Buyers are turning away from large, traditional cars. Big, generally dull machines such as the Ford Mondeo, Volkswagen Passat and the Vauxhall Insignia have seen their sales eaten into by big SUVs, selling on their more imposing road presence and higher-up driving position. Others are opting instead for BMW or Mercedes-Benz badges as the upmarket manufacturers invade the market they previously looked down their noses at.
Mind you, the old Vauxhall Insignia was both dull and with far less room in the back than its size suggested. Vauxhall’s answer is to launch an all-new model, with five doors only, and to prove it’s all new to give it a slightly different name – enter the Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport.
This is a much better looking car than its predecessor, with a swooping body style, sculpted doors and a sleek profile that at least gives it some presence in the company car parks most will live in.
Vauxhall believes it can still make such machines work – the Grand Sport is the first in a new range, joined by a Sports Tourer estate and an off-road styled Country Tourer. And the brand is boldly suggesting that at a time when everyone is watching their spending, the combination of the Insignia’s price, refinement and equipment could even persuade buyers to choose it instead of a BMW, Audi or Mercedes…
Buying and owning a Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport
Cost is a prime weapon in Vauxhall’s efforts to persuade buyers into the Insignia Grand Sport. The car is priced from £17,185, which is £1500 cheaper than the cheapest outgoing Insignia. And depending on powertrain chosen the Insignia offers benefit-in-kind tax savings over rivals that could come close to £2,000 over a four-year period. Whole-life costs are tempting too, with potential savings of more than £5,500.
There are six engine choices, three petrol and three diesel with power outputs ranging from 110 to 260hp. All the petrol units are new, a 1.5-litre turbo with either 140 or 165hp and the range-topping 2.0-litre with 260hp. This engine only is matched to a new eight-speed auto transmission and all-wheel-drive.
Nothing so new in the diesel line-up – buyers get to choose from a 1.6-litre turbo with either 110 or 136hp, and the 2-litre turbo with 170hp. Six-speed manual gearboxes are standard, with six-speed autos also available.
Trim levels range across seven, but even the base Design level includes such niceties as air conditioning, electric heated mirrors, keyless entry and cruise control. Also standard is the IntelliLink infotainment system which includes DAB radio, Bluetooth and Apple/Android smartphone compatibility, but not satellite navigation – to get that on a one-inch larger screen you pay another £795 for Design Nav trim.
The Insignia also boasts an impressive safety package, scoring a five-star rating when tested by Euro NCAP. Plenty of driver assistance technology is available, though how much one gets depends on how much spends. Having said that, all cars include the Front Camera System, which powers such aids as a lane keeper, a forward collision alert, braking aids to reduce the severity of low-speed collisions and active emergency braking.
Also standard is Vauxhall’s OnStar assistance programme that allows access to a range of services from a central control centre and automatically alerts emergency services when it detects the car has been in an accident.
Inside the Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport
First impression on getting inside the Insignia is the space – it’s simply huge. Vauxhall has stretched the car by 55mm overall, and the space between the wheels by 92mm. In car terms this is a lot, and the roominess, particularly in the rear, will have in particular Skoda fans cursing – the Czech brand only recently put down an interior size challenge with its latest Superb.
It’s not all good news, however – the necessity of making the Insignia look good on the outside, courtesy of that swooping roofline, does translate to cosy headroom in the rear. The boot space is also similar to that in the old car, and looks quite impressive when one first opens the tailgate. But it will swallow significantly less luggage than will rivals from Volkswagen and particularly Skoda.
Adding to the refinement is the driver’s environment. Vauxhall has done a complete redesign, taking the smaller Astra as its benchmark, and by principally replacing many individual buttons with functions on then central touchscreen. The result is a cleaner, more elegant and yes premium look to the dash, while available options such as a head-up display add an extra layer of technological kudos.
The designers have also taken time to mould the car around the driver. The seat is easy to get comfortable in, if a little low, and the controls fall easily to hand. Overall the Insignia is an upmarket environment in which to travel many miles of motorway.
Driving the Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport
The diesel engine in our test car appeals to the core business market of the Insignia, being a 2-litre unit with 170hp on tap. This particular engine first appeared a couple of years ago, and it does its job very well, combining reasonable potency – a little over eight seconds to 60mph – with equally reasonable, if not outstanding, economy and emissions. More recent engines from rival brands are also more efficient in both miles per gallon and emissions.
All this is helped by some serious weight loss – the Grand Sport may be bigger than its predecessor but it tips the scales up to 175kg lighter.
Work the Insignia engine hard, however, and you will expose some rough edges to the refinement, with just an element of the old diesel clatter that simply shouldn’t be a part of today’s package. With smaller, more efficient diesels available and especially the new petrol engines, one wonders if the 2-litre oil burner can maintain its current popularity.
On the road the Insignia is certainly not a performance car – though we are promised a pretender in the forthcoming GSi version. But under cornering it remains composed, with enough feel through the steering wheel to enjoy progress through a series of bends.
In its natural environment, cruising on a motorway, it is highly refined. Bumps and indentations are soaked up by the effective chassis, and very little noise permeates through to the interior. This is possibly where the Insignia comes closest to proving itself an alternative to a more traditionally upmarket, and more expensive, rival.
Vauxhall will always struggle to completely rebrand the Insignia – the name has been around too long and gained a firm image as a sales rep’s motorway muncher. But the Grand Sport makes a bold bid to revise that image.
The car is better looking that its predecessor, with a much more upmarket interior. Its on-the-road performance will deliver all that the vast majority of its target market will ever need, and it comes in at a very competitive price. The Insignia Grand Sport should not be dismissed without a test drive.