REVIEW DATE: 29 Mar 2010
Despite modifications to boost economy, the Insignia Sports Tourer ecoFLEX can still fill the big estate role. Steve Walker reports.
We tend to think of green cars as small cars and that's not without justification. Generally speaking, less size equals less weight, which means fewer demands on the engine and improved fuel consumption. That doesn't mean that the green tinted future which legislators and manufacturers seem to be funnelling us towards will be devoid of big cars. We're still going to need big cars to carry people, their pets and their grandfather clocks around the country. It's just that big cars are going to have to get more efficient like the little ones. Vauxhall's Insignia Sports Tourer ecoFLEX looks like a good start.
It's generally accepted that holding fire until hydrogen fuel cell cars arrive and save the planet at a stroke is not an option. Manufacturers have been forced into looking at short term ways of reducing emissions and saving fuel by a combination of new legal requirements and public demand. Cars like the Insignia ecoFLEX from Vauxhall are the result. Relying on simple engineering ingenuity rather than major technological advances, they might not be planetary saviours but they are a step in the right direction. With the Sport Tourer model you can take useful extra cargo along for the ride.
Some of these environmental-special models feel weaker than a fasting field mouse on the road but Vauxhall has seen fit to give its Insignia ecoFLEX a liberal helping of clout. The 2.0-litre CDTi ECOTEC diesel engine which forms the basis of the package generates 158bhp, which is respectable for a big car designed to carry big loads. The Insignia, with a 9.3s 0-60mph time, a 134mph top speed and 350Nm of torque from 1,750rpm, sets out to marry efficiency with lively performance in a move which drivers should appreciate. That torque figure can actually be increased to 380Nm via the engine's temporary overboost function, which makes for yet more pulling power when you need it.
"Sometimes, nothing but a big car will do and the Vauxhall Insignia Sport Tourer is certainly that"
The Insignia's 2.0-litre diesel engine is an advanced piece of kit. It uses Vauxhall's Clean-Tech process to control emissions consistently through the different stages of its lifecycle. The combustion process in the cylinders is monitored up to one million times per minute, so the engine management computer can adapt the volume and timing of the fuel injections to optimise efficiency. It's all clever stuff but it's common to all 2.0-litre CDTi Insignias, so what makes the ecoFLEX special?
Aerodynamics play the major role in the improved environmental performance of the Insignia ecoFLEX. The car is lower than a standard model (by 3mm at the front and 14mm at the rear) which has the happy side effect of giving the car a more purposeful ground-hugging stance. There's also a number of modifications out of sight underneath the car which improve air-flow and lower drag while the radiator grille is partially closed off to send more air down the flanks of the vehicle. The ecoFLEX also runs on special low rolling resistance tyres.
The elegant and aerodynamically-efficient lines of the Insignia Sports Tourer don't come at the expense of space inside either. A 540-litre load compartment can be extended to 1,510 litres with the seats properly folded. That's significantly down on the 1,850 litres of the old Vectra estate, but then that car sat on its own extended platform, something GM couldn't afford to do again with this Insignia.
Self levelling rear suspension is standard on all models, dropping the loading height to a more convenient level. Then there's Vauxhall's FlexOrganizer system that can be used to secure cargo in a series of rail-mounted nets and dividers. There's even an optional powered tailgate that opens to a programmed height to avoid clouting the ceiling of your garage or the local multi-storey car park.
The ecoFLEX models are offered throughout the Insignia range, which means that buyers can choose from a broad line-up of trim levels. These extend from the basic Exclisiv models through S and SE to Elite. All bar the S models are also offered in Nav form with Vauxhall's integrated satellite navigation system.
The Exclusive models always prove popular with private buyers and include ABS brakes, ESP stability control, automatic headlamps, electric adjustment of the driver's seat height and lumber support, climate control, front, side and curtain airbags and even cruise control.
The ecoFLEX's reduced combined CO2 figure of 134g/km means that business drivers will pay just 18 per cent Benefit in Kind tax - the second lowest band for a diesel car - down from 21 per cent for the already competitive 2.0 CDTi models. The lower CO2 also means that all Insignia ecoFLEX owners will be better off by £25 per year due to its lower VED band. And with all drivers keeping a keen eye on the fuel gauge these days, the Insignia ecoFLEX rewards with an official combined figure of 55.4mpg - a 10 per cent improvement on the 2.0 CDTi model - which puts it among the best in class. It also means that the Insignia ecoFLEX has an elongated range of over 830 miles.
Sometimes, nothing but a big car will do and the Vauxhall Insignia Sport Tourer is certainly that. In ecoFLEX guise, it also does a passable impression of an environmentally-friendly big car as well, so owners can happily transport their extended family and a fair few of its possessions without acquiring a stain on their conscience in the process. There are obviously greener cars than this one but with its 540-litre boot, the big Vauxhall beats making three trips in a citycar.
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