Com­modore from an Opel

Holden has been hid­ing its In­signia un­der a bushel, re­ports NICK DAL­TON


THE prob­lem is the high per­for­mance V6 turbo GT sedan is over­shad­owed by the brand’s ex­cel­lent range of V8 Com­modores, specif­i­cally the SS and SS Red­line.

Its price tag of $57K is slap bang in V8 ter­ri­tory too.

So peo­ple are over­look­ing this all-wheel-drive “Opel” while the Com­modore still oc­cu­pies Holden show­room space.

But that will soon change when the Com­modore dis­ap­pears next year, al­low­ing the In­signia VXR to shine.

So far this year 117 have been sold, a vast im­prove­ment of 148 for all of last year. There were 31 sales last month. There has been one buyer in Cairns, so rar­ity is a forte.

DE­TAIL­ING When the Holden fac­tory shuts in 2017, the next gen­er­a­tion of the Euro­pean-made Opel In­signia is odds-on to be the next car to wear the Com­modore badge.

The VXR ver­sion will fill the very large wheels of the SS in the line-up. It’s a dif­fer­ent beast en­tirely – all-wheel-drive in­stead of rear-drive, six cylin­ders in­stead of eight and tur­bocharg­ing in place of good old cu­bic ca­pac­ity.

The In­signia re­tains a like­ness to the Com­modore but is shorter and nar­rower. Rear shoul­der and legroom aren’t as good as the homegrown Holden.

But the cabin pre­sen­ta­tion is a step up on the lo­cal hero, with two big dig­i­tal screens – one in the dash and one in front of the driver – to dis­play a wealth of in­for­ma­tion.

The sat­nav can be brought up in front of the driver, there’s a big dig­i­tal speedo and, if you’re brave enough, you can even look at how many Gs you’re pulling through cor­ners.

I loved the mix­ture of com­puter-gen­er­ated di­als with the rev counter and fuel and tem­per­a­ture gauges be­ing “nor­mal” analogs.

The Re­caro leather seats feel snug and sup­port­ive with white stitch­ing on the cush­ion, while the leather steer­ing wheel feels sporty as well as lux­u­ri­ous.

On the down­side, the touch­screen is fid­dly to use and takes a while to nav­i­gate. Ad­just­ing the air­con­di­tion­ing was frus­trat­ingly slow.

The In­signia VXR is the most hi-tech car to wear the Holden badge.

It can brake au­to­mat­i­cally to avoid hit­ting the car in front, if the driver is dis­tracted, although GM won’t say what speed it can mit­i­gate a crash. Most other brands give an in­di­ca­tion of the sys­tem be­ing ef­fec­tive from 30 to 50km/h.

The same tech­nol­ogy en­ables the In­signia VXR to stop and go au­to­mat­i­cally when radar cruise con­trol is ac­ti­vated – and the “beam” isn’t bro­ken. That’s if the ve­hi­cle in front is go­ing where you want to.

A rear-mounted radar can spot cars over­tak­ing at a high speed (de­signed more for au­to­bahns than Aus­tralia’s clogged com­muter mo­tor­ways), and head­lights that fol­low the di­rec­tion of the steer­ing and au­to­mat­i­cally ad­just their in­ten­sity in wet weather.

It has just about ev­ery gad­get you’d need for nav­i­gat­ing the daily grind. There are front and rear park­ing sen­sors, re­vers­ing cam­era, au­ton­o­mous emer­gency brak­ing at lower speeds and a rear cross traf­fic alert to stop you from be­ing col­lected when you’re re­vers­ing out of a drive­way with lim­ited vi­sion.

But it’s bit cum­ber­some in tight spots, with a wide turn­ing cir­cle and lim­ited rear vi­sion.

There are three lev­els of sus­pen­sion tune for the In­signia. In nor­mal mode, it is rea­son­ably com­pli­ant over bumps and potholes, although it is a lit­tle busy, as you’d ex­pect with a sports-fo­cused model. The stiffer sport and VXR set­tings are def­i­nitely best left for smooth coun­try roads.

You won’t win any traf­fic light drag races either, as the VXR takes a while to get its 1800kg bulk mov­ing. The trans­mis­sion can also be a bit jerky on the down­shifts, es­pe­cially in sports mode. DRIV­ING Find a twist­ing bit of tar­mac and the In­signia re­ally comes into its own.

The en­gine is happy when there are some revs on board, al­low­ing you to ex­ploit the all­wheel-grip and the meaty Brembo brakes.

Hit the VXR but­ton and the gear shifts are quicker, the throt­tle more re­spon­sive and the steer­ing heav­ier

It’s still a heavy car but it feels quite ag­ile through the cor­ners and the steer­ing is nicely weighted.

On top of that, the all­wheel-drive setup ad­justs the torque at each wheel to give you max­i­mum drive out of cor­ners.

The Cook High­way road to Port Dou­glas was easy de­spite the rain and things be­came in­ter­est­ing up the tight Rex Range road to Mt Mol­loy.

It was soak­ing wet with the added threats of leaf lit­ter and mud. The In­signia was easily un­der­steer­ing in the slip­pery con­di­tions, a nor­mal trait of all­wheel-drive cars.

On my favourite piece of tar­mac, the Spring­mount Rd at Ar­riga the howl­ing V6 came into its own.

It needs to be revved though. The VXR doesn’t de­liver max­i­mum 435Nm of torque un­til 5250rpm, which means it strug­gles ini­tially to shift its weight.

So it takes a while to get mov­ing but once there it forges ahead like a ru­n­away lo­co­mo­tive. The VXR is said to be good for 274km/h. Fuel econ­omy over 350km of city, range and open roads was 13.7 litres per 100km at an av­er­age speed of 65km/h. A bit more than the of­fi­cial fig­ure of 11.3l.

DE­CID­ING I started to re­ally like the In­signia VXR. It was grow­ing on me.

Around town it tended to hold sec­ond gear too long and the shifts were not very smooth.

I loved the in­te­rior and the dash setup.

It han­dles well too and the ride, while firm, was not un­com­fort­able.

The VXR has good Euro­pean lev­els of qual­ity and re­fine­ment, pre­cise steer­ing and is much bet­ter value than some Euro­pean ri­vals.

Back seats are a bit of a squeeze and it can’t match a V8 Com­modore’s per­for­mance from a stand­ing start.

It is thirsty and heavy for its size.

Ev­ery time you got into the driver’s seat the mem­ory but­ton had to be se­lected to re­turn your pre­ferred set­ting and at a grad­ual pace too.

Holden fans will have to ad­just to a brave new world of high revs – and higher prices.

In iso­la­tion – or com­pared against more ex­pen­sive, less pow­er­ful Ger­man com­pe­ti­tion – the VXR makes sense.

Just ig­nore the Com­modore V8 SS sit­ting next door.

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