Can the range-top­ping new In­signia de­liver on the prom­ise of its sleek looks?

Evo - - CONTENTS - David Vi­vian (@david­j­vi­vian)

JJAMES BOND DRIVES AN As­ton Martin, Tony ‘Iron Man’ Stark drives an Audi R8, David Brent drives a Vaux­hall In­signia. Life’s cruel. It’s fair to say Vaux­hall’s stal­wart fam­ily hatch­back/rep­mo­bile has al­ways strug­gled to slip the surly bonds of mun­dane­ness and touch the face of good. But, for a few years af­ter its 2008 launch, that didn’t mat­ter. The In­signia was a par­tic­u­larly com­fort­able mar­ket fit – a sprawl­ing model-range that un­der­stood ev­ery an­gle of av­er­age, cater­ing for fleet and com­pany car au­di­ences that cared more about putting miles un­der wheels as pain­lessly as pos­si­ble than dy­namic flair, classy fit­tings, cut­ting-edge tech or straight­for­ward, must-have de­sir­abil­ity. Things were sim­pler then.

But now ‘pre­mium’ is the new main­stream. Vaux­hall’s an­swer is the new, larger, sleeker, classier, kit-dense and cheek­ily named In­signia Grand Sport. The £27,710 2-litre, 257bhp Elite Nav 4x4, which comes with an eight­speed auto and full-time four-wheel drive, tops out the range. Well, it’s as Grand Sporty as it gets for now.

The In­signia Grand Sport is longer, wider and sleeker than the car it re­places but weighs up to 175kg less model-for-model, 60kg of which is down to the body alone. Im­pres­sive, too, is the slip­pery 0.26 drag fac­tor, won partly by the coupe-like pro­file. Boot vol­ume has suf­fered a bit, but there’s bags of in­te­rior space with Skoda Su­perb-ri­valling rear legroom.

Aes­thetic ap­peal, if not po­ten­tial ride qual­ity, is cer­tainly en­hanced by the stan­dard 20in al­loys, but then the deal with this flag­ship model seems to be to leave no box unticked this side of the kitchen sink – not ex­actly an orig­i­nal tac­tic in the bid to blur the al­lure of more sparsely equipped Mercs, BMWS and Audis, but you can’t blame Vaux­hall for go­ing for broke this time, or for the ap­peal­ingly techy bias. As well as an 8in touch­screen, there’s a head-up dis­play, Ap­ple Carplay, adap­tive cruise, on-board Wi-fi, 32-el­e­ment ‘In­tellilux’ LED head­lights, in­tel­li­gent sat­nav, dual-zone cli­mate con­trol and a pow­er­ful Bose hi-fi.

For the most part, the Grand Sport is a pleas­ant steer. Sporty in a grand way? Not even in a mi­nor way. This isn’t to say it doesn’t cover the ground swiftly. You might even call it ef­fort­less. En­gine and trans­mis­sion work to­gether seam­lessly with com­mend­able hush and an al­waysad­e­quate amount of rush fol­low­ing the mer­est hint of turbo-lag. Noth­ing to get the pulse rac­ing, though.

Cer­tainly not enough to over­work the well-shod all-drive chas­sis, which ma­jors on grip and sta­bil­ity rather than fi­nesse and in­volve­ment. The com­pact four-wheel-drive sys­tem in­cor­po­rates a novel method of torque vec­tor­ing (speed­ing up the out­side wheel rather than brak­ing the in­ner one to quell un­der­steer). If the elec­tric steer­ing isn’t overly light, nei­ther is it over-en­dowed with feel, though it is quite di­rect and the nose turns in keenly with­out the torque vec­tor­ing be­ing in any way ob­vi­ous.

Ba­sic body con­trol is pretty good with the adap­tive sus­pen­sion in Nor­mal but the ride be­comes fid­gety over bro­ken sur­faces, more so if you switch to Sport, though this is def­i­nitely the pre­ferred set­ting for smooth roads if you want to press on. And there can be no doubt­ing the bee­fi­ness of a 2-litre turbo four with 257bhp and 295lb ft of torque. Vaux­hall claims 0-62mph in 6.9sec and a top speed lim­ited to 155mph.

Seats, driv­ing po­si­tion, vis­i­bil­ity, con­trol lay­out and over­all build and fin­ish are re­ally good, just lack­ing that touch of class that sep­a­rates the true pre­mium prod­ucts from the wannabes. If space, com­fort, re­fine­ment and kit mean more to you than pow­er­train per­son­al­ity and dy­namic acu­ity, there’s a lot to like. But if you want gen­uine en­gage­ment you don’t even have to look as far as the usual Ger­man sus­pects. A Mazda 6 will give you that. The new In­signia gives you more than ever be­fore, but it’s caught be­tween just as many stools.

‘The all-drive chas­sis ma­jors on grip and sta­bil­ity rather than fi­nesse’

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