Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer
On sale: Now
You'll like: Space; styling; new 1.6T engine
You won't: Awkward reach into boot
General Motors' European offshoots have their problems right now – big ones, if we're honest – but they can still turn out a decent car given a sporting chance. Just look at the Insignia Sports Tourer if you want proof. Elegant and distinctive, it banishes the notion that Vauxhall estates are just workaholic boxes.
It also introduces a new engine that is being rolled out across the whole Insignia range. It's a 1.6-litre turbo that, with 178bhp and up to 197lb ft of torque, out-punches the Insignia's 1.8-litre normally-aspirated engine by 40bhp and 68lb ft, with no fuel economy or emissions penalties.
It's all about the boot
If you're considering buying an estate it will be the rear of the car you're most interested in, though, so that's where we'll start. Stylish the Sports Tourer may be, but this isn't at the expense of practicality – up to a point, anyway.
It actually has more cargo space than the slabby old Vectra estate with the rear seats upright – 540 litres, to be exact – largely because it's 78mm longer than the Insignia hatch.
The flatter roofline over the rear seats means more headroom for passengers, too. Fold the split rear seats down and maximum load capacity is nowhere near as good as the Vectra's, however, and there's a slight slope in the floor: style comes at a price, it seems.
Still, if you've a penchant for carrying poles around you'll welcome the news that the Insignia's extended boot floor is 80mm longer than the Vectra's.
There's an optional net to protect passengers from flying baggage and an organiser for the boot floor to keep everything from rolling around, while the touring pack – also optional – provides a retractable tow-hook and self-levelling rear suspension, and links your trailer to the car's stability control system to curb snaking.
SE and Elite models have an electrically-lifted tailgate with a built-in mechanism to stop them from whacking garage roofs.
The sloping tailgate curves around the sides of the car and houses all the rear lights. This has three effects. First, it's absolutely huge – like standing a few feet beneath the wing of a Boeing 747.
Second, Vauxhall has had to fit an auxiliary set of rear lights inside the boot to satisfy legal requirements. Most critically, though, the curvaceous rear end creates a really wide lip on top of the bumper that you have to reach across when loading up.
And the engine...
And so to the new engine, which raises the number available in the Insignia to six – soon to become seven with a 188bhp turbodiesel lurking in the wings. We reckon the 1.6 turbo could just convince a few low-mileage users who won't get full value out of a costlier diesel to switch back to petrol.
It's not just the torque available – 170lb ft normally and up to 197lb ft with temporary overboost for overtaking – but the fact that it's available between 2200 and 5500rpm that makes this car so driveable.
There's certainly enough kick to spin the front wheels or set the traction control light blinking if you set off with an injudicious amount of revs.
The engine's quite boomy above 3500rpm, but in reality there's no reason to stray there too often. Road noise is amplified by the estate body on grainy surfaces (though minimal elsewhere), but if you can hear any wind flutter, you're exceeding the UK speed limit.
The normal Insignia suspension has been specially tuned because the Sports Tourer has a higher roll centre that would otherwise cause it to lean more in corners. Even so, this isn't the most dynamic estate you can buy – the Mazda 6 and Ford Mondeo have it licked in that respect – but it rides Britain's bumpy lanes well, even with the lowered set-up and 17-inch wheels of the SRi, the version favoured by a third of buyers.
Add the optional Flexride system and you can play around with damper firmness and steering and throttle sensitivity to suit your mood or the road you're on.
The rest of the Sports Tourer is pretty much what you find in the Insignia hatch. Don't fancy the 1.6 turbo engine or SRi trim? Then you can have a 1.8, a 2.0-litre turbo, a 2.8 V6 turbo or a couple of 2.0-litre diesels, and there are four other trims, most of which give you the option of a sat-nav system.
Whichever you choose, it'll cost you £1225 more than the corresponding hatch, but with extra space and versatility, and arguably even sharper looks, you may consider that money well spent.
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