First Drive: The all new Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport.

Mike Humble:

In a world where everyone now expects a slice of premium when it comes to family cars, Vauxhalls Insignia somewhat lacked desirability and kudos – despite the car actually being rather good especially where value matters.

Well the new Insignia is about to arrive and its much much more than a refresh of the outgoing model, its a whole new car altogether I’m pleased to report, so…

Has the Insignia become significant?

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Vauxhall Motors – possibly Britain’s unluckiest car manufacturer thanks to newspaper and other media exaggerations about previous model problems and now the news of the parting of ways between General Motors and its European arm that is Opel and Vauxhall. With its future still yet to be 100% confirmed but pleasingly positive noise from the new incumbents, PSA, regarding the brand being nurtured and developed under new ownership, its business as usual for Vauxhall… and rightly so say I.

As the header mentions, the Insignia until now maybe has never enjoyed the aspirational qualities of some German rivals or the rep appeal of the mighty Ford Mondeo. Not since the halcyon days of the early 1990s with the Mk3 Cavalier has Vauxhall truly enjoyed respect in the family saloon sector. The Vectra failed to capture the hearts of the motoring public rightly or wrongly and both the Vectra and outgoing Insignia (despite the latter being Car of the Year 2008) quickly joined the ranks of the alternative others.

But to be fair, neither the Vectra or Insignia could or can be pigeon holed as flops… far from it in fact with both models being steady sellers. But what Vauxhall need is a car that can offer a similar driving experience to the Mondeo and a car that feels that cut above like the Passat or an Audi or the 3 series. Most importantly of all the company needs a car with some real feel and appeal, something to turn a profit, something that pulls the user chooser company driver heartstrings and something the retail customer will yearn for – despite a shrinking market that’s been pummelled with SUV type models.

There is of course an existing market for saloon or hatchback vehicles and the outgoing Insigina was selling to a 98 vs 2% ratio in the favour of fleet sales. This all new car is designed to cater for both customers and hopefully bring back the retail showroom buyer to some degree in order to pull in some of that all important profit. The all new Insignia is in 5dr hatch guise with an estate version. Hatchback models are known as the Grand Sport while estate versions will go by the title of Sport Tourer – there are no plans for a four door saloon offering.

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Sleeker and sharper – The Insignia Grand Sport. It rides amazingly well on the smaller rims – superb chassis dynamics means its a smile inducing drive. Optional improved LED Matrix headlamps are most impressive and have to be experienced to be appreciated. 

Engine options kick off with a 1.5 ecoTEC turbo with 140PS rising up to a 2.0 turbo petrol 260PS unit with intelligent four wheel drive and Aisan-Warner electronic automatic eight speed gearbox. The usual sprinkling of diesel versions in 1.6 or 2.0 capacity offer the driver three states of tune -110, 136 for the 1.6 engine and 170PS for the other. During a launch event I had chance to drive the 165PS petrol, the 1.6 110PS diesel and 170PS diesel 2.0 all with manual gearbox. All three pulled well and the 1.6 version in diesel flavour showed a credible 60.1mpg average on a long test across country. Also, the 1.6 diesel is much more refined throughout its power band too than it once was.

Thanks to a body shell that uses new lightweight steel technology developed between TATA Steel and Opel, the car is lighter than the outgoing model with seemingly no loss of torsional rigidity out on the road. In fact I was very impressed with the level of grip, refinement and overall presentation of the new car. As mentioned earlier, this is an all new car from the ground up – only some of the drivetrains carry over albeit with the expected tweaks and tuning to keep them fast, frugal and keen with emissions. The six speed gearbox changes slick and quick although the gear knob is over large and slightly cumbersome in the palm – smaller folk will especially notice this.

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A really nice driving position and comfortable seating are major plus points. Infotainment is top notch and all models are well equipped too. Heating and ventilation is one of the best I’ve encountered but the gear knob is a bit cumbersome and some minor trim feels a bit penny pinching – neither negatives are deal breakers though. Real stitching to the dash top padding looks particularly classy. Tyre noise is noticeable, more so with the larger wheel options / models.

