► Diesel-only Country Tourer tested
► Available with front- or all-wheel drive
► Packed with kit and priced from £25,635
Estate cars are the wallflowers of the showroom disco. When the bass drops and the glitterball pops, it’s the sexy SUVs that are out shaking their moneymakers, leaving the estates to stare forlornly at their sensible shoes before heading off alone into the cold dark night.
With every type of driver demanding every type of SUV, it’s easy to forget just how poorly many of these bloated high-rise family cars stack up against a well thought out and engagingly styled estate car. Handy then, that we have the keys to Vauxhall’s stylish new Insignia Country Tourer.
Country Tourer? That’s a frumpy name for a cool looking estate...
Yes indeed. The Insignia is a handsome bit of design, and the Tourer even more so with its extended roofline, even if that chrome strip is a bit divisive. Sleek, too with a drag coefficient of just Cd 0.26. The Country’s modest off-road addenda does little to detract from the car’s rakish looks.
It’s easily singled out from its Tourer siblings – there’s no missing its black-clad wheelarches and sills, unique 18-inch alloys, the alloy-finish roof-rails, and the silvered front and rear skid plates. It’s a subtle bit of home-counties huntin-fishin-shootin camouflage, as is the almost imperceptible 25mm increase in ride height. It all gels rather well, and to these eyes, the Country is a fine looking thing indeed.
It shares its cabin with the Tourer – no bad thing given its low-slung driving position, intelligently configured centre console, excellent levels of visibility and echo-inducing levels of rear accommodation. With a 92mm increase in wheelbase over its predecessor, this new Country offers rear passengers almost embarrassingly decadent levels of lounging space. Six-footers can sit behind themselves without complaint. Flip forward the 40/20/40 flat-folding rear seats and the load capacity increases from to 560 to a coffin-swallowing 1655 litres.
Are there lots of goodies to keep everyone entertained?
You betcha. In keeping with the simple engine/transmission line-up, there’s just one trim level, which dealers will no doubt unofficially call The Kitchen Sink. Vauxhall has thrown a huge amount of safety, convenience and connectivity features at the Country. Here’s a quick run down of the key standard equipment:
- FlexRide with active dampers and three drive modes
- Dual-zone electronic climate control
- 8-inch colour touchscreen with Navi 900 IntelliLink
- Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
- Vauxhall OnStar personal on-d assistant with Wi-Fi hotspot
- Adaptive Cruise Control
- Lane Keep Assist with Lane Departure Warning
- Rear Cross Traffic Alert
- Forward Collision Alert
- Advanced Park Assist
- Keyless Open and Start including foot-actuated tailgate opening
That’s an impressive list of standard gear – spec the Passat Alltrack, Audi A4 Allroad and Octavia Scout competition to similar levels and the Vauxhall’s price will look Sunday morning car boot sale low. Optional extras are just as tasty, headlined by the IntelliLux LED Matrix headlamps, full-length glass sunroof and a window wobbling Bose sound system.
Tell me about this OnStar system – it sounds like a shonky BBC talent competition.
Tsk. Think of OnStar as Vauxhall’s onboard concierge service – as well as finding you a parking pace and sending the location details to your satnav, it will also allow you to book hotel rooms. Handy.
It also acts a powerful 4G LTE hotspot for up to seven online devices (which we’ve tested here). Oh, and if you have a prang or some lowlife nicks your Country, OnStar will automatically summon assistance (which we’ve also tested here).
Let’s run through the powertrain and drivetrain options…
At the moment there’s just one engine to choose from - Vauxhall’s familiar 1956cc four-pot diesel. The variable-geometry turbo unit develops 168bhp at 3750rpm and a usefully chunky 295lb ft of twist action available between 1,750 and 2000rpm. The front-wheel drivers get the choice of six-speed manual or eight-cog automatic gearboxes, while all-wheel variants are currently only available with six-speed manual transmission.
If you want the combination of automatic transmission and all-wheel drive, you’ll need to wait until very early next year when the flagship 2.0-litre 207bhp twin-turbo diesel model bustles in to the showroom.
