IAIN ROBERTSON 

There was a time, states Iain Robertson, prior to an epidemic rash of SUVs, when possessing the right vehicle for collecting visitors and their luggage from the local station was every bit as vital as ensuring that the post-shoot luncheon was eminently palatable.

Unless made of very modern stuff, His Lordship would never actually drive a vehicle. No. He would reside in the lounge, partaking of tiffin, while a sundry assembly of suitably qualified retinues loaded and unloaded a small convoy of transport, only making his first appearance, once ‘Simmons’ (the butler) announced him, on the grand staircase. All very Downton Abbey.

Somewhat more up-to-date, as country estates started to realise that serfdom was ended and re-leading the roof would dig too deeply into available resources (short of disposing of the odd Stubbs horse painting at £1.3m; an heirloom diamond and pearls necklace at £950,000; or an original, signed copy of ‘The Merchant of Venice’ at half-a-million quid), earning a crust took priority. Of course, the seasonal bird shoots would continue, as would the celebratory aspects, although the guest lists would include an industrialist from Sapporo, an hotelier from New Jersey and a fruiterer from Cape Town, rather than His Lordship’s landed gentry chums; the key difference being that the new-style guests would generate income, not deplete the catering and booze budgets at the estate’s cost.

Across the length and breadth of the nation, myriad country estates still exist, their central properties, in some cases, not having been sold off to some multi-national conglomerate, or an oil baron from a former Russian province, even remaining in the historical hands of their inheritance tax-conscious ancestors. Many of them are still moderately packed to the rafters with antiquities that need to be auctioned off from time-to-time to fund fiscal necessities but the cachet of staying even temporarily at one’s country seat, sleeping on a horse-hair filled mattress once endured (when it was newer and somewhat less spiky) by Henry the Eighth, has an undeniable attraction. Even renting one of the estate cottages affords a status worthy of years of tediously successive story repetition. The country estate car has retained its relevance in a vital support role.

Yet, for every estate to be managed properly and profitably, another one either falls into disrepair, misuse, or the hands of an oligarch. In many cases, it is the overheads that kill them, among which are the rising costs of transport. Well, Your Lordship, I have a suggestion for you…after all, you both want and need to maintain standards, as it would be unutterably wrong not to do so. You also need to inform Her Ladyship and Your Mistress that their demands for a vehicle with no less than a prestigious badge attached to it no longer fall within the bounds of sensible, or affordable budgetary contemplation. Thus, engage with a car manufacturer that possesses a heritage and reputation for innovation, while retaining beguiling high quality that can be disguised by the right choice of paint colour…and that brand is Vauxhall!

Why spend around £10-15,000 more on an Audi allroad, or a Volvo V90 Cross Country, just because HRH The Prince Charles tools around in either? Besides, he is a confused fellow and makes enough noise to warrant ‘freebies’. Why spend £5-10,000 more on a VW Passat Alltrack, or even the former budget brand Skoda Superb Scout, neither of which truly reflect an image of classical elegance, nor a genuine ability to serve estate purpose, when summonsed to do so. Instead, give serious consideration to the Vauxhall Insignia Country Tourer, which in funereal Black, stormy Grey, or bloody Burgundy starts at a mere £25,635 on-the-road.

Is it just a price issue? No, it is not, but it is a darned good place to start. Its appearance carries off the commensurate level of deportment, with a purposefully raised ride height, the wheelarch extensions and the silvered sub-bumper skid-plates fore and aft. It is all terribly ‘cliché’ but it is what the hoi-polloi desires most in their countrified transport, to which Vauxhall panders and complies, or so we are informed. Whereas the previous generation Insignia, as good as it was, was all tautly scripted and slightly prim and proper, the new version is altogether more ‘Big Country’ in its expressionism. It is a large car externally by any definition but, thanks to first-class packaging, it is also immense inside.

When it comes to collecting guests from the local heliport, or even from the gatehouse at the end of the driveway, apart from making an arrival statement, once the doors are opened and the boot filled (which, at 1,665-litres, is 135-litres roomier than before), there is space in abundance within its five-seat cabin and occupants are spoiled by its cosseting trim and appealingly high-end quality. Yet, it is durable too; while Her Ladyship will be only lightly concerned about leaving her stiletto marks on door panels, or the seat-backs, of the Bentley, the Vauxhall will take dog’s abuse, from guns and picnic hampers being slipped in and out of the carpeted boot and, should the trim be damaged, it only costs a few quid to replace or repair it, which is better than having to await the factory making the right cuts on cow hide, or ensuring that the teak grain matches impeccably…followed by a £10k invoice!

Powering the VICT (see, even its initials possess a regal Victorian connection) is a splendid 167bhp version of the firm’s much-lauded 2.0-litre turbo-diesel engine, hooked up to an 8-speed fully-automatic transmission, optimised to reduce power losses. Armed with a sensible 295lbs ft of pulling potency, it makes easy meat of any on-road driving demanded of it and possesses enough grunt to make loose surface progress a real joy. The drivetrain features torque vectoring, which ensures that your guests arrive mildly stirred but certainly never shaken. It uses a clever, twin multi-clutch rear differential that works to reduce driver effort and can be adjusted electronically to suit Standard, Sport, or Tour requirements, with each phase adjusting the dampers, steering, accelerator response and even the gearbox shift points, as part of what Vauxhall calls its ‘FlexRide’ chassis technology. While the 2.0-litre unit will be supplemented at the end of the year by a 206bhp, bi-turbo alternative, the 167bhp standard engine returns a decent 51.4mpg on its Official Combined cycle, while emitting a lowly 145g/km CO2 and is sure to remain the choice of the budget-conscious estate.

When cook demands a clutch of lepidorae to make her fabulous jugged hare for lunch, there is little to stop the gillies from charging nocturnally across the estate fields, in pursuit of the speedy, leggy mammals, their path being illuminated by the exquisite Intellilux LED lighting system that turns night into day…they might even turn-up the odd roe deer that makes a parting venison stew such a memorable meal, after a weekend carousing around the estate. The head-up display is unlikely to divert their attention from the task in hand. Cook will be delighted.

Of course, we live in a time when connectivity is vital and hardly a stone has been left unturned in making the VICT one of the most connected cars presently on sale, aided by the company’s own ‘OnStar’ concierge service (another fine raison-d’etre), but it is also supremely safe, with adaptive cruise, lane keeping technology, both front and rear crash mitigation alerts and, when returning to a neat parking spot behind the main pile, there is even advanced park assist, useful, when Roberts and Jones have their hands full of game. When out in the shooting ground, the car forms an important WiFi hotspot, which might be useful for those guests who insist on a permanent connection to their offices…one cannot help some people.

However, most of all, the VICT, despite its semi-stately visage, is a stormingly good drive that both His Lordship and the good Lady ‘waif’ will enjoy piloting personally. They might even save a few bob by making some staff cuts, which is worth the try.

Conclusion:  Vauxhall produces a very fine estate car in the Insignia Tourer that offers every bit as much as the latest Volvo V90 but for considerably less money. Factor in 4WD and the car assumes an altogether more purposeful air and, while its applications may be colour-dependent, no stately pile should be without an example gracing the gravel turning circle in front of the main steps. If Vauxhall plays its cards right, every member of the nation’s ‘top brass’ ought to be clamouring for a VICT. The package is bang-on, the pricing is right and it will deliver in all respects.

 

 

 

 

About Iain P W Robertson

Frequently being told to 'go forth and multiply', Iain P W Robertson's automotive wisdom is based on almost forty years in the business, across all aspects from sport to production, at the highest levels. He likes dogs and drives a Suzuki (not related).