Handling and ride seems very good too. On the smaller 17 rims the ride comfort is actually quite brilliant – a difficult trick to pull off as car get ever lighter in their un-laden weight. The steering feels ever so slightly too light on the smaller size rims but drivers will have no worries when it comes to pointing and steering – this all new Insignia feels remarkably nimble on its feet. The surefooted handling allied with a nice gear change and snatch free brakes gives a subconscious feeling of solidity and quality. Despite the new car shaving off over 170KG of weight to the old model you don’t really notice this at all – out on the road the Grand Sport feels taught, solid and secure.

There’s plenty of clutter space in the form of a commodious glove-box, deep door pockets and nick nack space in the middle centre armrest and all models appear to be well equipped. Insignia owners will appreciate the tidying up of the boot space area too. Almost gone is the annoying hump in the floor near the seat back-rests that used to cause inconvenience when fully utilising every bit of space. Rear legroom is improved too thanks to an increased wheelbase but rear headroom still remains at best only average for its class. Its rather classy in some areas too – especially with the dash top padding with real stitching effect and the panel gaps are precise.

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A much better boot floor than the outgoing car means to the hilt loading is simple to achieve.

So can it cut the mustard? Well possibly yes. I think it looks good, it certainly drives well, its full of tech and nice engineering… its got the minerals – where it could come unglued is in the showrooms. Vauxhall now produce some pretty good cars and the Insignia Grand Sport now brings the family car to the masses once again just like the Carlton and Omega of old. But my cause for concern is with the dealer network and their ability to serve the buyer with the right kind of experience required of a car of this class and ability. Some outlets are first class where some are downright awful. However, if Vauxhall can get their men in the field to address the need for a higher level of customer experience and care, I think the Insignia Grand Sport will do them well.

Oh… if you get the chance to sample the LED headlamps, they’ll blow your socks off!

KEY DETAILS:

  • Ultra light weight body shell thanks to new technology steel production
  • Emissions as low as 105G/KM
  • 1.6 diesel engines offer a commendable balance of performance & economy
  • Improved ONSTAR system
  • New four wheel drive system and driveline options
  • Pricing starts at £17,185
  • More passenger space than before
  • Improved matrix LED headlamps are deeply impressive

Initial Likes:

  • Drives really well
  • Comfortable and smooth without being soggy and boring
  • Very well equipped
  • Sharp handling and good ride
  • Impressive level of on-board and overall technology
  • Very refined and economical
  • Good looks and great exterior fit / finish
  • Its by far the best Vauxhall yet

And Dislikes:

  • Some dealers must up their game and be as impressive as the car
  • One or two minor plastics feel slightly cheap and hard to the touch
  • Rear over shoulder visibility not the best
  • Over sized gear lever feels a bit cumbersome in the palm
  • Road noise pronounced, more so with larger rims
  • Some effort needs to be done to overcome a lack of badge kudos

4 thoughts on “First Drive: The all new Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport.

  1. This is promising…and a sensible article about a sensible car. Really hope it does as well as it deserves to.

  2. A car that could bring back the days of good large saloon cars perhaps?

    It’s certainly a smart looking bus. Your remarks about some dealers are so very true. I had dealings with DRIVE Vauxhall in Suffolk recently – criminally bad, but the dealer in Cambridge was brilliant.

    I guess the same applies to all volume brands really.

  3. Doesn’t look too bad to be perfectly honest and look forward to seeing it in the metal. You are quite right about the dealers. I have owned quite a few Vauxhalls over the years and tended to stay loyal to one outlet. As you do, I shopped around when changing the wife’s car thinking a change would be as good as a rest. Made a fatal mistake by visiting a branch of Evans Halshaw Vauxhall who seemed reluctant to offer me a test drive unless I was going to sign the papers there and then.

    Never before had I been subjected to such unprofessionalism and pressure even when only browsing. We ended up leaving and going back to the outlet our family had been trading with for years, bought a new Astra Ecoflex and never been happier.

    On a different note: I do hope the uncertainty with the whole GM and Citroen affair sorts itself out. Our family have owned quite a few Vauxhalls and Opels over the years and always found them honest and well engineered motor cars. To loose a respected brand when they seem to be trying hard to produce great vehicles would be a pity!

    Ian & Liz

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