► The Insignia gets an update for 2021
► Fresh face, new engine range, generous equipment
► We drive range-topping 227bhp GSi
The poor Vauxhall Insignia doesn’t get much of a look-in these days. Talented competition from mainstream models such as the Skoda Superb and Peugeot 508 is one reason; the excellent value of finance packages on premium offerings such as the BMW 3-series or Audi A4 another.
There’s also the constant march of the SUV – a body style that’s been eating as much of the family car market as it can stomach for years, leaving precious little for a traditional D-segment hatch or saloon.
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But Vauxhall thinks there’s still enough life in the Insignia to make a midlife facelift worth doing, and though little appears to have changed externally it comes equipped with an all-new engine range, loads of standard kit and a rock-bottom entry price.
Despite remaining staunchly unlovable, the Insignia always had an air of quiet competence about it. Does the facelifted model hold the same appeal?
Styling changes are minimal. There’s a new grille and front bumper, plus reshaped headlights, plus some new faux exhausts. The range has been trimmed to five equipment levels, and it’s bad news for estate car fans as the Insignia Sport Tourer has been axed altogether.
Under the bonnet it’s all change, though, with a range of five new engines covering almost everything you could want. On the diesel front, there’s a 1.5-litre three-cylinder with 120bhp or a 2.0-litre four-cylinder with 172bhp, while the petrols are a 143bhp 1.4-litre three-cylinder or a 2.0-litre four-cylinder with 197bhp or 227bhp.
The latter is paired to four-wheel drive and a nine-speed auto, and is reserved exclusively for the range-topping GSi we’re driving here.
The key improvement here is emissions – the new Insignia is cleaner in the official tests than the car it replaces. That should bode well for the company car drivers who typically make up a great deal of the Insignia’s sales – though it’s a shame there’s no plug-in hybrid option to really capitalise on that and rival the likes of the Skoda Superb iV or Peugeot 508 Hybrid.
Like those fitted in the Astra, these engines mark the last of GM’s influence over Vauxhall. Future products will follow the likes of the Grandland and Corsa and draw their engine tech from within the Stellantis group, and the next Insignia will be based on a Stellantis platform too.
So, performance range-topper. Any good to drive?
The Insignia’s always been more about fast cruising than B-road blasting – less Stelvio Pass, more Solihull Bypass. To an extent, that applies to the GSi, which feels incredibly well-suited to a long journey, but it backs it up with a surprising amount of fluency on the twisty stuff.
It’s not brimming with communication, but the steering’s accurate and the Insignia GSi proves really quite satisfying to string through a succession of sweeping bends. With the adaptive dampers in their firmer setting, the big body’s pretty tightly controlled, and you can feel the 4WD system keeping the rear in check.
Of course it’s a large and heavy car, so don’t go expecting the last degree in agility. Nor should you expect spectacular performance from the engine – it’s swift rather than fast, with 0-62 taking 7.0 seconds.
It does a good job at wafting, though – stick the car into its Tour mode and the nine-speed auto becomes reassuringly slushy while the suspension does a reasonable job at cancelling out road imperfections, despite the best efforts of the 20-inch wheels. At 70mph the engine’s barely ticking over, which makes for great refinement and maximises fuel economy. At 35.3mpg combined you’ll still be visiting the pumps fairly regularly, though – and on our mixed test route we saw an indicated 29mpg.
What’s it like inside?
The interior will be fondly received by anybody who dislikes the move towards button-free interiors. Though the Insignia has a standard touchscreen infotainment system, it’s small for 2021 at just 8.0 inches.
More importantly, you get a proper climate control panel, hot keys below the infotainment and a button-laden steering wheel, all of which major on clarity and simplicity. The infotainment too is a simple affair, and easy to get to grips with, while the dials are a particularly legible mixture of physical and digital.
The seats, meanwhile, are excellent – all Insignias have comfortable seats but the GSi ups this with multi-functional sports units which feature heating, cooling, adjustable bolsters and an adjustable squab for long-legged drivers.
Space, too, is a major plus. This 6ft 2in tester could sit comfortably behind himself, even with those bulky sports seats, and rear passengers are even treated to seat heaters and a pair of USB ports. Despite the sloping roofline, headroom’s good too, while the hatchback rear hides 490 litres of boot space – not a patch on a Skoda Superb, granted, but nothing is.
In fact the only real criticism of the Insignia’s interior is the colour palette, which is unrelentingly black and makes things a little dreary despite some chrome highlights.
Despite its many qualities, there are also reasons not to buy the new Insignia GSi. It’s too thirsty, too dour and too expensive. For similar cash you could have the gorgeous Peugeot 508 GT, or the definitive Q-car, the Skoda Superb 280. More worryingly, a few quid extra grabs you a BMW 330i xDrive, making the Insignia a really hard sell.
Lower down the range seems to make a lot more sense – the circa £30k SRi VX Line Nav with the 197bhp engine comes with a 30bhp power deficit but is only 0.2 seconds slower to 62mph, and still has tons of equipment and loads of space inside.
Value of the range-topper aside, the facelifted Insignia remains – as it was before the update – perfectly decent, yet much less desirable than its abilities warrant. For those handed it as a company car it’ll be a comfortable and relaxing way to ply the country’s motorways, and for private buyers looking for a family car it’s terrific value for the space and equipment you have.
It’s also a high on which to say farewell to GM-era Vauxhall, before the whole model line-up is eaten by the behemoth that is Stellantis. So long, GM. We’ll remember the good times (but we won’t forgive you for the Frontera).
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