The all-wheel drive hardware is a tailored version of GKN’s Twinster setup that underpins the Range Rover Evoque and the Ford Focus RS. It’s an intelligent system that employs sophisticated torque vectoring that responds to changes in throttle position, steering angle and road surface. This works in tandem with a rear twin-clutch module – there’s no conventional rear differential – allowing torque to be independently applied to one or both the rear wheels. During cornering higher torque is sent to the outside rear wheel, inducing rotation around the vertical axis to reduce yaw. Clever.
So, it looks good, there’s plenty of room on board and it has lots of fancy kit – but what’s it like to drive?
Surprisingly good. We went out first in the manual all-wheel drive variant. The 2.0-litre engine is well suited to the Country’s relaxed and laidback approach to covering ground. Its smooth and refined, blurring into a background thrum at speed and only becoming anything near vocal when closing in on 4000rpm.
With 168bhp developed at 3750rpm and a chunky 295lb ft of twist action available between 1750 and 2000rpm the variable-geometry turbo diesel unit hauls along the 1633kg Country with effortless ease. Throttle response is pleasingly crisp, there’s plenty of overtaking punch and it’s flexible enough to pull cleanly and strongly from barely above idle. The six-speed manual box won’t have Mazda engineers weeping in to their miso soup, but the man-sixed gear lever slots cleanly and neatly through its gate, and the clutch has plenty of bite.
That all-wheel system works a treat. In almost all driving conditions you’re barely aware of it shuffling and distributing torque between the driveshafts – the Country simply goes where it’s pointed with sharp turn-in and good body control. There’s little in the way of tyre scrabble, understeer or general unruliness, so much so that you can punt the big 5004mm-long Vauxhall along at a rate that would impress your mates, if not the rozzers. The steering is hardly chatty, but it’s well weighted and consistent, and the turning circle is tight enough to manoeuvre the big Vauxhall around car parks with confidence.
That dynamic composure, when combined with the increase in ride height, means impressive levels of traction and ground clearance whether tackling a craggy unsurfaced mountain track or an unfamiliar and rain-sodden unlit road. It’s a thoroughly capable and relaxed ground-coverer.
A pity then, that compared to the front-drive variant, combined economy drops from 51.4mpg to 43.5mpg and CO2 rockets from 145g/km (£200 for first year VED fees) to 172g/km (a hefty £800 for VED… ouch).
And that FlexRide system – gimmick or dynamic ally?
Unlike many ‘driving mode’ systems most manufacturers often use, i.e.: ones that vaguely tweak the throttle response and steering weighting, FlexRide is the real deal. In Touring mode, the ride is as compliant and absorbent as you could wish for, the steering is light and direct, gearshifts in the auto models are more slurred than Jean-Claude Juncker after a long dinner, and the throttle is pretty laid back in responding to your inputs. Perfect for just wafting along, but with notable body roll through corners.
Step up to Standard mode and things firm up all round, while Sport mode takes another step up the dynamic ladder – almost a step too far because the ride becomes very firm indeed. Fortunately, you can personalise the settings, so you can tailor the steering weight, damper firmness and throttle response just the way you want.
What about the automatic version? Let me guess… sloppy and lethargic?
Not at all. If anything the two-pedal option is the better partner for the engine. Unobtrusive and smooth, it slips intelligently through its ratios when left in D, and responds quickly and cleanly when nudging the gearlever back and forth for manual shifts.
Interestingly, both manual and auto boxes have the same top gear ratio, which means the slusher has two extra ratios in hand to plug the inter-gear gaps and keep the engine spinning in its sweet spot between 2000 and 2500rpm. As a result it feels brisker and more biddable than the manual. The front-wheel drive version is also shown up on the dynamic front – compared to the all-paw model, understeer sets in much earlier and is more pronounced, and hard in-gear acceleration unsettles the front wheels and leaves the steering wheel writhing around as it tries disguise their twisty torture.
So, is the Country worth its £1355 premium over the standard Tourer? Absolutely. We liked the previous Country a great deal, even going so far as to call it the star of Vauxhall’s line-up. And we’re saying the same thing this time round. Handsome, engaging to drive, versatile and accommodating – the Country ticks a lot of important boxes. What a pity, then, that so few drivers will be let in on the secret. Vauxhall expects to shift just 500 Country Tourers over the next 12 months. So if you want to buck the SUV trend for all the right reasons, there’s no better place to start than a Vauxhall showroom.