Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport hatchback (2017 - ) review
Despite Vauxhall harbouring lofty ambitions to compete with Audi and BMW, the latest Insignia is still more of a competitor for the Ford Mondeo and Skoda Superb, but that’s no bad thing.
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Styling is always subjective, but we would suggest Vauxhall is making some pretty handsome cars these days. We reckon if we entered the Insignia into a beauty pageant against the likes of the Ford Mondeo and Skoda Superb, we’d put our money on the Vauxhall taking top spot. The Insignia’s coupe-like styling is enhanced by a low slung aluminium bonnet, strong lines, and Vauxhall’s signature ‘blade’ swoop impressed in the rear doors. While some pretty snazzy chrome highlights and alloy wheels on all but the base models set things off a treat, if you’re prepared to fork out an extra grand, you can add Vauxhall’s smart lighting system that uses a combination of Xenon and LED lights divided into 32 separate prisms to automatically adjust and swivel illumination. The Insignia’s rakish coupe styling does impact on visibility, however. The rear screen is extremely shallow, so it’s not the easiest car to park, and those swooping windscreen pillars and big door mirrors can make it difficult to see across the cabin when pulling out of junctions. They also make it quite tricky to judge where the inside kerb is when circumnavigating roundabouts.
The latest Insignia cabin employs a design feature know as a ‘Riva hoop’, which means the dashboard curves around the front of the cabin to give the occupants an encompassed, secure feel. It’s generally an effective treatment, but if the fit of the doors panels where they join the dashboard is a millimetre or so out, the whole thing looks bad. This, and some annoying squeaks and rattles were certainly evident in our test cars, so it’s something to bear in mind on a test drive. That said, the general appearance of the Insignia’s dash is highly appealing, with a neat mix of virtual and hard instruments – there’s even an old-style volt meter included – and the latest touch-screen infotainment is fast to react, and displays crystal clear graphics. There’s also a little steadying platform for your left hand just below the screen, to help you hit the relevant icons more reliably when you’re on the move.
The Insignia’s front seat provides superb support to the spine and shoulders, while the elevated central arm rest and low slung position of the seats help you feel like you are sitting in, rather than on, the seats. The amount of steering adjustment on offer is huge, so you should have no problem finding a comfortable driving position, but the wheel does need a good tug to move.
Only stretched limos offer more interior space than motors competing at this end of the market, and the Insignia is no exception. With vast amounts of leg-, elbow- and head-room – unlike many so-called family cars, whose centre rear seat belts serve no other purpose than ornamental – the Insignia can be used to carry three adults in relative comfort. It’s not often a manufacturer will admit to reducing the size of its car’s boot space – actually, we’ve never heard of any – but that’s exactly what Vauxhall has done with the latest Insignia. Why? Vauxhall reckons it got far more complaints about rear cabin space than it ever did about boot volume, so it has robbed space from the luggage hold and used it to improve rear leg-room. That said, at 490 litres, the boot is still enormous, and with a wide opening hatch lid you can literally just throw everything in without having to resort to military-style precision packing. If you want to keep your mountain bike safe from the slippery fingered brigade, simply tossing the rear seat backs down and removing the rear parcel shelf will free up sufficient space to accommodate your beloved bike.
Ride and handling
Let’s not pull any punches, the outgoing Insignia was a bit of a dullard, especially when it came to ride and handling. With sluggish reactions, remote steering and a shaky ride, it was about as much fun as a trip to the dentist. Thankfully, that’s all changed with the new model. The ride is still a wee bit jittery around town, and the nose of the car can be a bit reticent when asked to change direction – especially with the weight of a diesel engine under the bonnet – but overall the ride is compliant, there’s plenty of grip, and the steering transmits some decent levels of information as to what the front wheels are getting up to.
Stick with the basic front wheel drive cars with standard suspension, as adding expensive items like four-wheel-drive, bigger alloy wheels, and adaptive suspension damping simply makes things worse not better. It’s the same with road-noise, as the bigger alloys with lower profile tyres tend to generate more roar. At least the Insignia’s slippery shape means wind-noise is reasonably well isolated at motorway speeds.
Despite shedding quite a few kilos, the latest Insignia is still a big, heavy car, and rarely are you left in any doubt about this. None of the engines are blessed with particularly sterling performance, and while the 134bhp 1.6-litre powered diesel engine is likely to be the biggest seller, because of its excellent economy and lowly CO2 emissions, it does struggle to motivate the Insignia away from the mark. First gear feels very low, and once the revs start soaring, which is almost immediately, the engine begins to sound very harsh and noisy. Consequently, it pays to give the throttle a short blast and grab second gear as quickly as possible. Thankfully, the engine has sufficient mid-range grunt, so once you are rolling, it will pull second gear happily enough. Just as well, as the last thing you want when trundling along in slow moving traffic is to be constantly jamming it into first gear.
