Vauxhall does not have a positive profile amongst petrolheads, particularly on motoring forums such as EVO and I will confess I have never been a fan and indeed never owned one in 29 years of motoring until this week. So, after turning to dark side I thought it was only fair to report my findings as I have so far been pleasantly surprised.
I decided on an Insignia, as I wanted a value for money family hack which could eat up a 70 mile each way twice weekly motorway commute with the minimum of fuss. For some reason, I've always rated the Insignia as an attractive car, particularly in SRI spec, a sort of poor mans Jag XF and to these eyes much more handsome than the MK4 Mondeo. So, having driven been pleasantly surprised with the neighbours 2011 SRI CDTI which she was going to sell me, but wasnt allowed to (Company car policy) actually went and actively searched out one and bought it. So, is it a dud?
One week into my ownership and mostly positive feelings. Good points include, incredibly supportive and comfortable seats, much better than any Mondeo seats I've ever sampled. Very strong brakes, again better than the usually awful Ford Mondeo brakes I've sampled in the past. The car feels incredibly solid and well built and with 68,000 miles on the clock my 2011 car feels really really tight. As indeed did the 83,000 mile car I nearly bought. Feels totally planted, especially on those fast motorway slip roads where my old Mazda 6 felt a bit loose and unsettled. The 160 PS engine is reporting 52.3 MPG after a week of gentle motorway cruising (70 MPH max) and the stop start of Basingstoke and Reading traffic...again, better than people with Mk4 Mondeos report. Also surpising me, it can be hustled along at a fair lick. My old Mazda 6 keeled over pretty badly in corners/roundabouts etc. The Insignia leans a bit, but Mrs B stays in place in her seat and actually it scuttles around corners and roundabouts just fine.
Bad points...well the engine is a tad uncouth, but then my neighbours new 40K Merc E220d still sounds like a taxi too. Around town, it does feel ponderous on turn in, I guess this is where Mondeo wins. The ride on 18 inch wheels is a bit firm and when you open the boot, water drips into the boot (Mondeo does that too apparently). Oh and as its geared for economy with long gearing and weighs, frankly too much at 1613 KGs, it feels really quite slow off the mark, compared with my always up for it, zippy petrol Mazda 6. I can already see a remap being on the cards to perk it up a bit. What about the electric handbrake that everyone hates? Well, I still struggle a bit reversing off my steep drive, but between Junction 9 and 12 of the M3 (yes the dreaded hilly bit near Winchester), its great. No more juggling clutch brake and handbrake, just drive away on the hill when the traffic moves along again.
So much to my surprise I'm really enjoying the car and it leads me to question whether some of the flax Vauxhalls get in the motoring press is fair. I mean, take What Car mag. They've always given the Insignia just 2 out of 5 stars, whereas the old mk4 Mondeo gets 5 stars, which frankly is ridiculous. Certainly Fords always steer and handle pretty well, but the Mondeo is a heavy old beast too and as a family car, I really dont see how it is 2.5 x better than the Insignia. Then there is the VAG competition which Autocar/What Car loves much much more than the Insignia. Put it this way, my neighbour sold a 2011 passat TDI last year for £9000. I went in that car several times and in terms of drive and build really dont see how it is worth £3000 more than an equivalent aged Insignia....
So I'm led to conclude that the motoring press dont always fairly assess cars, expecting everything to ride and handle like a GTI. The Insignia, if judged as a comfortable, practical family motorway express is a competent if perhaps soul-less car, much like any other 2 litre diesel rep mobile (3 series BMW excepted). Is it an engaging steer, something you'd go for a drive in for the sake of? No. Does it need to be, spending 70% of its time on dual carriageways and motorways in heavy traffic in all weathers? Er no. What I really want is something that feels planted and comfortable. The Vauxhall is like valium to me on my commute. Some cars goad you into pushing on, this car just likes you to sit back and cruise.....
Yeah, I know this review would be better off in What Car (except that they hate Vauxhalls) but sometimes its good to cast fresh eyes on something bought as white goods and to appreciate just how much development and effort goes into building even the hum drum family cars we take for granted these days. I'm looking forward to driving my old MX-5 now spring is here, but for daily trudges along middle lane hogging, lorry clogging motorways, me and the Insignia are getting along just fine! Hope it stays that way!
Oh and one final thought. I see more and more taxi-drivers piloting Insignias these days. As cabbies tend only to go for comfortable dependable workhorses, II take that as a positive sign that Vauxhalls are better built and more dependable than they used to be.