The Vauxhall Insignia continues to sell strongly: 2,719 were registered in January, a YoY rise of 22%

The Vauxhall Insignia continues to sell strongly: 2,719 were registered in January, a YoY rise of 22%

Europe's CO2-based car taxation system is causing all sorts of odd car and engine combinations. One of the more unusual matches is the large, D-segment Vauxhall Insignia and GM's little 1.4-litre petrol turbo. Does it work?

The short answer is yes but the car's powertrain is a truly curious phenomenon. I spent a week at the wheel of this big 'estate car', as the British call a wagon, and found myself enjoying the experience. The stop-start system made traffic congestion a peaceful affair and motorway cruising was (eventually) pretty painless too. But what this special low emissions ecoFLEX variant really needs is a lot more torque.

I won't berate Opel-Vauxhall for choosing to give this heavy-ish wagon too small an engine: the GM Europe divisions are only doing what is needed to keep the Insignia from becoming uncompetitive. But let's be honest, if there weren't strong annual road tax/and or company car tax penalties to the owner/driver and/or the employer supplying it, would this car really be available with what is a relatively tiny petrol engine? Of course not. And yet, the numbers do speak for themselves. The 1.4 turbo engine means CO2 emissions of 139g/km, an impressive 47.9mpg for the European Commission's 'Combined' cycle and a UK vehicle excise duty (VED) classification in band E costing GBP115 a year.

Those figures look good but here's where it gets interesting. If you opt for the admittedly pricier two-litre turbodiesel, you get 119g/km, a combined 64.2mpg, and VED band C ranking which means just GBP30.00 road tax. We all have our own biases about cars and one of mine is a liking for large sedans, hatchbacks or estates. Preferably with a large capacity engine and automatic transmission. So in some ways, the fact I enjoyed the Insignia and its six-speed manual gearbox and tiny engine as much as I did says a lot about how good a car it is.

So what's it like behind the wheel? I had last driven the Insignia shortly after it arrived on the UK market in early 2009, fresh from its global debut at the London motor show in July 2008. Back then, I was impressed by what an improvement it was over the Vectra and Signum which it replaced. In particular, the styling seemed to work, the interior was comfy and roomy and you got a lot of equipment for the money. That first car I tried had GM's two-litre petrol engine - the one with two turbochargers - and all that torque, and power too, made it a joy to drive.

Climb into the Insignia and you immediately think of other GM vehicles. You'll find the same steering wheel and column stalks in the likes of the Chevy Camaro (and the Cruze, also available in the US with this little 1.4) and the sat nav system is also familiar. But, as these are all good quality components, where's the problem with any of that?

The build quality of my press car was faultless, the tailgate was pulled shut tightly by the electronic locking device after I hit the 'close' button, wind noise from the pillars was low, the headlamps were powerful but not blinding to oncoming drivers - in the real world, these are the things that matter. And the interior of the Insignia was generally really cosy and a great place to be in a wintry England, the instruments softly lit by crimson lighting.

I do have to talk more about this car's engine, as it was the one thing I kept thinking about during all the miles I put on the test vehicle. That, and remembering what other powertrain options might have raised the Insignia into the superb category from how I ended up rating it overall: very good.

Opel/Vauxhall launched the Insignia with 1.6- and 1.8-litre four-cylinder petrol engines, a single-turbo two-litre and the aforementioned biturbo. The two-litre turbodiesel was also offered from launch with a 1.6-litre petrol turbo added in March 2009. The 1.4-litre ecoFLEX unit was new for both Vauxhall and Opel Insignias in the third quarter of 2011: it replaced the normally-aspirated 1.8.

You can also have a turbocharged 2.8-litre V6 in his car but despite it being a terrific choice, very few of these have been sold in the UK - sadly it attracts lots of tax, including the other sort that makes filling the fuel tank a wallet-lightening affair (petrol is GBP1.35 per litre as I write this). The all-wheel drive system also adds a fair bit of weight, so consumption is far, far higher than it is with the four-cylinder engines.

For me, the best powertrain for this car has got to be the just-launched 195PS version of GM's 1,956cc turbodiesel. Previously, the BiTurbo, as Opel and Vauxhall call it, delivered a healthy 190PS but the extra power and torque are most welcome. Whilst you can order the 195PS BiTurbo now, its official launch won't be until next month's Geneva motor show.

The strategy of constant tweaks to the Insignia's powertrains is surely one of the factors behind the model's ongoing success. In the UK, it continues to be the best performer in the D/E segment, way ahead of those former big-sellers, the Passat and Mondeo. According to the SMMT's registrations data, Vauxhall sold 46,324 Insignias in 2011, enough to make the car not only the country's sixth best selling vehicle, but placing it ahead of the VW Polo (45,992), and the company-car-favourite BMW 3 series (42,471). Britain also remains the largest market for the Insignia.

So what does the future hold for the big Vauxhall? The range should be receiving the mid-life makeover treatment later in 2012 - the Paris show in September seems the most logical place and time. I can already see that new frontal styling from the Ampera making an appearance which should keep the Insignia fresh until replacement around 2015. There is of course a lot of uncertainty surrounding Opel and Vauxhall's future manufacturing operations in both Germany and UK but I would expect the next model to again be built at Opel's Rüsselsheim plant.

I will be interviewing Opel and Vauxhall's president, Karl Stracke, at the Geneva show so will report back with his latest thoughts on what's ahead for the brands' bigger, pricier models. Last year, he mused publicly on a large crossover (a challenger for Volvo XC90 successor would make sense, and a US-built version of the Buick Enclave successor would be logical) and there have also been suggestions that Opel/Vauxhall could also launch a rival for the Passat-based Volkswagen CC. In that context, the Insignia, should it continue to sell strongly, could well be the key enabler for Opel/Vauxhall's aspirations to become brands that can eventually match VW's pricing and profits.

Author: Glenn Brooks