Understated Insignia deserves to be seen and heard

Insignia VXR performance sedan GAYCARBOYS (3)

 

Insignia VXR performance sedan GAYCARBOYS (1)Insignia VXR performance sedan GAYCARBOYS (2)

Insignia VXR performance sedan GAYCARBOYS (4)Insignia VXR performance sedan GAYCARBOYS (5)

Insignia VXR performance sedan GAYCARBOYS (6)

 

Insignia, late of Opel fame, now a Holden

You may all remember the delectable Insignia from her brief 12-month stint as part of the ill-fated Opel nameplate. The classy Euro brand is GM’s continental presence, like Holden GM’s presence in Australia. Both Holden and Opel are GM owned companies. I stress this after reading some viewer comments on reviews over the years. Our commenters appear confused as to who makes what, and what that means to Australia, so let’s dispel a few loony ferfies. All 3 Australian car makers are foreign owned. Ford and Toyota always have been, and Holden was bought by General Motors in the 30’s so enough of this sentimental nonsense. It is incredibly sad that Australia will import all cars by the end of next year, but we have been importing all but a few models for decades. That’s not a reason not to buy. Most Australian manufacturing has been lost to countries where the minimum wage is cents in our dollar, or where robots do almost all of the work. But enough about that, let’s talk about Insignia.

Holden is currently in 4th place in the sales race with 29,229 units finding homes so far this year. This represents 7.8% of the market.

The Epsilon II platform is an extended version of the Epsilon which started life in 2002. Holden’s dreary Malibu is on the same platform as spirited Insignia, and sold a miserable 98 last month and only 377 this year. That sounds bad enough, but Insignia sold just 31 last month and 117 for the year so far. To put it in perspective, Toyota’s 4cyl Camry sold 1,511 and was 1st in that segment. I can only put this down to a lack of advertising support for Insignia, because a test drive would sell the VXR on looks alone. It is streets ahead of Camry in every way measureable.

The exterior is drop-dead gorgeous. It has the same edgy elegance as the last SAAB 9-5, which was also built on the Epsilon II platform.

Insignia was sold previously as an Opel Insignia from 2012, but in 2013 Opel withdrew from the market. After 2 years GM reintroduced Insignia under Australia’s Holden brand, something they should have done in the first instance.

This model is nearing the end of its life and us due for replacement any tick of the clock. On a recent trip to Holden’s Lang Lang proving ground, we were told that the good stuff had been hidden away. Perhaps the new Insignia was tucked snuggly inside a shed? The new Insignia is rumoured to be the replacement for the Commodore after local manufacturing shuts down next year. No one knows whether or not the Commodore name plate will continue, but it has been used for 40 years after replacing the much-loved Kingswood in the late 70’s. If all this is true, one wonders why Holden would bring in Insignia so close to being the new Commodore. The smaller sister, Astra, is also at the end of its model life so watch this space.

The interior is delicious despite its age. It feels crisp, yet modern and high-end. Only the sporty VXR model is sold here so there are a couple of sexy Recaro seats up front. The driver has 2 memory slots for the power adjustments as well as a manually extendable front bolster. This gives longer legged drivers additional support and makes all the difference to a longer trip. It feels rather like the seat in business class, so the only thing missing is a glass of champers.

You get Blind Spot Alert, Lane Departure Warning and a Following Distance Indicator with Autonomous Emergency Braking, as well as a fistful of other useful gizmos. The car looks along the road in front and warns the driver of obstacles like cars and trucks. If the driver does nothing, Insignia will through out on the anchors. It may not always avoid a crash, but it should make the incident a bit less lethal. The warning bings, bongs and flashing lights are a distraction at first, but after a week or two you find yourself depending on them. These, and other driver aids, are never meant to replace vigilance in the front seats.

The buttons on the dash feel a bit random in their layout. I personally loathe touch controls that aren’t on an LCD, so the temperature controls are frustrating beyond belief. There is no feedback and they aren’t as sensitive as they could be. Many functions are in the infotainment menu system, but despite the number of buttons still on the dash, there are no direct selects for the radio stations. You can access them via the steering wheel buttons but auxiliary controls are now so complex it is easier to use the original knobs and buttons.

One thing that defies explanation is the easy access driver’s seat. It slides back to let you get out of the car easily, great, it’s brilliant. However, the second you open the door to get in, it slides forward to the preprogrammed spot. Why couldn’t it wait a minute for you to get your bum between it and the steering wheel? That is what it’s for after all.

The drive is brilliant.

The AWD system, along with a bunch of electronics, pushes power from one end to the other, applies brakes, and tweaks engine power all to keep the occupants safe. This is Holden’s first AWD sedan, if you don’t count the 12-month stint as an Opel.

The ride is sensational considering the huge 20” wheels, but it tends to being a bit soft under heavy corning. There is an adjustable ride/steering/performance setting, but even under the VXR setting, it feels more sophisticated saloon than rampant race car. Despite a little body roll, the handling is agile and stays glued to the road.

The 2.8L turbo V6 petrol engine is built in Australia so one assumes we won’t have that after next year either. It puts out a decent 239kw/435Nm to the road through an excellent 6 speed auto via the intelligent AWD system with limited slip differential. There are and Brembo brakes, and the very strangely named HiPerStrut front end designed to give the driver increased control. Although this Insignia was released in 2008 overseas, it has been updated to keep it current.

When reversing, there is a camera to stop you from mowing down errant children, and cross traffic alert to warn you when a tradie’s ute is barreling down on you at warp 5 in the Bunnings carpark.

Sinking the boot in elicits a silky Michael Bublé tone overlaying the urgency of a rocket launch. It’s not neck snapping by any means, but it is definitely quick.

Conclusion:

I like Insignia very much. It has the look and feel of a quality European brand. It handles well and sounds divine. All the mod cons are present and accounted for. Even though a new model will be along any time, it represents good buying. Features like adaptive cruise control and automatic high beam would make road trips a worry-free experience. In traffic the Cruise control will bring the vehicle to a complete stop where others will cut out under 35kph.

It’s a shame the sales don’t reflect what an excellent vehicle this is.

Would I buy one? Yes, despite the steep drive-away price of $57,083

Price drive-away: $57.083

Engine: 2.8 turbo V6 petro, 6.3 0-100, 10.9L/100km

Insignia VXR’s impressive list of safety features includes:

 Auto headlamps

 Daytime running lamps (front and rear)

 Rear Cross Traffic, Side Blind Zone and Forward Collision Alert

 Lane departure warning

 Electronic Stability Control (ESC)

 Anti-lock Braking System (ABS)

 Traction Control System (TCS)

 Hydraulic Brake Fade Assist

 Cornering Brake Control

 Hill start assist

 6 airbags (dual front, side and curtain)

 Break away brake pedal

 ISOFIX in three rear seating positions (max. two simultaneous)

 Front and rear parking sensors

 Tyre pressure monitoring system

 Driver set Speed Limiter

 Trailer Sway Control

INFOTAINMENT

Insignia VXR features Holden’s Next Generation MyLink Infotainment system as standard. Features include:

 8-inch colour touch screen

 AM/FM/DAB+ radio with RDS display

 Audio and phone streaming via Bluetooth (compatible devices)

 Voice recognition

 Phone integration

 Phone book support

 Bluetooth audio streaming, USB and auxiliary input jack

 Single CD player with MP3 capability

 Universal hands free with Bluetooth

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