Although not exactly a fireball, the latest 163bhp 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol engine is reasonably smooth and flexible, but it does flatter to deceive, something you’ll notice the first time you come to overtake. It’s simply not that quick, and it also suffers from quite a bit of stutter as you step on or release the accelerator pedal. All the Insignia’s engines we’ve driven have produced clearly audible levels of turbo whistle. The diesel engines are less prone to this than the petrol, but it’s a trait always noticeable as you press the throttle. It’s so pronounced with the most powerful 258bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine, you can almost play a tune by stepping on and off the gas.
Although not as slick as the manual gearbox found in a Ford Mondeo, the manual changes are much improved compared to the outgoing Insignia, and an all-new 8-speed automatic is now also available. Although it’s not particularly rapid when it comes to cog swapping, it is extremely smooth, so it’s sure to be a hit with those who regularly endure congested traffic conditions.
No car company is more savagely competitive than Vauxhall. To start with, the Insignia’s official list price is exceptionally low. That’s before you factor in the heavy discounting common among Vauxhall dealers, or the bargain basement leasing rates, or the lowly CO2 emissions, which ensures the Insignia remains one of the most compelling business propositions currently available in the UK. That’s good news if you’re an employee who gets no say in what car you’re given, or even a business user chooser, but it’s more of a mixed bag if you are a private buyer. Yes, everyone will be happy with the fuel returns and the low price of servicing, and the relatively low price of repairs, which brings low insurance premiums. However, residual values are quite another story. If you’re buying with your own money, haggle hard then go back and haggle some more, and even when you think you’ve squeezed the pips out of the salesman, exact even more pressure, because values of used Insignias fall more dramatically than a South American striker.
According to the Warranty Direct Reliability Index, Vauxhall sits slap-bang in the middle of the table of manufacturer rankings. What’s more, the last Insignia was by no means the firm’s most reliable car, with a below-average rating, but since those cars have very little in common with this latest model, which sits on an all new platform and is powered by several new engines, you’d hope that situation would improve. The three-year/60,000-mile warranty cover you get is pretty common, but some rival manufacturers are a lot more generous, including Toyota, who offer a five-year/100,000-mile coverage, and Kia who provide a seven-year/100,000 mile warranty.
The latest Insignia comes with plenty of the latest safety kit, including autonomous emergency braking, which will automatically stop the car if it detects a potential collision you fail to take account of. This system works at speeds under 25mph, which is arguably where it is most needed to help avoid contact with cyclists or pedestrians. Should you get into extreme difficulties, Vauxhall’s OnStar system will automatically contact the emergency services for you. There’s also a system that will alert you if you are getting too close to the car in front, and lane-departure assistance, which will help keep you in lane if you inadvertently pull out without indicating. Mandatory features like a tyre-pressure warning system and electronic stability control are complemented by an arsenal of six airbags, and it all helped to earn the car a maximum five-star safety rating from Euro NCAP.
The Insignia range starts with Design trim – the only model in the range not to get alloy wheels – and runs up through Design Nav, SRi, SRi Nav, SRi VX-Line Nav, and Tech Line Nav, topping out with Elite Nav trim. Obviously, you don’t need the deductive powers of Sherlock Holmes to guess which feature the Nav trims add. All cars come with cruise control, autonomous emergency braking, Vauxhall’s OnStar concierge service, keyless entry and go, an infotainment touch-screen, Apple Carplay, and automatic headlights. Moving up to SRi trim adds 17-inch alloy wheels, a rear spoiler, tinted rear windows, front foglights and automatic wipers, while SRi Nav adds sports seats and some extra interior lighting. Elite Nav comes with the whole nine yards, including leather seats and LED matrix headlights. Perhaps the pick of the options list is a head-up display, which projects information regarding speed, traffic signs, and navigation direction onto the windscreen.
Depending on which way you look at it, the Insignia is either a marginal three-star car, or a strong four-star contender. As a private buyer you’ll need to purchase it way below its official list price to offset the spectre of heavy depreciation, but even then, we feel you’d be better off waiting and buying a low mileage used example and let someone else take the initial depreciation hit. As a business car, things start to look a whole lot rosier. Safe in the knowledge someone else is doing the behind the scenes bartering, you can simply enjoy running your Insignia thanks to its swish looks, spacious, comfortable cabin, vastly improved driving dynamics and affordable running costs. Put simply, as one very accomplished work station, the Insignia is hard to resist.