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Fast fleet. Image by Syd Wall.

Fast fleet
Vauxhall's range-topping Insignia VXR has the Audi S4 and BMW 335i in its sights.

   



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| First Drive | Stratford-Upon-Avon, England | Vauxhall Insignia VXR |

Vauxhall's Insignia range gets a halo model with the addition of the VXR model. Compared to the massive numbers of middling Insignias that Vauxhall will sell this 2.8-litre V6 turbo variant will make up just a mere handful of sales. With four-wheel drive and over 10,000km of testing at the Nurburgring under its beltline, the VXR Insignia promises to be an interesting alternative to premium badged rivals such as BMW's 335i and the Audi S4.

In the Metal

The Insignia looks good in its regular attire, but mixing up the business look with a means business look - in a bare knuckle manner - works very well indeed. You'll move over when you see its brushed metal and black gaping air intake punctured bumper in your rear view mirror. There's little added in profile, except for a set of cool 19-inch wheels (or optional 20s), behind which nestle some serious-looking colour-keyed Brembo callipers. Around the back there's integrated exhaust pipes in a deeper bumper, VXR badging and a spoiler positioned on the boot lid.

The sporting look is continued inside with VXR badging on the wheel and gear knob - the VXR people once again choosing a preposterously shaped lump on top of the gearstick. However, the Recaro seats are brilliantly supportive and comfortable, and the VXR's unique instrument graphics, black headlining and chunky steering wheel effectively distance this flagship Insignia from its lesser relatives.

What you get for your Money

Key here is the VXR's drivetrain. The turbocharged 2.8-litre V6 has 321bhp and 321lb.ft, both of those peak outputs delivered at the same 5,250rpm. Add bespoke chassis settings with FlexRide, Adaptive 4x4 and an electronic limited-slip differential, those Brembo brakes and the styling additions inside and out and the VXR follows the flagship sporting model specification to the letter. Spend 31,810 and it includes a DVD navigation system too, though you'll pay extra for the 20-inch wheels and leather, which bumps up the price to around 34,500. Even without options it's perilously close to competition like BMW's 335i and Audi's new S4, cars which not only offer similar performance and power outputs, but come with the advantage of premium badges.

Driving it

Vauxhall is proud of the 10,000 kilometres of testing at the famous Nurburgring as part of the Insignia VXR's development. To ensure great performance around the famously tortuous 'ring, GM's engineers have completely revised the suspension, evolving the front MacPherson struts to include what Vauxhall dubs the 'HiPerStrut' - a system that helps improve both grip and power transmission. The VXR also drives all four wheels, the adaptive 4x4 it brings incorporating an electronic rear limited slip differential.

Enhanced FlexRide for the VXR includes three settings. A Standard mode adopts more compliant steering, throttle and damper settings, with Sport upping the damping effect to reduce body roll. Following that is the VXR mode, this promising greater roll stiffness, very direct steering and a more responsive throttle. Highlighting the VXR mode, the instrumentation glows red; it needs to, as the differences are pretty marginal behind the wheel. There is a reduction in body roll and the steering does react a little quicker, but it's still devoid of information despite its precision.

Feeling like a quick, ordinary four-door rather than the raw junior super saloon, the VXR badge promise of an intense drive demonstrated by its VXR stable mates just isn't delivered in the Insignia. It never feels as fast as its 5.6-second 0-60mph time promises and though the engine sounds nice it's lacking the sort of exotic overtones you might expect; the only hint to its potential is a cheeky burble and occasional pop on the overrun. The turbocharged V6 gives very little below 4,000rpm, requiring big revs before it really comes alive. That means second and third gear are your friends on back roads; not particularly close ones though, the shift between them rather notchy and ponderous and the huge gear knob does little to ease the action. It's clear that the Nurburgring has played a big role in the VXR's development, as, at anything but track speeds it fails to excite.

The ride impresses though, the choppy tarmac it was developed on in Germany meaning the VXR copes with the worst UK roads convincingly - even when on its most focussed VXR setting. It's grippy too, the four-wheel drive system ensuring great traction. However, it never really feels anything other than front-wheel drive, with the VXR's chassis not demonstrating the sort of throttle adjustability of BMW's 335i or even Audi's surprisingly talented S4.

Worth Noting

Those two cars wearing the BMW and Audi badges are considered fair game by Vauxhall, it confident that the VXR can take the fight to the premium players. It's priced accordingly too, the VXR Insignia within a few thousand pounds of its German rivals. That's confidence indeed. However, factor in significantly better economy and emissions figures from both the Audi and BMW - the Audi S4 achieving 29.1mpg and 221g/km, the BMW 335i returning 31mpg and 218g/km - and the VXR's 24.7mpg and 268g/km figures are difficult to stomach. As is its price.

Summary

The new Vauxhall Insignia VXR aims high, but never quite achieves greatness. It's quick and competent, but it fails to elevate itself above its regular Insignia relatives by such a margin so as to justify its price and VXR badging. The killer blow is the existence of premium competition at around the same price point, which deliver a more interesting and involving drive, all while wearing upmarket badges and even bettering the VXR for economy and emissions.

Kyle Fortune - 8 Jul 2009



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2009 Vauxhall Insignia specifications:
Price: Prices start at 30,995 for saloon or hatchback (data for four-door saloon version).
0-60mph: 5.6 seconds
Top speed: 155mph
Combined economy: 24.7mpg
Emissions: 268g/km
Kerb weight: 1810kg

2009 Vauxhall Insignia VXR. Image by Syd Wall.2009 Vauxhall Insignia VXR. Image by Syd Wall.2009 Vauxhall Insignia VXR. Image by Syd Wall.2009 Vauxhall Insignia VXR. Image by Syd Wall.2009 Vauxhall Insignia VXR. Image by Syd Wall.

2009 Vauxhall Insignia VXR. Image by Syd Wall.2009 Vauxhall Insignia VXR. Image by Syd Wall.2009 Vauxhall Insignia VXR. Image by Syd Wall.2009 Vauxhall Insignia VXR. Image by Syd Wall.2009 Vauxhall Insignia VXR. Image by Syd Wall.



2009 Vauxhall Insignia VXR. Image by Syd Wall.
 

2009 Vauxhall Insignia VXR. Image by Syd Wall.
 

2009 Vauxhall Insignia VXR. Image by Syd Wall.
 

2009 Vauxhall Insignia VXR. Image by Syd Wall.
 

2009 Vauxhall Insignia VXR. Image by Syd Wall.
 

2009 Vauxhall Insignia VXR. Image by Syd Wall.
 

2009 Vauxhall Insignia VXR. Image by Syd Wall.
 

2009 Vauxhall Insignia VXR. Image by Syd Wall.
 






 

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