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Driven: Vauxhall Insignia VXR SuperSport Tourer. Image by Vauxhall.

Driven: Vauxhall Insignia VXR SuperSport Tourer
VXRs often mean mental pace and mad dynamics, but the Insignia has BMW and Audi in its sights.

   



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| Test drive | Vauxhall Insignia VXR SuperSport Tourer |

Overall rating: 4 4 4 4 4

Good points: good looks, improved cabin, handles 325hp well, a very refined VXR and great value for money.
Not so good: not a match for more expensive German rivals, too much understeer in the wet, doesn't feel as quick as the tech spec would suggest.

Key Facts

Model tested: Vauxhall Insignia VXR SuperSport Tourer
Pricing: 31,049 standard, 33,559 as tested; VXR SuperSport hatch from 29,749
Engine: 2.8-litre turbocharged six-cylinder petrol
Transmission: six-speed manual, all-wheel drive with electronic rear limited slip differential
Body style: five-door estate
Rivals: Audi S4 Avant, BMW 335i Touring, Skoda Octavia vRS Estate
CO2 emissions: 255g/km
Combined economy: 25.9mpg
Top speed: 170mph
0-62mph: 6.1 seconds
Power: 325hp at 5,750rpm
Torque: 435Nm at 5,750rpm

Our view:

VXR, as a brand, has been around for a decade now and we all know what it means: a model plucked from Vauxhall's range and given the 'bloody fast' treatment, making it ballistic in a straight line but perhaps somewhat ragged in the corners. There have been exceptions to this generic rule, such as the Corsa VXR, anything that originated from Holden and the original VXR220, but unruly reputation or not, these three letters mean a lot to fans of the Luton brand.

The Insignia VXR SuperSport, tested here in Sports Tourer guise, is trying to buck this trend though, and has a very different demographic in mind. Think Audi S4 and you might have a better idea of how Vauxhall's wagon has been pitched: all-wheel drive, forced induction, fast but cultured. Yet does this idealistic concept translate into reality?

The SuperSport is undeniably handsome, but if there's one design feature we don't like, it's the pinch-faced look the front bumper bestows on the Insignia. The two lower, chromed intakes would be better placed at the outer edges of the VXR's chin, where they would mitigate the gopher-ish fizzog. Otherwise, it's a well-crafted machine that can get away with being bright red and running on massive 20-inch alloys (1,150, admittedly, but they look magnificent without ruining the ride), and the interior is suitably improved along with the rest of the Insignia range.

The engine is a gem but it's not exactly hard-core. In fact it's muted, never shouting about its near-E46 BMW M3 power figure and robbed of mid-range punch by three factors: the VXR's lardy 1,810kg kerb weight; the bizarre decision to engineer peak torque and power to arrive at exactly the same point, 5,250rpm, just 1,250rpm short of the redline; and gearing that's too long - on a private airfield we had access to, the SuperSport happily hauled from around 28mph to beyond 130mph in fourth gear. Presumably a by-product of letting the car run on to 170mph, this couples with a corollary lack of noise and drama to make the VXR deceptively quick rather than obviously so, meaning you need to keep checking the speedometer to verify what you're doing. It's a potential licence-loser, but not necessarily for the right reasons.

On the flipside, this decorum - along with the aforementioned ride (the SuperSport has a near-perfect balance between body control and comfort) - makes the VXR feel like a genuine long-distance cruiser. Those excellent Recaro seats and a great driving position mean the SuperSport is an appealing companion. It's practical too, as the Tourer is a big machine inside.

But the area that has been so many a VXR's downfall is the handling. Armed with four-wheel drive and an electronically controlled limited-slip differential, plus steering, throttle and damper rates than can be altered at the press of a 'VXR' button, the SuperSport has decent weaponry. And torque steer, the bane of hot Vauxhalls past, is non-existent. Push-on understeer, however, is worryingly pervasive, especially on damp surfaces under only moderate power - surely conditions where the VXR should be planted. You can outfox both electronics and diff, the VXR eventually shuffling power back where it is needed, but sadly well after the point the nose has washed wide. In VXR mode, it is 60:40 split in favour of front-wheel grip but it never feels as rear-biased as that.

The Insignia's case is not helped by steering that is indistinct, no matter what the setting. The four-pot front Brembo brakes are exceptional and the lack of body roll is commendable, but the whole car just lacks that final veneer of excellence. Regrettably, the tantalising on-paper spec doesn't translate into the cut-price quattro you were expecting. It's capable enough and certainly one of VXR's better efforts, but by the same token it'd be wiser to live with it as a seven-tenths rapid express rather than an on-the-limit back-road blaster.

The VXR SuperSport is a car that we're 'umming' and 'aahing' over when it comes to a verdict, hamstrung because we've criticised so many VXRs in the past for being brutally unhinged, but now wondering if the SuperSport has gone too far in the pursuit of dignified refinement. There's a lot to like about the fastest Insignia, not least its looks, price tag and the fact that - for all its quixotic tilting at premium Germanic rivals - there's nothing else like it available from the more mainstream manufacturers.

It also has a creamy ride and a tasteful interior... but somehow it seems wide of the mark, mainly because it masks its true speed so completely that it ends up not feeling that fast at all. We could give it four stars because it handles its power better than almost any VXR product before it; but we could just as easily give it three, because if you're a VXR brand fan who likes a wild, focused ride, you're not going to buy into the Insignia's Audi/BMW-baiting aspirations.

Us? We like it, and we'll just give it the benefit of the doubt with a four-star rating, but an Audi S4 would probably be the better bet, despite its hefty price premium. It would appear that, like the now-departed Volkswagen Passat R36 before it, the VXR SuperSport is a noble attempt to muscle in on the big league that is destined to become a niche oddity. Which is less than it deserves.

Alternatives:

Audi S4 Avant: costlier, but quicker, more economical, dynamically sharper, and it has quattro GmbH credentials; also likely to protect its value far better in the long run.

BMW 335i M Sport Touring: pricey, rear-wheel drive only and specifying it up will cost you an arm and a leg. Yet you're still contemplating it over the Vauxhall, aren't you...?

Skoda Octavia vRS Estate: can't step up to the Germans? Petrol vRS wagon is about 27,500 in VXR-matching spec, 0.8 seconds behind on 0-62mph and 18mph down on top speed. Still, very capable.


Matt Robinson - 24 Jul 2014



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2014 Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer VXR Supersport. Image by Vauxhall.2014 Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer VXR Supersport. Image by Vauxhall.2014 Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer VXR Supersport. Image by Vauxhall.2014 Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer VXR Supersport. Image by Vauxhall.2014 Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer VXR Supersport. Image by Vauxhall.

2014 Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer VXR Supersport. Image by Vauxhall.2014 Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer VXR Supersport. Image by Matt Robinson.2014 Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer VXR Supersport. Image by Matt Robinson.2014 Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer VXR Supersport. Image by Matt Robinson.2014 Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer VXR Supersport. Image by Matt Robinson.



2014 Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer VXR Supersport. Image by Matt Robinson.
 

2014 Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer VXR Supersport. Image by Matt Robinson.
 

2014 Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer VXR Supersport. Image by Vauxhall.
 

2014 Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer VXR Supersport. Image by Matt Robinson.
 

2014 Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer VXR Supersport. Image by Matt Robinson.
 

2014 Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer VXR Supersport. Image by Matt Robinson.
 

2014 Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer VXR Supersport. Image by Matt Robinson.
 

2014 Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer VXR Supersport. Image by Vauxhall.
 






 

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