Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport review: A versatile fastback fit for style and class

Sean O'Grady

Familiarity breeds contempt, so they say, and I fear something of the force of that old adage has damaged Vauxhall’s familiar family car contender, the Insignia. That and the fact that everyone wants to drive SUVs these days, the mad fools.

I notice, for example, that the Insignia didn’t even feature in the list of Britain’s top 10 selling cars in Britain for 2018 (the Corsa was the sole representative of the brand).

After years in which Vauxhall Cavaliers, Vectras and the first-generation Insignia were seemingly ubiquitous (and there is still quite a number on the road), the Insignia is gaining, perhaps unwillingly, something of an exclusive reputation.

It is unfair. My test car was one of the newest versions of this newish second-generation model that was introduced to an indifferent public in 2017.

No doubt as a consequence of the diesel backlash, they’ve decided to offer buyers a new refined 1.6 petrol engine.

Well, contemptuously overlooked or not, this is a fine car. What it is is the distillation of about four decades of building what we used to call “repmobiles”, solid, reliable economical transport for commercial travellers, company sales representatives and mid-ranking corporate executives.

Thus, the Insignia was awarded best-in-class for its “dependability” in the authoritative JD Power survey last year.

It is, like all of its predecessors, built (in Germany) to withstand user abuse and high mileages over short periods.

The reputation of these Vauxhalls goes before them, accounts for their past popularity, but, in today’s world where a prestige badge counts for so much, they find themselves on the wrong side of fashion.

Vauxhall, perhaps rashly, decided to take the battle to the opposition with their latest Insignia, upsizing it to match the BMW 50series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class saloons.

With some experience of both, lucky me, I can attest that the Vauxhall doesn’t really come off best in a head-to head comparison that leaves out price and running costs and, especially equipment levels.

This new 1.6 job in “Elite” trim comes comprehensively equipped at under £30,000, though most buyers will opt for a PCP plan, in which case the premium German brands will be there offering some very tempting rates.

Right now, in fact, the new car market is something of a buyers’ paradise, with a glut of vehicles as a result of changes to the way they measure fuel efficiency, and shortage of buyers, especially for diesels, made all the worse by Brexit uncertainty.

Winter is also traditionally a quiet time for the car trade. If you have the cash, now may be your moment.

They added the name “Grand Sport” to the new Insignia range to stress that it is indeed grander than its predecessor models, though not noticeably sportier.

However, the increase in mass does hurt its fuel efficiency – 42mpg or so at best, with a correspondingly “dirty” 145 grimes (OK, grams) of nasty carbon dioxide pumped out for every kilometre you drive.

It’s at this point that I have to point out the irony of the diesel backlash – that it is worsening carbon dioxide emissions, as diesel engines burn less fuel, quite simply.

For higher mileage drivers, say more than 12,000 or 15,000 miles a year for a largeish vehicle such as the Insignia, diesel will still make sense.

Best of all, though, the Insignia is really a pretty good drive. The steering is pretty light, though maybe too light for some, but the six-speed manual box is a positive pleasure to use, neat and precise, and well suited to this exceptionally strong and smooth new petrol unit.

Handling is secure and you never feel as if you’re going to land yourself in trouble with it. It has all the usual driver conveniences you’d expect, such as lane assist, plus comfortable leather heated seats and steering wheel, much appreciated.

The central screen for the satnav is simple to use. It’s sober inside, business-like and unfussy, just as its predecessors were.

They might, maybe, consider some more adventurous interior materials to match their posher rivals, and brighten things up to match the Mercedes E-Class, but the quality is certainly very acceptable.

They’ve also taken advantage of the advances in digital technology to give drivers readouts for the strength of the battery and the temperature of the oil circulating in the engine. There’s never a dull moment in this car.

Space and versatility in the substantial five-door hatch (no four-door saloon version) is more than enough for most needs, though the strongly coupe lines compromise headroom and carrying capacity a bit.

The plus side is that the Insignia is a very handsome fastback, and they’ve tidied up the grille to make it look a bit more classy.

If you replaced the Vauxhall griffin badge with a VW roundel you’d mistake it for an Arteon, say, it is that good looking.

No longer a best seller, the Vauxhall isn’t exactly rare either. It is, though, something of an endangered species, and soon, to be, so to speak, orphaned.

The spec

Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport Elite 1.6 Turbo

Price: £29,885 (as tested)
Engine capacity: 1.6l petrol 4-cyl, 6-sp manual
Power output (PS @ rpm): 200@4,700-5,500
Top speed (mph): 146
0-60mph (seconds): 7.2
Fuel economy (mpg): 42.2
CO2 emissions (g/km): 145

This is nothing to do with the car itself, and everything to do with the hard-pressed car business.

Vauxhall and Opel were General Motors European operations for decades until the sale of the assets to Peugeot group in 2017.

They had been losing money, on and off, since before the financial crash.

So now Opel/Vauxhall/Peugeot have to pay royalties to General Motors on every Insignia they build, and this will be the last of thoroughbred GM Europe Opel/Vauxhall designs when it is replaced in about 2024.

When that car arrives it will be based on the Peugeot 508, and much that its drivers will have come to know and love in their Vauxhall will disappear.

The good news is that the 508 is also a very accomplished design, and also exceptionally refined in petrol-engined form.

The bad news is that consumers will have that much less choice about their new cars. We’ll miss it.