Vauxhall Insignia hatchback - Engines, drive & performance
Summary: An engaging backroad experience coupled with quiet motorway cruising make the Vauxhall Insignia an impressively well rounded car
While SUV sales may be escalating, such cars sit far higher off the road than the Vauxhall Insignia. That means their manufacturers must counter the body lean brought about by a higher centre of gravity, and this tends to be done by fitting stiffer suspension. This, in turn, often leads to an unforgiving experience over potholes, drain covers and other such impediments.
The Insignia doesn’t have this problem, as it’s a low car, meaning the suspension doesn’t have to cope with much body lean – although it’ll display a little if you really throw it around corners. The net result is it’s excellent at absorbing imperfections in the road and also gives the Insignia an impressive amount of grip. There’s also good feel through the steering wheel and – crucially, given the mileage Insignia owners are likely to cover – it’s an excellent motorway companion, offering a near-silent cruising experience in terms of wind, road and engine noise. The Insignia’s manual gearbox isn’t as smooth as the Ford Mondeo’s, but at least it’s satisfyingly chunky to use.
The sense of driver engagement absent from the old Insignia is most certainly present in this new car. Like the smaller Vauxhall Astra, the Insignia is enjoyable to drive without being thrilling, and rivals like the Skoda Superb have a sharper feel.
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Buyers who want a sporty Insignia should go for the range-topping GSi model with four-wheel drive. Dubbed ‘Twinster,’ the four-wheel drive system uses a pair of clutches in place of a standard differential, which enables torque vectoring that can send power to whichever wheel has the most grip. It can also be driven in front-wheel drive mode, although this makes it easy to spin the front wheels. Selecting the ‘AWD’ button on the centre console, and accelerating is both quicker and less dramatic.
The result is a car that has an agile, playful feel and the huge amount of grip on offer is especially useful in poor weather. The GSi also has a lowered sports suspension setup with three selectable driving modes. Each adjusts the steering feel of the car, with Normal and Tour modes making it feel light, which is fine for most scenarios. Dial it into Sport mode though, and the steering feels a little heavier. Regardless of which mode you select, the Insignia GSi’s steering lacks feedback and doesn’t feel particularly precise.
Vauxhall Insignia petrol engine
The cheapest petrol available for the latest Insignia is an all-new 197bhp turbocharged 2.0-litre engine. It’s 0-62mph time of 7.2 seconds looks reasonable on paper but it feels a little underpowered, lacking the requisite punch of its rivals. No manual gearbox is available, with every petrol model getting a nine-speed automatic gearbox.
At the top of the Insignia range, the 227bhp 2.0-litre petrol engine is only available in the GSi trim. It has four-wheel drive as standard and uses the same nine-speed automatic gearbox, managing 0-62mph in 7.0 seconds. As before, this performance looks decent enough, but when you consider the standard petrol model without four-wheel drive can be had for more than £5,000 less, while delivering similar performance, it makes the GSi a niche choice.
A 143bhp entry-level turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol is also expected to join the line-up later this year, which should be a decent option for lower mileage drivers who cannot justify a diesel.
The entry-level 1.5-litre diesel engine produces 120bhp and is capable of 0-62mph in 10.7 seconds (compared to the old 108bhp engine 11.1 seconds). It’s quick enough for overtaking and has enough power for joining motorway traffic, but it's rather vocal. This engine also has a very narrow power band, so being in the wrong gear will result in sluggish acceleration when you apply the throttle.
The tall sixth gear in the manual box has been designed to reduce engine revs when cruising at high speeds – helping to reduce fuel consumption as well as lessening engine noise. It’s not a gear for acceleration, though: overtaking slower traffic often requires dropping to fifth or fourth.
Pick the entry-level diesel with the eight-speed automatic gearbox, and performance is stunted slightly, with 0-62mph taking 11.5 seconds.
If you (or your fleet manager) can stretch to it, the 172bhp 2.0-litre diesel sits almost at the top of the engine range. This is only available in mid-spec SRi Nav trim and above and costs around £4,000 more than an equivalent Insignia with the smaller diesel engine. When mated to a six-speed manual gearbox, it has an 8.2-second 0-62mph time and with its strong reserves of power it leads to effortless overtaking and is bound to appeal to those who spend a lot of time on the motorway. Go for the eight-speed automatic, and the 0-62mph dash takes a fraction longer at 8.4 seconds.
An Insignia hybrid is also expected to arrive in the near future, especially given many of it's nearest rivals are now available with a plug-in hybrid (PHEV) powertrain. This is likely to be the same 197bhp 1.6-litre petrol engine and twin electric motor setup already deployed in the Grandland X PHEV. This powertrain would likely give the lighter Insignia a 0-62mph time of under seven seconds and an electric-only range of around 30 miles.