The Vauxhall Insignia is one of the biggest selling large family car on the market, with Europe-wide sales figures in 2014 hitting almost double that of the Ford Mondeo. Its popularity is predominantly thanks to fleet users, who have been big Vauxhall fans ever since the Cavalier hit showrooms 40 years ago.
The gap is even wider when purely UK sales are taken into account, too, and the likes of the Volkswagen Passat, Skoda Superb and Mazda 6 are even further behind. But is its popularity justified? We spent some time with an Insignia Tourer in fleet-friendly TechLine spec, and looked at five key areas in which any car must perform well to be a hit in this segment.
1. The smart styling
The Insignia was facelifted in 2013, and the tweaks were arguably an improvement against its predecessor. The front benefits from LED daytime running lights integrated into the headlights for a more modern appearance, while the wide grille is much neater than the first-gen model. Likewise the rear light clusters have been tidied up, with a wide chrome strip running the majority of its width (and neatly joining the reversing lights.)
The overall look is certainly handsome – if not exactly pulse-racing – but some might prefer the classier-looking Passat or the sportier-looking Mazda 6. On the 18-inch wheels of our test car it looks well proportioned in estate form, but you’re likely to see so many on the road that few people will give it a second glance.
2. The relaxing drive
It’s fair to say those looking for some driver enjoyment should probably look elsewhere: the likes of the Mondeo and the Mazda 6 feel more agile and entertaining from behind the wheel. However, those looking for a relaxed, comfortable cruiser could certainly do much worse. The ride can occasionally be fidgety at low speeds but, once on the move, it smooths out nicely. It’s quiet, comfortable and all the basic controls are adequately weighted.
Ever since its launch in 2008, the Insignia has utilised an electronic handbrake in lieu of a manual lever. We think the system needs a little work – it always sticks slightly when trying to pull away, which can be a pain at times. Overall, from behind the wheel the Insignia is capable in all areas, if not class leading in any.
3. The new diesel engine
Vauxhall has replaced the outgoing 2.0-litre turbodiesel with a heavily updated version. In fact, ‘all new’ might be closer to the mark – according to Vauxhall, it’s 95 per cent different from the previous 163hp unit. As a result, it’s more powerful, more refined and more efficient than before, and it’s able to pass the latest tough Euro 6 emissions standards.
It performs well, too. With 170hp on tap, you rarely need to stir the gear lever in a search for power. Indeed, it feels its most brisk when left in a higher ratio, thanks to the peak torque of 295lb-ft available from 1750rpm. It’s claimed to achieve a respectable 65.7mpg and 114g/km of CO2, which should help keep running costs fairly low.
Out on the road, the most appreciable difference comes in the form of the noise it makes – or rather the lack of it. Once up to a cruise, the thrum settles into the background to the point it’s hardly noticeable. There’s still a slightly gruff sound when you start it up or drive it hard, but in most cases it’s very pleasant to use.
4. The spacious interior
The update in 2013 improved the appearance of the cabin no end. Where before a confusing array of buttons was scattered across the dash, the current model has a much cleaner, more cohesive design. The large sat-nav screen is easy to read, and it’s easy to get comfortable behind the wheel. There’s plenty of space for rear seat passengers too.
The boot in the estate model totals 540 litres. Although the Skoda Superb Estate offers a more generous 633 litres, the Vauxhall’s load bay is wide, square and flat, and the low loading lip means lifting in heavier items isn’t too much of a chore. Fold the rear seats down, and there’s up to 1,530 litres – again, less than the Skoda, but still pretty roomy nonetheless. It benefits from an electrically operated tailgate which can be operated by the key if necessary – ideal if your hands are full.
5. And then there’s the price…
Compared to some of the its closest rivals, the Insignia remains something of a bargain. The model we tested is almost £3,000 cheaper than the equivalent Volkswagen Passat diesel, and around £1,000 less than a similarly-specced Ford Mondeo. When you consider that’s before the significant discounts you can find from Vauxhall dealers through our deal checker, and it isn’t hard to see why the Insignia is still such a popular car.
Without doing anything spectacularly well, the Insignia remains a strong choice in this segment, despite the newer opposition it faces. It’s comfortable, economical and a generally amicable companion all round. Some competitors are more fun to drive and others are more luxurious, but in none of these areas is the Insignia lagging behind. Factor in the financial benefits and Vauxhall’s option still makes a strong case for itself.