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.