UK Drive: Vauxhall’s Insignia Sports Tourer is a comfortable estate car option

What is it?

Once upon a time, the Insignia (or its older predecessor) would’ve been Vauxhall’s biggest seller. In the age of downsizing and the move to SUVs and crossovers though, the humble mid-priced large saloon and estate segment to which the Insignia belongs is shrinking dramatically.

Sharp lines help to disguise the car's size
(Vauxhall)

Vauxhall reckons the Insignia still has its place, though: even offering warmed-up versions like this near-200bhp turbocharged 1.6 petrol. Is it enough to persuade SUV and crossover buyers back into a traditional family car though? We’re here to find out.

What’s new?

Arriving back in 2017, this generation of Insignia is still quite a new car to Vauxhall’s range, and as such it’s awaiting its first proper facelift. Last year Vauxhall sprinkled on a dash of new technology, though: an updated infotainment system being the main thing to shout about.

LED daytime running lights give a distinctive look
(Vauxhall)

Our car’s engine is new too – or at least, this version of it is, having been updated to comply with the latest emission standards.

Based on the recently announced Astra facelift, we expect the Insignia too will receive updated engine choices borrowed from Vauxhall’s new owners, Peugeot-Citroen, in the not too distant future.

What’s under the bonnet?

In this particular Insignia, it’s a 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol engine with 197bhp and 280Nm of torque, coupled to a familiar Vauxhall six-speed manual gearbox. This 1.6 is new to the Insignia, though once upon a time an older version was available in the Astra, and the now discontinued Zafira and Cascada.

The Insignia is a popular entry in Vauxhall's line-up
(Vauxhall)

Installed in a car the size of the Insignia it makes for warm, rather than hot performance, but that suits the Vauxhall’s relaxed and comfortable nature well. Power delivery seems to be tuned with that in mind too: there’s a pleasing initial wave of torque as the turbo kicks in, but generally it’s a linear affair that gives the Insignia some much needed overtaking power across the rev range.

Aurally it’s not the most engaging four-cylinder in existence – Focus ST this is not – but it does at least keep itself quiet at motorway speeds. Naturally it’s the thirstiest engine in the range, too, but at 37.7mpg combined it’s no worse than similarly powerful rivals.

What’s it like to drive?

Lively though the engine might be, the rest of the Insignia hasn’t quite caught up. As cars of this size go it’s actually more engaging than it could be, but in corners it’s not as crisp as a Mazda 6 or (the smaller and more expensive) BMW 3 Series.

What the Insignia does well is comfort: floating over bumps and crests without disturbing its occupants. Our particular car’s 20-inch wheels do come at the detriment of outright smoothness, but it’s still not unbearable. Road noise, on the other hand, is far more intrusive than it should be on a car designed for motorway wafting.

The manual gearbox isn’t much to write home about either: it’s not horrible to use, but to quote decluttering queen Marie Kondo, it doesn’t spark joy either. Vauxhall’s insistence on using a gigantic and oddly-shaped gear knob doesn’t help matters, of course.

How does it look?

We’d argue that the Insignia, and particularly this ‘Sports Tourer’ estate version, is one of the better looking cars in the segment – especially when combined with our car’s 20-inch alloys. Even in fleet-sales-special silver it’s got some visual presence, with flourishes like the chrome strip that starts at the A pillar and finishes within the rear light cluster a nice touch.

Its shape is quite nicely balanced too, with a much sleeker design than that of some of its slightly frumpier rivals like the current Ford Mondeo.

It can’t hope to match bolder designs like that of Peugeot 508 though, and Vauxhall’s rather uninspiring corporate front end is now in need of a freshen-up.

What’s it like inside?

Inside the Insignia isn’t so positive. Cabin layout is fine – you’re cocooned into place thanks to a relatively high transmission tunnel, and controls are all within easy reach – but use of some more interesting design wouldn’t go amiss.

Where a Peugeot 508 offers up a range of tactile materials for doors, buttons and switches, the Insignia makes do with a sea of flat black plastic. It feels well put together, of course, but a little bit of visual flair would give a much more premium feel.

The interior is finished to a high standard
(Vauxhall)

Vauxhall’s new infotainment system is a similar story: there’s none of the extra visual flourishes as you’d find in one of Peugeot’s neatly-designed systems, but it is at least simple use.

Whether you pick the Sports Tourer or Grand Sport (Vauxhall-speak for ‘hatchback’), there’s buckets of room inside, both for passengers and luggage. This generation of Insignia – designed when General Motors still owned Vauxhall – is also sold in America with a Buick badge on the grille, and that factor has almost certainly had an effect on its capacious dimensions.

What’s the spec like?

Being a volume manufacturer rather than a premium one, Vauxhall isn’t usually shy with its standard equipment. The Insignia is no different: all trim levels get a touch screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, lane departure warning, forward collision alert with pedestrian detection, basic cruise control, automatic headlights and so on.

The Insignia's boot is large enough for all occasions
(Vauxhall)

Our ‘Elite’ trim car gets the larger, 8-inch touch screen with sat nav, full-LED headlights and tail lights, two-zone climate control, heated front seats, leather all round and – on the most powerful engines – 20-inch alloys. That still leaves plenty to tick on the options list, but for a hair under £30,000 it’s not unreasonably specified.

The main controls are clear and easy to use
(Vauxhall)

If you do start adding extras, you’ll find that they’re reasonably priced too: £700 extra for a Bose speaker system isn’t extortionate, and neither is £570 for adaptive cruise control.

Verdict

The Insignia might not be a big seller these days, but it’s still got plenty to bring to the table. There’s no one area in which the Insignia beats its rivals: the Peugeot 508 has a more luxurious interior, the Mazda 6 and Ford Mondeo are sharper to drive, and the Skoda Octavia has similar space for less money.

It’s a pleasant enough all-rounder though, and an easy car to rack up the miles in. You’ll need to think carefully about whether this 197bhp 1.6-litre turbo is worth the price though – particularly when an Octavia vRS offers more power for similar money, and is more exciting to drive.

  • Model: Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer
  • Price: £29,915
  • Engine: 1.6-litre petrol
  • Power: 197bhp
  • Torque: 235Nm
  • Max speed: 144mph
  • 0-60mph: 7.4 seconds
  • MPG: 37.7mpg (combined)
  • Emissions (g/km): 151
  • Rivals: Ford Mondeo, Peugeot 508, Skoda Octavia
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