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What is it?

The Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport is the replacement for Vauxhall’s player in the small family saloon game, the Insignia. Though, along with its bigger new name, this isn’t really a small saloon. It’s sized with the Mercedes E-Class and BMW 5 Series in mind, because Vauxhall sees the premium brands eating into its territory and has decided to quite literally pick on someone its own size. Which is why the Grand Sport has swelled by 55mm in overall length and a whopping 92mm in wheelbase. The Skoda Superb’s ‘hugeness’ USP has been kicked into next week. This is a massive car now.

While the Insignia Grand Sport’s segment-busting size is unconventional, the rest of this car isn’t taxing to get your head around. You can have three petrol and four diesel engines, and depending on how much you’re spending, either a six-speed manual, a six-speed auto, or eight-speed automatic gearbox. There is all-wheel drive in top-spec cars. There’s no VXR performance version, but you can get one with torque-vectoring to trim your cornering. You can have an estate, badged as a Sport Tourer, and soon there’ll be a more rufty-tufty Country Tourer version, as per the Audi Allroad series. No saloon, mind you – only a five-door hatch with saloon-like tail features.

Vauxhall admits one of the lingering criticisms of the old Insignia was pinched rear space, but because it’s under pressure from the likes of the Audi A5 Sportback and BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe, it wanted a swooping roofline for this new Insignia Grand Sport. These are not goals that sit well together. Nevertheless, Vauxhall’s had its cake and eaten it by stretching the cabin and tapering the roofline too, so although it’s not as spacious in the back as a Skoda Superb, it’s a substantial improvement on the old car and you’ll never notice the 10 litres of boot space that had to be sacrificed in the process. Plus, as we’ve said, it looks sleeker and more imposing.

Inside, the Insignia has undergone the same successful update as the latest Astra. Instead of a button for every possible function plsu several you never even needed, there’s a reasonably snappy touchscreen for navigation, radio, media and car set-up functions, a bijou climate control bank of switches, and that’s it. The instrument dials have sprouted screens to cram in more info, (even a battery voltmeter, weirdly) and you can spec a pin-sharp head-up display. Yup, it’s all an effort to come across more premium, because in 2017, Vauxhall has a tougher job fighting off Audi A4s and BMW 3 Series’ than it does tackling Ford Mondeos. Isn’t life unfair?

First off, we drove the most popular variant of Insignia Grand Sport, namely the 2.0-litre diesel sporting 178bhp and a manual gearbox. It’s not a driver’s car, or even pretending to be one, thanks to light, feel-free steering, an inert chassis and humdrum engine. However, while that sounds like no improvement from what went before, what we have got is a more pleasant cruiser. 

You’ll feel how soft the car’s ride is from the first moment it dismounts a speed bump and porpoises slightly, but the upshot is the car has a relaxed, flowing gait at higher speeds and doesn’t transmit undue shudder or vibration into the cabin. It just deals with the stuff a British road can throw at it. Potholes, ridges and expansion joints, mostly. But the fact it’s up to 175kg lighter than the old car is a boon you’re more likely to notice at fuel pumps than when confronted with a serpentine section of road.

Compared to the noisy old Insignia, the improvements in rolling refinement are really welcome. Wind and tyre noise are notable by their impressive absence, and the diesel emits a less whiney, smoother tone than before. Is it as library-like as an Audi A4? No. But the comparison invites being made in the first place, and you’d never have dreamt of holding the last ‘don’t call it a Vectra’ in that regard.

Though the Insignia’s market is heavily biased towards diesel power for its lower CO2 and tax-saving boons, Vauxhall has done well to not overlook petrol power, and must be lauhging on the other side of its face now diesel is facing an uncertain political future and hey presto, it’s got a decent petrol Insignia Grand Sport. The motor in question is a new 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo unit, available with either 138bhp or 163bhp. Again, it’s no character, but it’s relatively hushed, smooth revving, and the power delivery doesn’t suffer from the nothing-nothing-HERE’s-the-boost peaks and troughs soemtimes found with small engines in big cars. It’s simply an earnest and polite performer that’ll return around 38mpg. Likely one for the retail buyer more than the fleet market, then, but it’s a futureproof option worth considering. 

