When a manufacturer replaces one model with a completely new one, it normally wants to make a statement. That's just what the Vauxhall Insignia did in 2008, when it immediately banished the clunky Vauxhall Vectra from our automotive memories. Even more so, when the Insignia was crowned European Car of the Year in 2009 – Vauxhall were bold enough to claim that it was a real rival for the BMW 3 Series and Audi A4. In the cold light of day, however, it's actually a competitor for more mainstream cars, such as the Ford Mondeo and Skoda Superb. The Insignia is a good car but it doesn’t set the world alight and neither is it the cheapest of the bunch. However, it did get a mid-life update, which kept it in the running by adding stop-start technology to boost efficiency, and you can always get a good deal from a Vauxhall dealer. While the dimensions remain pretty much the same, you get the Insignia in three main body styles – hatchback, saloon and Sports Tourer estate – and all have VXR Supersport high-performance models. Despite the standard car's hatchback body, it's styled much more like a sporty coupe than a family car, and there's a massive range of engines and specifications to choose from.
MPG, running costs & CO2 emissions
All of the engines on offer in the Insignia are fairly cheap to run, but for the best economy you have to go for the SRi 2.0-litre CDTi ecoFLEX engines fitted with stop-start technology. Both the 118bhp and 138bhp models return 76.3mpg in fuel economy and CO2 emissions of 99g/km, which bring them below the magic 100g/km figure that exempts them from road tax. As is common, the petrol engines aren’t as economical to run but are cheaper to buy, so you should weigh up how much mileage you rack up before simply plumping for a diesel straight off the bat. However, we’d recommend steering clear of the SRi VX-Line 2.0-litre SIDI Turbo automatic, because it pumps out 186g/km of CO2 and only returns 35.8mpg, when something like the BMW 320d is faster, more powerful and better to drive – and will still manage to return more than 60mpg in comparison. Unfortunately the figures for the performance-focused VXR are even worse. Having said that, most mainstream manufacturers still struggle to match Vauxhall's 100,000-mile lifetime warranty, which covers the first owner for any unexpected repairs for the lifetime of the car – even Kia doesn’t offer that.
Interior & comfort
The Insignia is comfortable enough but isn’t the most comfy car in its class by any means. When driving on long motorway journeys, it's dependable, with plenty of room for the drive and the passenger in the front, but headroom in the rear is somewhat tight thanks to the sloping roof, but legroom is decent. When driving at motorway speeds, road, wind and tyre noise is suitably hushed, and long journeys certainly go by quickly and with few aches and pains. But a word of warning - if you choose the bigger wheels that come on the SRi or VX-Line models, the car then does tend to thump down into potholes and follow ruts in the road. And if comfort really is a top priority, we’d suggest getting Vauxhall's FlexRide adaptive damping system fitted, which automatically tweaks the suspension, steering and throttle to match whatever driving conditions you meet on the road.
Practicality & boot space
With the back seats in place, the Insignia offers a reasonable 530 litres of boot space (a tiny bit bigger than a Ford Mondeo) – which is easily accessible thanks to a wide boot opening and an easy-to-use hatchback tailgate. Fold down the standard-fit 60:40 split-fold seats and that space increases to 1,470 litres. Unfortunately, the load area doesn’t have a completely flat floor, so loading and carrying longer items is trickier than it could have been, with the likes of the Skoda Superb offering a much better space in terms of size and ease of use. On a more positive note, there's loads of passenger space in the front, plus plenty of handy cubbies and a large glove compartment to store bits and pieces. Space is a bit more variable in the back, with just about enough legroom but with headroom being compromised by the sloping low roof, but five adults can certainly fit in. If you need more space, the Sports Tourer offers 540 litres that expands to 1,530, but the saloon is expectedly more cramped and less practical, especially the boot.
Reliability & safety
The Vauxhall Insignia had a shocking showing in the 2013 Driver Power customer satisfaction survey, plummeting 77 places down the list of the top 100 cars to rank 98th. It debuted in 2011 at number six, then dropped to a reasonable 21st in 2012 before its recent abysmal showing. Reasons cited include it being difficult to drive, poor performance, high running costs, sub-standard build quality and not being very reliable. So why the sudden wind change? Well, with the Insignia launching in 2008 it could simply be that the car's lifespan sees a big drop off after a couple of years of ownership, but it also reflects Vauxhall's own performance in the manufacturers rankings in the survey. It dropped 13 places to come 26th out of 32, which is disappointing considering it was the most improved car maker in 2012. Either way, it's probably more dramatic than the reality of owning an Insignia. It was built from the ground up using brand new engines and parts, so there's no doubting that it's much more reliable than the old Vectra. On top of that, every new Insignia – even the flagship VXR performance model – comes with a 100,000-mile lifetime warranty, which covers the car for any problems for as long as a franchised dealer services the car. The Insignia did secure the full five-star rating in the Euro NCAP crash safety tests, coming equipped with six airbags and electronic stability control as standard. You can also add Xenon headlamps that react to your steering to improve visibility when driving at night and a tyre pressure monitoring system.
Engines, drive & performance
Straight away, the Insignia is significantly better than the old Vectra, so that's a good start. While it does lack the driver appeal and sheer fun of a car like the Ford Mondeo, it is still a decent choice for anyone who regularly drives long distances, with it on the whole proving quiet and comfortable. The steering is on the light side but the car does feel solid and stable, with plenty of grip on the move. There is an extensive range of engines that should offer something to suit just about everyone, with the top-of-the-range VXR Supersport model hitting a top speed of 170mph and accelerating from 0-60mph in just 5.6 seconds (but it does drink lots of fuel and spits out lots of CO2). However, the mid-range diesels will better suit the vast majority of buyers, with the 128bhp 2.0-litre CDTi managing to go from 0-60mph in 10.4 seconds and having plenty of performance for long motorway cruises. The interior is fairly impressive, too, with it proving easy to find a comfortable driving position in the supportive front seats. Also, the gear lever is positioned nice and high, and has an easy, light shift action, so changing gear is very pleasant.
Price, value for money & options
You can and should always haggle with a Vauxhall dealer, because you’re very likely to get a decent discount on your car. Do that and the Insignia becomes significantly better value for money, but be aware that the entry-level models don’t come fitted with very much standard equipment. The least expensive ES and Exclusiv specs do come with air-conditioning and cruise control equipped as standard, but they only have manually operated rear windows, for instance, and plastic wheel trims rather than alloy wheels. The SRi, SE, ecoFLEX and Elite versions are all better equipped, so it's really a case of picking the best balance of price and equipment for your budget and needs. Cars at the top end of the range are undeniably expensive and will lose their value the fastest, the Insignia not having very strong resale value on the used car market – especially the powerful VXR Supersport, which loses out to rivals like the well-rounded and similarly priced BMW M135i. Indeed, as an overall long-term investment, you’d be better off looking at the Volkswagen Passat and Skoda Superb.