Vauxhall Insignia: Ready for business
Vauxhall's new Insignia is a good argument against joining the SUV crowd
YOU don't have to be that old to remember a time when our roads were filled with cars like the Vauxhall Cavalier and the Ford Sierra, writes William Scholes.
Today, ubiquity belongs to the crossovers and SUVs. Cars like the Kia Sportage, Nissan Qashqai and Hyundai Tucson - unheard of 15 years ago - fill our car parks, and you are as likely to be overtaken by a BMW 3 Series or Audi A4 as a latter day Vauxhall hatch or Ford saloon.
More than most, makers like Vauxhall have seen their once undisputed best-sellers squeezed by the crossovers as well as the push-to-premium that has seen once exclusive German brands become commonplace.
The reasons for all this are complex enough, and Vauxhall and Ford are obviously fighting back with their own SUVs and upmarket efforts.
All of this flux in the market could mean that cars like the Insignia are overlooked.
But that would be a real shame, for the latest big Vauxhall, available as a hatchback and estate, is a very fine car indeed.
These days, Vauxhall calls the hatchback the Insignia Grand Sport and the estate the Sports Tourer. There is also a Country Tourer version, tapping into the Subaru Outback and Audi allroad market.
All are strikingly handsome cars. As is often the way with cars of this type, the estate version is particularly elegant, its long roof balancing the Insignia's long bonnet and sleek proportions to a tee.
There's something of the Mazda 6 about it - praise indeed from this writer - and in Country Tourer form in particular, this is a car you could desire for how it looks - not necessarily a given with Vauxhalls in the past.
So it looks well. But for a car to be any good it has to have more to it than that. So it is excellent news that the Insignia packs the same sort of thinking that helped transform the Astra from an also-ran into a class-leader.
Much of what is noteworthy about the Astra is felt in the Insignia. It's quiet and refined on the move and while it has the sort of planted, composed feel that makes the car feel like it will gobble up motorways and long distances all day, every day, there is also some sparkle to the chassis to entertain when you are on twistier, more undulating roads.
Another feather in the Insignia's cap is Vauxhall's typically wide range of engines and trim levels; there really should be a version to suit everyone's needs
It is easily more fun to drive than the Ford Mondeo and oh-so-dull Volkswagen Passat, and while it isn't as sweet to steer as the best front-wheel-drive rival, the Mazda 6, or the rear-driver BMW 3 Series, the Vauxhall is a lot closer than you might imagine - certainly light years ahead of the old version.
That should be enough to get an Insignia on to your test drive list.
If it isn't, then consider the amount of space on offer. It's as spacious as a Skoda Superb, the taxi driver's benchmark, for passengers - it feels genuinely massive inside, a sensation that is only heightened if you opt for lighter upholstery colours.
The boot isn't as big as the Skoda's though, but 490 litres is still capacious enough for most routine duties I can think of.
It is a well designed, comfortable cabin, too. Anyone familiar with the Astra will feel right at home, but this is a compliment - the dashboard and switches are neatly laid out, there's an easy-to-follow logic to the way the various functions operate and there's a robust straightforwardness to it all that helps the Insignia feel like it would be able to shrug off the trials and tribulations of any journey you could throw at it.
The Insignia is well equipped. The most eye-catching feature is probably Vauxhall's OnStar system, a sort of concierge service which connects you by telephone to a call centre to answer your every whim...
There is also on-board wifi - kids will love that - and the infotainment system has smartphone mirroring and wireless sharing.
You can order Vauxhall's excellent LED matrix headlamps, which cast more light on more of the road than a regular LED or xenon beam, but without dazzling oncoming drivers. As we have observed before on these pages, strong headlamps are one of the best safety aids you can have.
A head-up display, automatic cruise control, wireless charging, a Bose sound system and various safety systems such as lane departure warning are also available.
So it looks good, drives nicely, has buckets of room and lots of high-tech equipment.
Another feather in the Insignia's cap is Vauxhall's typically wide range of engines and trim levels; there really should be a version to suit everyone's needs.
Engines include petrol units of 1.5-litre (138bhp, 163bhp) and 2.0-litre (276bhp) capacity, and diesels of 1.6-litre (109bhp, 134bhp) and 2.0-litre (168bhp) capacity.
Factor in, depending on your model choice, six-speed manual and eight-speed automatic gearboxes and front-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive, and you have an extensive range.
Trim levels start at Design, rising through Design Nav, SRi, SRi Nav, SRi VX-Line Nav, Tech Line Nav to Elite Nav.
The Insignia also has on-board wifi - your kids will love that - and the infotainment system has smartphone mirroring and wireless sharing
Cheapest hatch is a Design with the least powerful 1.5-litre engine - it is priced at £17,185 - and the most expensive is an Elite Nav with four-wheel-drive, automatic gearbox and the 276bhp engine; it's priced at £28,410.
Model-for-model, you will need an extra £1,500 for a Sports Tourer estate and its 560 litre boot which can swell to 1,665 litres if you fold the back seats.
The Country Tourer comes only with the 168bhp diesel engine; it starts at £25,635 for a front-wheel-drive manual model, rising to £27,535 for an automatic; the four-wheel-drive version has a manual gearbox and costs £27,235.
As big, comfortable family cars go, the Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport and Sports Tourer are among the best you can buy.
Generously endowed with kit and lounging space, it also ticks the boxes for being pleasant to drive, available with so many trim and engine options that there is bound to be one to suit everyone and looking handsome.
If you are prepared to go against the flow and not join the SUV crowd, then the Vauxhall is a very credible alternative. And if you must have an SUV of this size, then Vauxhall will soon sell you its new Grandland X. I think I'd still hanker after an Insignia Country Tourer though...
AT A GLANCE
Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport 1.6 Turbo D SRi Nav
Engine and transmission: 1.6-litre four-cylinder diesel turbo, six-speed manual gearbox, front-wheel-drive; 134bhp, 236lb.ft
Performance: Top speed 131mph, 0-60mph in 9.9 seconds
Fuel consumption and CO2: 65.7mpg (EU combined), 114g/km
Car tax: £160 in first year, then £140 annually
Benefit in kind: 24 per cent
Euro Ncap safety rating: Five stars (93/85/78/69), 2017