Our main gripe so far isn’t really with the drive at all. Having a nondescript drive isn’t the worst quality in a car, but a poor driving position is more annoying more of the time. Vauxhall is at pains to point out you sit lower in this car, in another subtle effort to make it feel like a premium sports saloon from the cockpit.

Thing is, the seat is rather flat, not actually that low, and it’s positioned in front of long-travel, flaccid pedals that are too high up in the footwell.

You’ll need plenty of leg extension to operate them, but that compromises your reach onto the pleasantly slim steering wheel. You become used to it, but that’s not the same as the driving position being fundamentally right from the outset. Taller drivers: try before you buy. Or invest in some cushions.

On the inside

Layout, finish and space

Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport interior

If there’s a slight anti-climax to the Insignia Grand Sport’s cabin, it’s because the simplified, higher-quality welcome is now familiar from the unrecognisably improved Astra. The approach is the same: fit higher quality soft-touch materials and more convincing metallic trim around a layout that swaps a shotgun blast of plastic toggles for a touchscreen, and rationalised controls. It’s a successful swap. How’s this for common sense – part of the touchscreen bezel works as a shelf to rest your hand on, making selection of menu items easier on the move. 

In the back, headroom is adequate, but not spectacular, but there’s legroom for adults behind adults and a generous rear door aperture. Leather is included on top-spec cars, and 79 per cent of all trim levels have sat-nav. All get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, however, no sat-nav is never more than a smartphone away. Active safety systems abound too, with all models benefitting from autonomous emergency braking, a far-too-sensitive frontal collision alert, a distance readout to the car in front and lane departure warning and steering intervention.

As a result, a five star safety rating from Euro NCAP has been secured. And yet, prices are down around £1,500 per model versus the old car. Which brings us to the nitty-gritty of ‘owning’, really…


Running costs and reliability

Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport front

Prices for the Insignia Grand Sport start at £17,115, and rise to £26,455 for the 255bhp 2.0-litre petrol with all-wheel drive. Expect to see that on ‘Depreciation’s Biggest Hitters’ any day now. However, the heartland 1.6 diesels are where the battleground really is, and on that front, Vauxhall has come out fighting, claiming ownership costs undercut an equivalent Skoda Superb by £600, and a similar VW Passat by as much as £1,296. 

Meanwhile, kit levels are obviously more generous as standard than the premium players, while optional 20-inch alloys, head-up display, electrically adjustable heated seats and auto-adaptive LED lights with a 400m-gaze mean the available toys aren’t embarrassed by BMW or Mercedes either. Important, when those brands eat more into the Insignia’s territory than the once-mighty Ford Mondeo, these days. 

So, a quick run down of the specs to watch our for. Vauxhall says the most popular Insignia Grand Sport will be the 1.6 diesel SRI Nav which starts at £21,080, but has mooted the more premium pretensions of the new car may tempt customers to opt for 2.0-litre power this time around. You can have this engine with either 109bhp or 134bhp, while the 2.0-litre gets 168bhp. Either way, you’re saddled with the old six-speed automatic (optionally) rather than the new eight-speeder, or the clunky six-speed manual as standard.

The most frugal version is the 1.6-litre Turbo D ecoTEC, capable of 70.6mpg and 105g/km on the NEDC test. And should you want to arrive for your middle-management conference early, you’ll need the 32.8mpg, 197g/km-emitting 258bhp petrol iteration. Vauxhall is yet to time how quick it is off the mark, but with economy that poor, it’s bound to shift…


Final thoughts and pick of the range

Ticks every cost-effective box, and much more refined than before. Still tricky to be enthusiastic about, though

Overall, it’s a pleasant, easy-going car that majors on ease of use rather than anything particularly memorable. It’s more comfortable to cruise in than its predecessor, and certainly far quieter, both in wind and road noise. The 2.0-litre diesel, the only variant we’ve so far tried, is hushed up well enough to create a few headaches for the Mercedes-Benz C-Class too. But there’s nothing for anyone who’s actually interested in cars here. The Insignia is a car designed to hit the right numbers, by and for people for whom nothing else but box-ticking transport matters.

So, versus the old car, it’s a vastly improved object. And on the cost front, it’s got rivals seemingly beaten all ends up on paper. Whether or not it’ll be as satisfying to live with, or if it wins in a back to back test, we’ll know when we’ve driven more variants.


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