TEST DRIVE: Vauxhall Insignia

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Steve Sharpe drives Vauxhall’s new Insignia

Although Vauxhall’s Insignia seems to have been around forever, in fact it made its first appearance as recently as 2008.

Replacing the aging and generally unloved Vectra in the company’s line-up, the Insignia enjoyed instant success and became a popular choice for fleet buyers, due to its attractive levels of economy, practicality and comfort.

The Insignia then received a refresh last year, when Vauxhall updated its styling, upgraded its interior and tinkered with its chassis settings and engine.

The company went for a lower and wider look to the model and an improvement in comfort levels, while inside the instruments panels were improved and the infotainment system and gadgets were brought right up to date.

Naturally, in this age of spiralling fuel prices and pollution, economy and emission levels were also improved

The Insignia offers plenty of versatility, with a line-up that includes three body styles (saloon, hatchback and estate), powered by five diesel engines and four petrols, front and all-wheel drive, automatic and manual gearboxes.

The Insignia is certainly a fine-looking car, with a coupe-like shape thanks to an arching roofline and raised rear end.

With last year’s facelift adding a larger grille and revised LED headlights, with cars towards the top of the range getting a re-profiled spoiler with fog lamps and a thicker chrome bar across the tailgate, the family motor strikes an attractive balance between practical and dynamic.

The Insignia battles it out in the same sector as hugely impressive cars like Ford’s Mondeo, VW’s Passatt and Skoda’s Superb, so it needs to compete in every section to continue to succeed.

But take a trip down the motorway and you soon realise why the Vauxhall has been a success.

There are many Insignias roaming up and down the country as fleet cars, and it’s not difficult to see why.

My test drive coincided with a week on the road on the annual catch-up-with-family-and-friends run. And the Insignia just ran and ran, taking each motorway mile as it came with not so much as a grumble. Long stretches of tarmac are where it feels at home.

I drove the 2-litre diesel ecoFLEX version with Stop--Start technology, one of the most frugal models on the market.

With combined figures of 76mpg – and motorway driving figures of 85mpg –the big family hatchback just sipped fuel.

Hundreds of miles slipped by and still at the end of the week I’d not had to look twice at a petrol station.

Sub-100g/kg emission levels also mean that the government won’t be putting its greedy hand into your pocket for road tax either.

But if you’re going to clock up the miles you want to clock them up in a degree of comfort.

Slip inside the Insignia and you’re faced with a large, impressive interior.

The console sweeps around from the doors into a big, bold yet, thanks to last year’s tinkerings, pretty simple layout.

The instrument facing the driver is, as an option, a digital panel, showing a variety of readouts including speed, economy levels and more.

It looks extremely smart and is beautifully clear. There’s also a big eight-inch touchscreen media display right in the centre, which can also be controlled by a scroller between the front seats and even by voice-control.

The eight-inch display, up from five inches in the previous model, is right up to the minute as far as technology goes, displaying radio stations, song titles, smartphone connection or 3D navigation in an intuitive and safe way.

Up to 60 favourite menus can be stored from all functions and apps can also be downloaded via the car’s Bluetooth-connected internet.

Throughout the cabin the plastics are smart, look durable and feel nice, while the seats are big and supportive, and easily adjusted, perfect for long distances.

There’s plenty of room in the front, and three adults will fit in the rear, although the sloping roofline does eat into the rear headroom.

The boot is big enough to swallow up a family’s belongings, and there are nice touches inside the cabin to accommodate belongings which need to be accessed en route.

The Insignia is focused on economy and practicality, but its performance is perfectly acceptable.

The EcoFlex version I drove provided a decent performance – the big Vauxhall accelerates smoothly in lower gears, and once at speeds will cruise comfortably.

The top gear is mainly for economy driving and will gradually lose puff on long inclines, but with a well-timed gear change it will accelerate well.

Gear changes are smooth, and levels of refinement are good. The engine only becomes vocal at higher speeds, and although there are some levels of wind noise and road rumble coming through, motorway driving is smooth and quiet.

The steering does what it’s supposed to, and is happy enough on B roads and country lanes, although it lacks the fun factor of smaller, nippier hatches. Available as a five-door Hatch, four-door Saloon and Sports Tourer estate, the new range now starts at £16,279, nearly £2,000 less than entry into the outgoing line-up, rising to more than £28,000 for the high-performance 170mph VXR.

The range also comes with Lifetime Warranty, allowing first owners peace of mind for as long as they own the car, up to 100,000 miles.

There’s a huge number of versions available, despite the simplification of the facelift. There are now eight trims (down from 14 in the outgoing line-up), ranging from Design to Elite, so you can pick and choose the levels of equipment you get.

But all models get digital radio, Bluetooth connectivity, USB connection, CD/MP3 player and stereo radio, LED running lights, cruise control and trip computer and a load of safety measures.

However, you have to spend extra if you want electric rear windows and parking sensors.

While unlikely to feature on many dream car lists or raise many gasps of amazements at the news of a purchase, the Insignia is a well-built, all-purpose family car.

It’s got its work cut out when you look at the opposition, but Vauxhall have increased its appeal with last year’s tweaks and by knocking £2,000 off the price. And those impressive mpg figures will certainly be of interest to high-mileage drivers.

It’s smart-looking, well equipped and drives well, especially on long hauls. Just what a family motor should do.

Fact file

Vauxhall Insignia

Engine: 2litre diesel

Transmission: Six-speed manual.

0-62: 10.5 seconds.

Top Speed: 127mph.

Economy: Avg 76mpg

Price: £19,849 (with options, £20,644)