Vauxhall has given its Insignia VXR SuperSport a fresh look and some chassis revisions. It's a very fast family five-door indeed. Jonathan Crouch takes a look.
Ten Second Review
The Insignia VXR model has always injected some serious pizzazz into the Vauxhall range with its 325PS turbocharged V6 engine and an advanced four-wheel-drive transmission. Here's a further improved SuperSports version that remains the fastest car you can buy in the UK for under £30,000.
Rest to sixty in 5.9 seconds, 325PS, a 170mph top speed that would get you permanently locked up if you ever exercised it in public. It wasn't long ago that you needed a supercar to achieve statistics like these. Now, you need an ordinary five-door family hatch. Or maybe not such an ordinary one. This car, Vauxhall's Insignia VXR SuperSport. The 'SuperSport' name is supposed to be a nod to Vauxhall's very first 100mph production car, the iconic '30-98' model of the early 1900s, a car with performance described at the time as 'Superexcellent'. As for 'V,X and R', well they're three letters that spell ballistic performance for any Vauxhall. When first the badge was launched back in 2003 on Max Power versions of some of the brand's smaller cars, that was about all it signified. Fast yes. But about as subtle as Lady Gaga. Unless you're selling a rally replica supercar, that's not something you can get away with on something bearing a £30,000 pricetag. So this flagship Insignia has to pack its powerful punch in a velvet glove. Does it? Let's find out.
This SuperSports VXR has the same engine as the car had before, a 325PS 2.8-litre petrol V6, but, in contrast to early Insignia VXR models, this one no longer has a 155mph limiter fitted, so if you've Hangar straight at Silverstone or an empty airfield to hand, you'll max out at 170mph. Also as before, this car has standard 4WD, the only VXR model to offer such a thing. Also helping to get all those horses onto the tarmac is an electronic limited slip differential on the rear axle and, perhaps most importantly, a clever suspension design further improved in this facelifted version, also supposed to be quieter. As before, you get a clever HiPerStrut system designed to reduce torquesteer, that writhing feeling you get through the steering wheel of cruder performance cars as they struggle unsuccessfully to get their power down under heavy acceleration or out of slow corners. There's none of that here, thanks also to clever systems able to distribute power to whichever of your wheels offer the most grip at any time. On the move, there's none of the all-or-nothing power characteristics familiar from older VXR turbo engines. Just a swelling thrust that, once past 2,500rpm becomes ever-more urgent, catapulting you between 50 and 75mph in just 7.1s. The on-road demeanour's mature too, thanks also to the FlexRide suspension that's there to compensate for a package of changes - large alloys, stiffer springs and lowered suspension - that would normally spell curtains for ride quality. As it is, this Insignia manages to remain on the pleasant side of firm and in either 'Normal' or 'Sport' performance modes is an impressive high speed, long distance cruiser. Through the twisties, you can select a more extreme 'VXR' setting.
Design and Build
This latest VXR SuperSports model gets all of the styling revisions lately visited upon the rest of the Insignia line-up but otherwise looks as aggressive as before. VXR Vauxhalls rarely leave anyone in any doubt that they are, indeed, VXR Vauxhalls and this Insignia is no exception. It rides 10mm lower than standard models but it's visually edged closer still to terra firma by the deep bumpers and side skits that boarder its lower extremities. The distinctive chrome ringed vertical air-intakes at the front are echoed by vast twin exhausts built into the bodywork at the rear. The standard wheels are 19" items but these can be upgraded to 20" ones via the options list and poking through the spokes are the colour-coded callipers of the Brembo high performance braking system. The interior is a strong point of the standard Insignia and the VXR model sets out to build on that with Recaro sports seats and chunky flat-bottomed sports steering wheel. VXR badges litter the cabin, cropping up on the instruments, the gearknob, the steering wheel and the door sills. Performance might be the Insignia VXR's primary focus but the car will still retain the space and practicality of the more mundane Insignias.
Market and Model
Vauxhall emphasises the performance-per-pound value proposition of this car, but it still isn't cheap whether you go for five-door hatch or Sports Tourer estate. Expect to pay around £30,000 for the hatch, with a £1,300 premium on top of that if you want the Sports Tourer estate version. That equates to a saving of around £8,000 over the comparably powerful 4WD Audi S4 and 2WD BMW 335i M Sport models which represent Vauxhall's biggest competition. Kit-wise, you get a detailed equipment list befitting a model from the top end of the Insignia line-up, duplication of which would cost you thousands more in this car's German rivals. Essentially, if you were used to running a BMW M5 or Audi S6 and hit harder times that necessitated one of these, you'd adjust quite happily. Safetywise, there are the usual front, side and curtain airbags, plus tyre pressure monitoring and stability control.
Cost of Ownership
The Insignia VXR isn't of course a car you buy if you're aiming to keep your fuel and tax bills in check but even so, I have to point out that the fuel consumption and CO2 figures (26.4mpg on the combined cycle and 251g/km) are some way off what you'd achieve in a comparable Audi S4 or BMW 335i. Remember to factor those running costs in when you do your sums. But also factor in the up-front saving that this Vauxhall offers, a figure that should comfortably cancel out its lower likely residual values. Insurance is group 37.
That this is the finest VXR performance model this brand has yet produced is not in question. It may even be the best Vauxhall ever made. To our eyes, it's certainly one of the most desirable. But will all that be enough to make BMW and Audi buyers look twice at this car? To date, it hasn't been, hence the introduction of this improved SuperSports model. Will the improvements on offer be enough? After all, this Insignia has a street presence that S4 and 3 Series rivals lack and a pricetag that makes their makers look greedy. Most importantly, it gives the VXR badge the kind of credibility you'd normally reserve for a BMW M series or Audi S series model. If it continues to develop like this, the prestige brands will have plenty to worry about.