REVIEW DATE: 09 May 2008
The Vauxhall Vectra was a stalwart of the fleet sector but Vauxhall wants more from its Insignia replacement. Steve Walker reports
More striking to look at than the Vectra but also more spacious and with an improved engine range, the Vauxhall Insignia looks like a winner. The optional four-wheel-drive system should go down well at the top end of the range helping the Insignia to extend its appeal to more private buyers.
The people that made the Vauxhall Vectra the success that it was would ultimately have a big part to play in its downfall. The car was popular through all its various versions but popular with the wrong people. Fleet managers loved the dependable style of this low cost family car but private buyers were less enamoured. Too many of them found its prosaic qualities a little, well, boring. The Vectra prospered as the favourite conveyance of world-weary sales execs and carriageway slogging area managers but that wasn't enough for Vauxhall. The Vectra's replacement has arrived and with its new name comes a new focus. Say hello to the Insignia.
The Insignia is offered with five engines initially. For petrol buyers, there's an entry-level 1.8-litre 140PS ECOTEC unit, then a rather large gap to a 220PS 2.0-litre turbocharged unit, sitting below a 2.8-litre V6 260PS range-topper developing 325PS in VXR guise. If you want a CDTi diesel, there are a couple of fresh 2.0-litre ones, developing either 130 or 160PS. The Insignia is offered in two or four-wheel-drive guise with the 4x4 model benefiting from the clever adaptive all-wheel-drive system pioneered by Saab. It adapts the distribution of torque between all four wheels instantaneously to enhance traction and handling. This should give the Insignia a key advantage over its predominately 2WD rivals.
A clever adjustable damping 'FlexRide' system has been developed for this car, enabling drivers to choose a chassis setup that matches their own particular driving style. In addition to the Standard ride setting, FlexRide enables the driver to select a relaxed (Tour) setting or a firmer suspension set-up (Sport) by pressing one of two buttons on the instrument panel. In Sport mode, FlexRide not only provides stiffer damping, but also swifter throttle response and sharper steering, plus it raises the shift-points of the automatic transmission to a higher rpm and adjusts the Adaptive 4X4 system for more rear-wheel drive. The lighting on the instrument panel even changes from white to red to add to the driving experience.
"The Insignia marks the start of a new era for the brand."
Offered as a five-door, a four-door or an estate, this car tries for a dynamic, head-turning appearance and isn't unsuccessful. 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. At the front, all Insignia models feature a bold chrome grille with the latest Vauxhall badge at the centre. It sits on a raised centre section which runs down through the bumper and up to merge with the lines of the Insignia's fluted bonnet. The result is as easy on the air as it is on the eye with Vauxhall claiming the sector's best aerodynamics at 0.27Cd, which is one of the most slippery shapes of any car full stop.
The Insignia's styling has to be deemed a success in the context of the often mundane medium range sector but the designers were also intent on delivering practicality. The car is 21mm longer than the old Vectra at 4,820mm, and 50mm wider. The Vectra wasn't a cramped offering itself but the Insignia improves passenger space partly through these larger exterior dimensions and partly through a wheelbase that's extended by 35mm.
The cabin has been set out to be as eye-catching as the exterior. The Vectra was always worthy but dull and the Insignia has a number of features with the potential to set tongues wagging. The dashboard top wraps around at the sides in a steady curve that melts into the door linings. The effect is that the driver feels cocooned inside the car. The mood is helped by adaptive ambient lighting and a massive amount of attention has also been paid to the seats which have been specially designed to set new standards for ergonomics, comfort and safety.
The Insignia must pick-up where the Vectra left off in meeting the needs of Vauxhall's core fleet customers but it's also being tasked with striking out up-market and tempting private buyers as well as company car user-choosers. The range theoretically starts at 'S' level, but that's really a fleet-orientated model. For most private buyers, the entry-level point to Insignia motoring will be at ES or Exclusiv level. Exclusiv offers a decent level of standard equipment that runs to ABS brakes and ESP stability control, automatic headlamps, electric adjustment of the driver's seat height and lumber support, single-zone air conditioned climate control front, side and curtain airbags and even cruise control. Above this level sit SE, Elite and sporty SRi variants. If you want four wheel drive, then it's an option on the 2.0-litre petrol or diesel models and standard on the 2.8-litre petrol V6.
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.
Running costs are a major concern in the Insignia's target market and the diesel models in particular should deliver the goods. Thanks to the large 70-litre tank, the CDTi variants boast a range of approximately 750 miles, based on their fuel consumption figures - expect 48.7mpg on the combined cycle. If you really want to get on top of running costs, the 160PS version of the 2.0-litre diesel is offered in 'greener' ecoFLEX guise, promising lower fuel consumptions (up to 54.7mpg) and 136g/km CO2 emissions. All versions come with a maintenance-free diesel particulate filter as standard and as you'd expect, meet Euro 5 emission levels.
Go for a petrol model and you can expect an OK 36.2mpg on the combined cycle from the 1.8-litre ECOTEC but the 2.0 and 2.8V6 models manage very average returns of 31.7 and 29.4mpg. Go for 4WD and you can expect it to have a small negative impact on both fuel consumption and performance but it's nothing really to worry about.
The Vauxhall Insignia marks the start of a new era for the brand and there's plenty of reasons for optimism. Vauxhall has worked hard to broaden the appeal of the Insignia beyond that of the fleet-favourite Vectra and it appears to have been successful. Efforts to inject extra style and flair to the look of the car should go down well, the front camera system is neat and the optional four-wheel-drive system is an interesting addition to the medium range sector.
Is this car as sharp to drive as its Mondeo rival? Perhaps not, but there's not much in it and the clever FlexRide system gives it a technological edge. There's not very much on the debit side, unless you count the big gap between the two four cylinder petrol engines' output and their unremarkable fuel economy. Overall, what's crucial is that the basics seem to work. The Insignia looks a desirable, cleverly designed package that will give rivals something to think about.
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