Vauxhall Insignia VXR (2009) UK review

Published:31 July 2009

Vauxhall Insignia VXR
  • At a glance
  • 4 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5
  • 5 out of 5
  • 4 out of 5
  • 3 out of 5

By Chris Chilton

Contributing editor, ace driver, wit supplier, mischief maker

By Chris Chilton

Contributing editor, ace driver, wit supplier, mischief maker

What’s this, has the VXR brand gone all sensible?

Depends on how sensible you class a 321bhp family saloon that hits 60mph in 5.6sec and could top 170mph were it not for the killjoy limiter. But yes, the hottest Insignia is certainly more visually restrained than the usual VXR offerings and signals Vauxhall’s desire to make this particular VXR appeal to the sort of buyer thinking of snapping up an Audi S4 or hot 3-series.

What’s the point in the VXR? Hasn’t the VXR8 got the sports saloon thing covered?

The VXR8 is an oddity, a halo car designed to get people talking about the brand. With Corvette power and rear-drive it’s quick and uncouth, and at £34k it’s competitively priced, but it’s hideously uneconomical and the roomy cabin is far too downmarket to pinch buyers from Audi and BMW.

And you think the Insignia has a chance of doing that?

Well it’s at least as handsome as the Audi, borrowing heavily from the 2007 Opel GTC coupe concept, and the cabin isn’t a million miles away from the Audi in either look or feel.

The fake-metal embellished steering wheel looks like it was designed for Liberace’s Rolls-Royce but the excellent standard Recaro seats are more RS4 than S4 and come half swathed in cow as standard.

And it’s quick – 0-60mph in 5.6sec, you say?

That’s what it says in the press pack, but it certainly doesn’t feel near-supercar quick from behind the wheel. There’s no huge step in performance, but beyond 4000rpm the blown V6 begins to get into its stride. But the disappointingly muted soundtrack means it never seems that fast.

Remember that Vauxhall quotes 0-60mph where the Germans quote 0-62mph. You might not think there’d be much of a difference but Opel says 6.0sec from 0-62mph for the mechanically identical Insignia OPC, making it nearly a second slower than the Audi S4.

Even so, presumably the front tyres turn to jelly every time you go near the accelerator with 321bhp to deal with?

Actually the VXR is four-wheel drive so it handles its 321bhp incredibly well. There’s no wheelspin and no wheel fight when you plant the throttle coming out of a bend and so much grip from the Pirelli P Zeros that you’ll struggle to find their limits on a dry road without looking like you’ve teleported from the Targa Tasmania road race.

When you do find the limit it’s at the front, the Insignia behaving like a safe, well-set up front-driver. There’s no shame in that though – Audi’s S4 is hardly a drift champion and it’s still fun to drive.

>> Click 'Next' to read the rest of our Vauxhall Insignia VXR (2009) CAR review

   

What about those huge rims? Must ride like the tyres are made of marble…

No, the VXR’s most astonishing characteristic is the incredible ride comfort, even on the optional 20-inch rims. Three buttons on the dash let you flick between settings for the adaptive dampers. The top ‘VXR’ setting gives rock solid body control, an appealingly sharper throttle response and even turns the glow of the instruments from white to red, but comfort suffers. The middle ‘Sport’ setting is a better compromise although you’ll probably find yourself perfectly happy to glide along in comfort mode.

Sounds like a good package, and worth a punt at £28k?

It probably is, except that it actually costs £31k (£32,320 for the wagon). At that price it still comfortably undercuts its BMW and Audi opposition and comes well equipped, although the tasty 20-inch alloys are an £1100 option. But the price gap isn’t huge and is eroded by the VXR’s less than impressive economy and emissions figures (25mpg and 268g/km).

Balancing price versus emissions, there’s not that much between the VXR, S4 and 335i when it comes to company car tax since the Vauxhall is 5mpg thirstier. But compare it with the BMW 330i with which it more accurately competes on price and on-paper performance and it looks well off the pace. The BMW isn’t as torquey but has a much sweeter engine, hits 62mph in a similar 6.1sec yet manages 39mpg and emits 173g/km, potentially saving you £2500 per year.

Verdict

The hottest Insignia is a very different VXR, but it’s a great effort and stands a much better chance of stealing sales from the premium German opposition than does the fun but ecologically disastrous VXR8. It’s handsome, keenly priced, rides like a limo and is deceptively rapid. But there’s something missing.

Even discounting the inferior fuel consumption and emissions figures – hard to do on a car so obviously geared to company drivers – you’re still left wanting a bit more sonic enjoyment and better steering. There’s no dual-clutch or auto option either. With a little tweaking though, the VXR could yet be a really great sports saloon.

Specs

Price when new: £30,995
On sale in the UK: Now
Engine: 2792cc 24v V6, 321bhp @ 5250rpm, 321lb ft @ 5250rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual, four-wheel drive
Performance: 5.6sec 0-60mph, 155mph, 25mpg, 268g/km CO2
Weight / material: 1825kg/steel
Dimensions (length/width/height in mm): 4830/1856/1498

Rivals

Other Models

Photo Gallery

  • Vauxhall Insignia VXR
  • Vauxhall Insignia VXR
  • Vauxhall Insignia VXR
  • Vauxhall Insignia VXR
  • Vauxhall Insignia VXR

By Chris Chilton

Contributing editor, ace driver, wit supplier, mischief maker

Comments