| First Drive | Frankfurt, Germany | 2012 Vauxhall Insignia |
Model tested: Vauxhall Insignia 1.4 Turbo
Engine: 1.4-litre turbocharged petrol
Transmission: six-speed manual, front-wheel drive
Body style: five-door hatch or estate
Rivals: Ford Mondeo, Mazda6, Volkswagen Passat
CO2 emissions: 134g/km
Combined economy: 49.6mpg
Top speed: 127mph
0-62mph: 10.1 seconds
Power: 138bhp at 4,900 - 6,000rpm
Torque: 148lb.ft at 1,850 - 4,900rpm
In the Metal:
There's very little different about the exterior of the Vauxhall Insignia with this latest round of changes. A full facelift is due in 2012, so in the meantime a couple of new alloy wheel designs in the popular 18-inch size and a new dark blue colour are the additions.
However, the Ecoflex models gain underbody panelling to make them more aerodynamic, as well as sitting 10mm lower for the same reason. Also to help the car slice through the air more cleanly, Ecoflex versions have a blanked off radiator grille and low rolling resistance tyres to help improve economy and lower carbon dioxide emissions.
In the cabin, it's business as usual for the Insignia, which means it's well made and spacious. The centre console could be more clearly laid out and the hatch doesn't offer quite as much rear head room as some rivals, but the Sports Tourer estate is one of the best for carrying capacity in its sector.
This is where Vauxhall has made the big change that warrants a new review of the Insignia. Its 1.4 Turbo engine renders the Insignia the most efficient car in its particular niche, outdoing the Ford Mondeo 1.6 Ti-VCT and Volkswagen Passat 1.4 TSI for power, economy and emissions. The Insignia's 1.4 Turbo engine offers up 138bhp, the same as the 1.8-litre engine it will completely replace over time, and 148lb.ft of shove isn't bad either as it's doled out between 1,850- and 4,900rpm.
With peak power starting from 4,900rpm and going up to 6,000rpm, the Insignia 1.4 Turbo certainly doesn't feel like a large car with a small engine. It may miss the instant hit of urgency the more powerful 158bhp 2.0-litre turbodiesel model offers, but the 1.4 still nips past slower traffic with terrier-like determination. This means using the full spread of revs for the engine to give its best, which exposes a gruff aural edge to the motor beyond 4,000rpm. In more sedate driving conditions, the 1.4 Turbo is quiet, smooth and is easily a more appealing engine to use than the old 1.8. It's just a shame that Vauxhall has not taken the opportunity to improve the quality of the six-speed manual gearbox's shift action. Going from second to third gears highlighted the notch-like feel of this transmission.
In every other respect the 1.4 Turbo model is like any Insignia we've tried. It's sensitive to which wheel size is fitted, but the 18-inch alloys of our test car suited it well and bumps were dealt with in a composed, cosseting manner. The handling is able rather than inspiring in the way a Mondeo's is, while the new electrically assisted power steering makes driving in town and on the motorway hassle-free, but it does nothing to improve feel for those country road trips. In town, the new stop-start system works quickly and quietly to help save fuel and lower emissions.
What you get for your Money:
Vauxhall is generous when it comes to the amount of kit the Insignia comes with as standard. All models feature climate control, electric front windows, CD stereo with MP3 connection, cruise control, ESP and six airbags. Most have alloy wheels as standard and the popular SRi trim now also has an anti-whiplash head rest for the front passenger seat. The optional satellite navigation system for the Insignia has been upgraded and if you opt for this you can select routes specifically to save fuel. There's also a logbook feature where the driver can separate private and business mileage, which shows that most Insignias start their lives as company cars.
Vauxhall's claim to offer the most efficient petrol-powered car in its class are backed by the 138bhp 1.4 Turbo's 49.6mpg average economy and 134g/km carbon dioxide emissions. Not only is the Vauxhall more powerful than the 118bhp Ford Mondeo 1.6 Ti-VCT and 120bhp VW Passat 1.4 TSI, the Insignia beats their respective combined economies of 41.5- and 47.9mpg. Company drivers with an eye on emissions will note the 134g/km of the Vauxhall easily outdoes the Mondeo's 159g/km and just edges one per cent lower for Benefit in Kind taxation than the Passat's 138g/km. Even with the £825 premium over the Insignia 1.8, the 1.4 Turbo makes a whole lot of sense as the old 1.8 can only muster 37.2mpg and 179g/km of CO2 emissions.
Petrol-powered cars in the family car class are not huge sellers. Vauxhall expects the 1.4 Turbo to account for no more than 9% of total Insignia sales, and most of those will be to private buyers. However, the Insignia 1.4 Turbo offers sufficiently low emissions and high economy that it could tempt lower mileage business users. Good as the new 1.4 Turbo engine is, though, it's not enough to overcome the Insignia's uninspired drive in the face of the Ford Mondeo that is our favourite in this corner of the market.