There’s a huge selection of engines, but the efficient 158bhp diesel is the pick of the range. It pulls pretty strongly from low revs, so there’s no need to rev it hard to make decent progress. By contrast, the 128bhp diesel is hampered by its tall gearing, while the 192bhp Bi-turbo model is very strong but very pricey. The 1.4 turbo is the pick of the petrols.
Dynamically, the Insignia can't cut it with rivals like the Ford Mondeo. The steering and suspension are too wishy-washy when changing direction, even with the sportier SRi suspension. The Insignia is much better on the motorway, where it feels stable and rides well, but battered city streets cause body shimmy. Four-wheel drive (ideal for towing) is available on some models, but we wouldn’t bother with the variable Flexride suspension system because it costs extra and makes little difference.
The Insignia lets in quite a bit of road noise over rough surfaces, and you can hear wind passing down its flanks on the motorway. However, it’s the diesel engines that really ruin the Insignia; they sound rough – particularly when you’re in stop-start traffic or accelerating – and transmit lots of vibration into the cabin. The six-speed manual gearbox is notchy, too.
The Ecoflex diesels have pretty low CO2 emissions, but you have to choose carefully because many versions of the Insignia are overpriced; this pushes up the amount you’ll pay in company car tax. All models suffer from heavy depreciation, too, but big discounts are available to private buyers, and you get the reassurance of a 100,000-mile warranty (limited to one owner) on the car.
Vauxhall describes the Insignia as ‘sculptural artistry meets German precision’ – a fancy way of saying that it’s stylish and well put together using quality materials. The companys’s reliability record isn’t great, though, and owners rated the Insignia merely average in the 2012 JD Power customer satisfaction survey.
Vauxhall fits six airbags and stability control, which is the minimum you expect in a family car these days; it’s disappointing that you don’t get rear side airbags or a driver’s knee ’bag. Like most key rivals, the Insignia did score five stars in Euro NCAP crash tests. Meanwhile, Thatcham awarded the Insignia five stars for resisting drive away theft and four out of five for resisting forced entry.
The Insignia's dashboard might look great, but the layout is overly complex. Some of the car's functions are controlled by scrolling through menus on a digital screen. However, the centre console is still covered with buttons, making it hard to find the one you want at a glance. There's a wide range of seat and steering wheel adjustment to help you get comfortable, but visibility is a weak spot, especially through the steeply angled rear screen.
For most people, the Insignia will make a perfectly adequate family or business car, although it isn’t as roomy as it appears from the outside. The sweeping roofline means rear headroom is tight for six-footers, and although the boot is reasonably large at 520 litres (before you put the rear seats down), it can’t carry as much as a Ford Mondeo’s.
Exclusiv cars come with front electric windows, cruise control and air-con. However, as strange as it sounds, they miss out on alloys, Bluetooth and sat-nav, even though these are standard on the cheaper Tech Line models. SRi spec adds electric rear windows, alloys and sports suspension to the equipment you get on the Exclusiv model, while VX-Line also includes a bodykit. SE cars swap the sports suspension for wood trim and auto lights, while Elite adds electric seats and parking sensors.
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Vauxhall’s 160 diesel engine strikes a good balance between performance and affordability, but the Ecoflex version makes a better company car, and we’d opt for Tech Line trim rather than Exclusiv.