Vauxhall Insignia keeps it real for larger 4×4 car lovers
Informed that he could buy an Audi allroad 4WD estate car for around half the price, albeit with a Vauxhall badge, Iain P W Robertson became immensely excited and contemplated the prospect of ploughing England’s ‘green & pleasant’ without conscience.
There are a couple of issues at stake. The first of which is, do real people, those spending their own cash, actually buy into the Audi idyll? The truth is, they might possess the aspiration to do so but they flipping-well cannot afford it. Audi is not called a ‘premium’ brand for no reason. Its products carry a quite hefty extra price tag over the rest of the VW Group’s (to which it belongs) mainstream products.
It is primarily for that reason that ‘wise money’ gets spent on Skodas, which actually need to be considered as cut-price Audis. It is truly only ‘silly money’, or corporate funding, that acquires the Audi. Yes. I know that the brand is popular but, at a time when frugality is not merely desirable but also essential, stashing your cash in a depreciating asset (also known as ‘motorcar’) demands care and forethought. Perhaps a Skoda Octavia Scout might meet expectations?
The second issue lies in the increasing popularity of four-wheel-driven family cars. While it might be easy to slip behind the controls of a 4WD pickup, or Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV), working on the basis that you are employed in the agricultural, or one of several outdoor support industries, and that the associated bills linked to running such a potentially thirsty and mechanically inefficient beast are being picked up by the employer, even those persons acquiring second-hand alternatives know that the personal running costs can be steep.
Yet, for some people, living in outlying regions, which can be badly affected by inclement weather for several months of the year, a vehicle that can tackle poorly surfaced roads, perhaps even gravel, or muddy, tracks, can provide highly beneficial levels of accessibility that might destroy a regular runabout. The value of 4×4 is certainly not lost on them. However, far too many owners of 4x4s have bought them as ‘fashion’ items and their back pockets survive to tell the tales of their misspent follies for many months and years thereafter.
Of course, enhanced safety is a worthwhile consideration. Four rather than two driven wheels doubles the available footprint on a road surface and, when you remember that most vehicle footprints are little bigger than a packet of cigarettes at each corner, it is worth reflecting on how much we rely on those tiny contact patches. However, there are other dynamic aspects that assist in issues of driver safety. The 4×4 car’s balance is altogether easier to manage, when all four wheels are driven, most especially on wet, icy, or snow-covered roads.
While the aforementioned Audi might believe itself to be the great ‘I am’ in 4×4 terms, the arrival of the latest Vauxhall Insignia Country Tourer underscores a value proposition that is almost too good to be ignored. I have to admit that I am a big fan of the Insignia. I have always liked its appearance. I like its classy, yet unassuming stance. In Country Tourer guise, it possesses the beefed-up semi-SUV styling of its Audi A6 allroad nemesis, with perimeter plastic addenda, fat wheels and raised ride height. However, it delivers every bit as well as the Audi, if not better, and has that all important value-for-money price tag of just £26,499, to make the ‘Four-Ringed’ German look conspicuously expensive (range priced at £43,805 to £50,105), if not a right royal rip-off and, yes, the Windsors do have a couple of the Teutonic buses on their fleet.
Of course, the big question is, can it match up in other areas? The answer is in the affirmative. Bear in mind that this class of ‘low-line’ SUV probably offers greater multiplicity of purpose to its user role, than the heftier and truck-based 4x4s. The Tourer works as a load-lugger, in that its rear seats will split-fold to result in a deck length that (interestingly and ironically) is beaten by the smaller Astra Tourer. However, it is still a respectable two metres, with minimal lateral intrusion from either of the inner rear wheel-arches, or suspension turrets.
The rear door also opens and closes remotely, so that even your finest kid gloves need never show signs of having been besmirched by a salt and dirt covered external handle. With the door up, it is worth noting that an additional set of rear lamps are built into the inner shut-panels, further enhancing owner safety, should the boot be loaded/unloaded nocturnally. Of course, high-class but hard-wearing carpet covers the boot floor, which might benefit from an ‘Armadillo’ boot-liner, if you plan on tackling the ‘Boonies’ with bicycles and kids in tow, on a rainy weekend.
The rest of the cabin is quite dark, thanks to acres of grey trim, but very well assembled, using high-end materials. The thoroughly revised dashboard and centre-stack is now devoid of the plethora of confusing switchgear that this model’s forebear used to carry. Many of the minor controls are now contained within the touch-screen facility in the centre of the dash, mirrored by fingertip switches on the steering wheel. Sadly, the ‘mouse-pad’ controller proved to be a tad recalcitrant, so I tended not to use it and touched the screen instead. Overall it is a significantly better layout than before and makes the Insignia all the more intuitive to drive.
Talking of which, the driving position, courtesy of a combination of manual and electrically operated adjustments, is among the best of any car sold in the UK, notably from a tall person’s perspective. The driver’s seat is also beautifully crafted and remains comfortable for exceptionally long distances. Another of the range improvements sits ahead of the driver in the form of a TFT screen that can be altered from a graphic representation of a speedometer, to a digital display and a range of other customisable settings. Everything is very clear and concise.
The car’s refinement is excellent, although cold starts do make the grumbly 2.0-litre turbo-diesel engine somewhat more raucous than Vauxhall’s latest ‘whisper diesel’, which is only available in 1.6-litre forms. For the record, there is also a bi-turbo version of the Vauxhall, which develops 195bhp, rather than the perfectly agreeable 163bhp of the test car.
The on-demand, intelligent 4×4 system, controlled by a Haldex variable differential, can be accessed through the new touch-screen facility but, apart from this extra operational element, the driving experience is eminently straightforward, although it is worth noting that the estate car is also equipped with ‘stop-start’ technology. As long as the electrical system is not loaded up with climate control, headlamps, heated rear window and anything else that might drain its battery, it will stall the engine, with the brakes applied, restarting it as soon as you need to pull away again. While I always doubt the ‘true’ fuel savings that come from ‘stop-start’, the noise reduction is good.
Thanks to a swathe of torque (258lbs ft), or pulling power, the Insignia hikes up its skirts and zips from 0-60mph in a modest 10.5 seconds, before reaching a maximum speed of 127mph, thanks to fairly high overall gearing. Although the gearshift quality is excellent, there is seldom an on-road need to downshift frequently. Although I did not sample the car at an off-road ground, I did try it on some gravel roads and it displayed no ill handling traits, the rear following the front-end faithfully, according to driver input.
Finally, its eco-credentials stand up to scrutiny and, while the 50.4mpg Official Combined fuel figure proved well-nigh impossible to replicate during the car’s tenure with me, I was still quite satisfied with a return of 41.2mpg, which, for a car of this size, is respectable. Its CO2 emissions (for the manual transmission model) are 147g/km, which means that there are no surprises on the VED front either.
Conclusion: The single best aspect of the Insignia Country Tourer lies in its excellent price point. It is a very handsome machine and, in the right colour, it will look fantastic in a country setting, with a couple of gun-dogs perched on the boot carpet. It is a classy and competent large family car that is virtually without rivals and it gives a tangible ‘BCingU’ to its costly Audi alternative.