► Early review of new Vauxhall Insignia
► Marks start of new design language
► Features latest Epsilon 2 architecture
The new 2017 Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport is an important car for GM Europe. The large family car, or D segment, might’ve shrunk but it’s now stabilised, the company claims. The Mondeo men who’ve deserted to SUVs have largely done so - and there’s space for a large, comfortable, desirable flagship. That’s the idea, at least.
So can Vauxhall possibly pull it off? Build a larger, Skoda Superb-challenging space-mobile, dripping in style? Make a large five-door attractive enough, and sharp enough to drive, to draw you towards the Griffin and not a smart German badge?
Our early prototype review aims to find out. No word yet on prices, but they'll be slap bang in Mondeo/Passat territory, we're told.
On test: a new 2017 Insignia Grand Sport late-stage validation prototype
We gather in Millbrook, the UK test facility formerly owned by Opel and Vauxhall. We get a chance to drive two five-door hatchbacks (the four-door saloon is no more; the Sport Tourer estate follows soon after the hatchback in summer 2017). Both are underpinned by Epsilon 2, the new architecture that also underpins the US-market Buick Lacrosse.
It's so big it warrants a new name: Insignia Grand Sport. We're not sure that's going to stick - but GM is keen to differentiate the newcomer for fleet buyers, apparently...
First up, the new likely heartland petrol model, a downsized 1.5-litre turbo. With 163bhp on tap, it’s said to have enough punch to cope with the extra size of the new Insignia; with a veiled swipe at VW Group and Ford rivals, Vauxhall has no intention of putting a 1.0-litre engine in this 4.9-metre leviathan.
A growth spurt: dimensions and sizes
The first thing that strikes you about the new model in the metal is the sheer size of the thing. It’s now a seriously big car - the passenger door is well out of reach – take note, minicab drivers. Check out the 2017 Vauxhall Insignia dimensions:
- Length: 4897mm (+55mm)
- Width: 1863mm (+7mm)
- Height: 1455mm (-29mm)
- Wheelbase: 2829mm (+92mm)
- Track: +11mm wider
- Front overhang: -30mm shorter
- Rear overhang: -7mm shorter
In short, it’s a very big car. Remarkably, almost exactly Skoda Superb sized, in fact. It’s not quite as big as the colossal Czech inside, but it’s not far off. Rear space is echoingly large and there’s noticeably more headroom than in today’s Insignia too. The boot is correspondingly enormous (though no official figures are available yet).
So the new Insignia’s a tubby bloater?
Far from it. Vauxhall has addressed the thorny issue of its predecessor’s flab and cut up to 175kg of weight from the new model. No clever-clogs aluminium or composite here - just good old-fashioned CAD work and high-strength steels deployed intelligently around the structure.
One other point worth noting in the package. You sit 30mm lower down, giving a less perched-up-high feeling. We drove old and new Insignias back-to-back and you notice this: it feels a notch more dynamic before you even set off, despite simultaneously feeling h-u-g-e.
How does the new car drive?
Set off and the Insignia Grand Sport feels quiet and refined. The new Insignia boasts double-glazing, which helps reduce road and wind noise (although these prototypes are lashed with body-deforming disguise panels and camo tape - it’s too early to judge refinement).
The new six-speed manual gearbox moves with more sophistication than the outgoing Insignia’s; although a long throw, the action is decent to use. Not that the 1.5 turbo needs a huge amount of stoking - with 184lb ft, it’s flexible enough to keep up a decent lick.
A wide range of engines will span:
- Petrol models: 138bhp-247bhp
- Diesel models: 108bhp-168bhp
Ride and handling
The pair of prototypes we’re driving today are '90% finished items,' although most of the final changes are to plastic grain in the still-disguised cabin rather than to the engineering set-up.
The good news continues: the 2017 Vauxhall Insignia rides the bumps and lumps around mid Bedfordshire’s public roads with aplomb - it’s a comfortable place to sit and, while there’s not the kind of thrill-a-minute excitement that a 3-series can still serve up, GM’s family car is a decent car to drive in boggo 1.5 trim.
Time, then, to see what the sub-VXR warmer Insignia can do…
The 247bhp 2.0 turbo AWD Insignia Grand Sport
We also get half an hour to test the most-powerful-at-launch model. With a pretty serious four-cylinder power output in place of a V6, the metrically badged 250ps model is only available with all-wheel drive (awd will also be offered elsewhere in the range in due course).
It’s pretty rapid, if uncharismatic, and leaves the 1.5 trailing in our wake when our convoy hits an open stretch. Traction is never an issue, the clever torque vectoring impressing as it keeps all the torque in hand, meting drive to individual rear wheels as it tucks the car tight into bends. We like.
Less impressive is the eight-speed automatic gearbox. With an extra pair of cogs compared with the Insignia Mk1, it offers relaxed cruising and we relished the standard-fit paddle-shifts, but in our short drive we found it holding on to gears too long in automatic mode. Hopefully the final calibration will sort this out.
More successful are the adaptive dampers, fitted to the 2.0 AWD model we tested. In Tour mode, engine, steering, transmission and dampers are set to a more relaxed gait, giving a pleasantly soft edge to proceedings; flick to Sport, and everything firms up nicely, while Normal does a good job of juggling things for you.
All-wheel-drive models get a five-link multi-link rear axle, too, and we think the new Insignia rides competitively, even on the larger 18-inch wheels of our prototypes (wheel size spans from 17-20in). There's no crashing over potholes and bumps; GM Europe comes to Britain to fine-tune its suspension, remember.
On this early evidence, we’d say the new Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport strikes out in a distinctive new direction. The space on offer is gargantuan and will be a hit with family buyers. It drives well and will keep a Passat or Mondeo honest.
The on-board tech is impressive, too: new 32-LED headlamps promise lighting brilliance, Vauxhall’s OnStar is already a proven hit, connectivity will be a priority and there are niceties such as heated windscreens, digital dials, head-up displays and chilled seats lurking under the camo.
But will the car look slick enough to tempt buyers in? That’s the acid test, and we won’t know that for sure until December 2016 when the first pictures are issued. Image and brand appeal have always been the chink in the Insignia’s armour. If they crack that, the tech - and space - on board could make a compelling alternative to the obvious choices in class.
Find out how car manufacturers disguise their prototypes in our handy explainer here