent fuel efficiency, low emissions and respectable performance. The answer has been staring us in the face all along. It might just be that we were a bit hung up on the size thing.
Everything you know about this car in advance tells you it might actually be rather good but it's impossible to approach it without a hint of scepticism that 1364cc of swept capacity can do a whole lot to shift this sizeable hunk of R??sselsheim's finest up the road with any great verve. Settle in behind the wheel, press the button, mirror, signal, manoeuvre and then gracelessly thud the throttle into the floor and you'll be immediately reassured. A 10.9 second sprint to 60mph from standstill isn't going to cause enduring embarrassment and the 127mph top speed means that you won't have to be rowing through the gears when the motorway heads uphill. Current turbocharger installations are a whole lot more advanced than the blunt instruments that were being bolted onto engines a few years back. The Insignia has a water-cooled unit capable of spinning up to 200,000rpm integrated into its exhaust manifold. It's designed to bring faster throttle response and a smoother power delivery in stark contrast to worst turbocharged cars of yesteryear which responded to throttle inputs with a pregnant pause followed by an uncouth stab of torque that usually overwhelmed the tyres. In the Insignia, it's tough to detect a turbo at work as the acceleration pours on seamlessly. The experience is much like that of a 2.0-litre petrol car, were it not for the 1.4 Turbo's superior midrange flexibility and torque. Whisper it, but in that regard it's almost diesel-like.
Design and Build
Although what's under the bonnet may be a little undersized, the same certainly can't be said for the rest of the Insignia 1.4 Turbo. It's a big car and whether you choose the saloon, the hatchback or the Sports Tourer estate model, you'll be guaranteed room to stretch out. As for the aesthetic tweaks to the latest model, well 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
You're looking at a £1,000 premium for this 1.4T petrol engine over an equivalent petrol 1.8. Which means that prices start at just over £17,000 for the five-door hatch in Design trim, with the Sports Tourer estate opening at £1,400 more in the same trim. Vauxhall isn't messing about with the availability of the 1.4-litre Turbo powerplant and has fitted it across the range. This means that you can pay up to around £23,000 if you choose an Insignia Sports Tourer Elite variant and you're lousy at haggling. For most private buyers, the entry-level point to Insignia motoring will be at Design or SRi level. 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.
Cost of Ownership
The 1.4-litre Turbo engine has been added to the range to reduce the fuel bills and emissions of Vauxhall's entry-level petrol offering and in that regard at the very least, it's an unqualified success. Fitting a turbocharger to this tiny 1.4-litre petrol engine transforms it, and means that when compared to the 1.8-litre normally aspirated car that this engine now renders obsolescent, you reduce CO2 by around 30 per cent to just 123g/km and improve fuel consumption by around 25 per cent to 54.3mpg, helped in no small part by a Stop/Start system. The downside? You pay just over £1,000 extra for the privilege. The story behind this engine is a relatively subtle one and may well be lost on those who firstly dismiss a petrol-powered car in this class out of hand and secondly who write a 1.4-litre Insignia off as underpowered. The net result is that the efficiency savings could well be erased through a combination of hefty depreciation and high prices. The key here is to negotiate a decent discount from list price. Fortunately this is not that difficult to achieve.
There's a lot to like about the Vauxhall Insignia in general and the 1.4-litre Turbo model in particular. Choosing this engine seems an informed choice, a recognition of new technology and new trends in vehicle development. It does, however, hinge on one very key caveat. Never pay list price. If your Vauxhall dealer can't slash a good ten per cent off this car's asking price, take your business elsewhere as it's a buyer's market and the asking price for this 1.4T model is, shall we say, a tad optimistic. Otherwise the report card for this 140PS engine is almost universally favourable. It's adequately smooth, will return around 55mpg and emits just 123g/km. What's more, Vauxhall has generously spread the love and offered it in virtually every trim level and in all three Insignia body styles. Vauxhall has gone large on going small.