AFTER YEARS OF building some frankly rather ordinary cars, Vauxhall suddenly seems to be on a bit of a roll. The latest Astra is one of our favourite small family cars and the recently revised Zafira Tourer is a thoroughly recommendable MPV. So, hopes are high for the second-generation Insignia executive car, which is in the final stages of develop mentahead of its launch next summer. The new car is 55mm longer than its predecessor, with 92mm of extra space between the front and rear wheels, creating more room for passengers. Despite its increased dimensions, Vauxhall claims that the Insignia is around 10% lighter. This is due to it having more light weight materials, and means the Insignia should use less fuel and pump out less CO2. The cheapest engine is a 163bhp 1.5-litre turbo petrol, while at the top of the range there’s a 247bhp 2.0-litre turbo petrol, which gets four-wheel drive and a neight-speed automatic gearbox as standard. We’ve test driven both versions in camouflaged prototype form.
Compared with the previous Insignia, the new model is vastly superior to drive on almost every level, from its ride and handling to how quickly it can get up to speed. Of the two cars we drove, one had regular suspension and the other optional adaptive dampers. Both give a comfortable ride, although the adaptive dampers fractionally improve things, smoothing over patchy B-road surfaces without ever feeling too soft or wallowy. That’s assuming you resist the temptation to press the Sport button, though, which makes the ride noticeably firmer without any real handling benefits.
However, what’s most important is how the Insignia compares with the best cars in the market, and it certainly drives well enough to worry the class-leading Skoda Superb. The Insignia might not exactly be fun, but it’s composed and agile enough. The steering in Normal mode is accurate and builds the right amount of weight consistently as you turn, but the lighter Tour and heavier Sport steering settings miss the mark. Both of our test cars had 18in alloys and generated a concerning amount of road noise.
There was some wind noise, too, but the heavy camouflage cladding didn’t help. The new 1.5 petrol engine is gutsy enough and doesn’t need to be revved too hard. The range-topping 2.0-litre is harder to recommend; it isn’t as quick as you’d imagine and it will be quite expensive to buy. Anyhow, diesel engines make the most sense in the executive class, so we expect the new 1.6-litre CDTi unit will be the best option.
New tech inside
The dashboard layout has taken a huge leap forward from that of the old car. The air-con controls are much simpler to operate, while the infotainment system, which is very similar to the one in the latest Astra, has a higher-resolution touchscreen and is altogether easier to use. The Insignia’s driving position is also much improved – crucial given that one of the car’s key markets is high-mileage company car drivers.
The steering wheel has a good range of adjustment and the pedals are well aligned with the driver’s seat, which is now mounted much lower down; you sit far too high in the first-generation Insignia. Practicality isn’t one of that car’s strongest suits, either. In fact, it’s more cramped in the back than the smaller Astra. However, the new Insignia has almost as much rear knee room as the Superb. Head room isn’t quite as impressive, but you’ll have to be more than six feet tall for your hair to brush the roof. We couldn’t look in the boot, but Vauxhall says its size is “at least on a par with the outgoing model”, which would seem to suggest it isn’t quite as large as the Superb’s.
Good enough to worry rivals
The new Insignia has the makings of a fine executive car. On the road, it shows enough promise to worry the Superb, and although it isn’t quite as roomy in the back as that car, the margins are almost small enough to be inconsequential. However, the cold, hard numbers play a huge role in buying decisions in this class, and Vauxhall hasn’t even announced prices yet, let alone CO2 emissions or standard equipment. If the new Insignia is competitive in those areas, though, it should do very well indeed.