Cards straight out on the table: the new Vauxhall Insignia Country Tourer might just be the best car Vauxhall makes.
Given it’s essentially a jacked-up wagon that can off-road without push coming to shove, that might come as a surprise – it did to us too. But the improvements Vauxhall’s made in facelifting the Insignia – and the way it all gels in the Audi Allroad-rivalling package – make the Country Tourer something of an unlikely hero among the largely vanilla Vauxhall range.
But it just looks like an Insignia Tourer with plastic wheelarches!
Is that such a bad thing? Vauxhall has been making a concerted effort to make its cars more ‘premium’ (whatever that means these days), and in the main, it’s not really been successful, when you compare them to the class best. But the sharper Insignia, with its angular new grilles and lights and handsome profile, wears its suit rather well.
Inject another 20mm of ride height, some blistered wheelarch armour, and chunkier 18in wheels and the Country Tourer starts to look, well, expensive. At £26,499 for this well-equipped 2.0-litre, 163bhp diesel model, it looks like a lot of car for the money. A similar Audi A4 Allroad would set you back £5000 more. Volvo’s old-but-talented XC70 has considerably more powerful engines, but it’s much pricier for it, kicking off at over £34,000.
But the Vauxhall’s still got that terrible button-peppered cabin, hasn’t it?
Not any more. Facelifted Insignias at last ditch the ugly, unintuitive button layout of recent Vauxhalls, swapping in a simplified climate control interface, and an 8in touchscreen. Don’t like prodding the display? You can also control the infotainment centre via a touchpad on the centre console.
Its sensitivity takes some getting used to (as does the alarmingly strong haptic feedback which sounds like muffled machine-gun fire), but give it some patience and it’s actually fairly usable. Much like the mouse-operated Lexus interface, in fact, which really isn’t as foul as some technophobes might have you believe.
What else is new inside?
A brilliant instrument display. It’s a crystal-clear screen that sits inbetween the physical rev counter and fuel gauge, and can switch between showing an analogue speedometer with inset navigation, audio playback or trip computer for instance. Or, the speedo can retreat to a smaller digital readout, leaving more space for the other functions. It’s all controlled via a re-thought button layout on the steering wheel, and it’s top-notch. Intuitive, clearly laid out, and expensive-looking. There are no gimmicky animations, just clear concise, attractive information. Well done Vauxhall.
So far so good. What about the powertrain?
You can choose from two four-cylinder turbodiesel engines and either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic gearbox. The brawny 192bhp ‘BiTurbo’ engine is only available as an auto, matched to all-wheel drive. We’re testing the other option: a 163bhp, single-turbo diesel good for 258lb ft from just 1750rpm, allied to a manual gearbox. Vauxhall claims that, in this all-wheel drive guise, it’ll return up to 50.4mpg, and bring up 62mph in 10.9sec.
It’s certainly better soundproofed than other Vauxhalls of late (including the Astra BiTurbo), but it does feel breathless: this is a near-1800kg car, and the ‘premium’ mask does slip a little when you’re being outpaced by three-cylinder city cars. Mind you, our test car averaged an honourable 41.9mpg, pointing to a mammoth 680-mile range.
All-wheel drive sounds like overkill, though…
Vauxhall argues that Britain’s recent winter weather justifies part-time all-wheel drive. Point taken – but what about the rest of the year, when you’re lugging around an extra 230kg versus a standard Insignia wagon?
Normally, the Country Tourer splits drive 95:5 between the front and rear wheels, which is enough to give strong traction and big grip in the bends. Opt for Sport mode (if you can reach the faraway dash-top button) and that tips to 70:30 front-to-rear, and adds more springiness to the steering. Good job that button’s out of reach then – it’s largely pointless. A ‘Tour’ mode relaxes the car to the point it feels narcoleptic, so isn’t worth playing with either.
Of more interest is the electronic rear differential. Vauxhall claims it sends power to the rear wheel with the most grip whether you’re on a slippery road or off the beaten track. Amusing though it sounds, being able to switch 95% of torque to the rear axle, this ain’t no drift-mobile – it’s just a comfortable family holdall with a lot more grip than its engine can trouble.
‘Sharp’ or ‘imperious’ are single words you might choose to describe the driving experience of certain cars. ‘Squidgy’ is the Country Tourer’s synonym. It’s no entertainer – the springy steering, wallowy gearchange and compliant ride are far too remote for those sorts of fun and games, but you won’t find us taking a Passat Alltrack or Audi A4 Allroad to a track day either. The Country Tourer is instead quiet, dignified, and jammed with kit.
Lots of toys?
More than Argos at Christmas. This ‘Nav’ trimline model comes with sat-nav (no surprise), DAB radio, front and rear parking sensors, heated front seats and s heated steering wheel, electric windows, part-electric seats, six airbags, heated door mirrors, privacy glass… you’d struggle to want for more.
It’s practical too: the cabin is a spacious and the boot holds up to 1530 litres, though the loading lip is so enormous it’ll look like you’ve backed a speedboat into B&Q’s car park. An automatic open/close tailgate is thrown in too, but it does like….to take… its…time.
Whisper it, save word might get out, but the Country Tourer isn’t just the best Insignia – it really might be the most desirable, most rounded car Vauxhall makes. And the best news is – this is a mid-life facelift, with new styling and rationalised interior crowbarred in halfway through a car’s lifecycle. It bodes well for the next generation of all-new Vauxhalls which get this treatment from day one.