Sunday 28 May 2017

Could this be the big family car that brings us all back to petrol?

First Drive in Frankfurt: Opel Insignia Grand Sport

Transformation: Opel Insignia 2017
Transformation: Opel Insignia 2017
All new: The cabin of the Opel Insignia 2017
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

They claim there will be a significant shift to petrol buying in large family/fleet cars again. We were told as many as 40pc of new Insignia Grand Sport hatchback buyers in Ireland could opt for a petrol model. That's huge in a diesel-dominated segment.

The car gets here in June and will cost from €27,350 for their new 1.5-litre 140bhp petrol (there is also a 165bhp version). If that turns out to be the case then we are truly upstream of a revolution.

Separately, there is anecdotal evidence that people are asking for petrol again - in the way they did for diesel up to lately. Maybe Opel have wind of something alright.

Before taking off to drive the new Insignia, we took as close a look as is possible at a new car, fittingly, at the 'home of Opel' in Russelheim, near Frankfurt. Yes, we took a factory tour to see the cars being built - production only started last week. I've done many a factory tour yet I am never less than amazed at how it all comes together - hundreds of bits and pieces at the right place and right time; hundreds of robots, hundreds of people. It's an awesome undertaking.

All new: The cabin of the Opel Insignia 2017
All new: The cabin of the Opel Insignia 2017

And it was informative to go from seeing its embryonic emergence to driving the finished article.

They say they are aiming to make it more of a driver's car with those new chassis, powertrains and lighter components we saw being meticulously fitted.

I'd have to agree it was a swifter, cleaner handling motor out on the roads. You sit 30mm lower in the cabin and the immediacy of drive is apparent.

The steering, in particular, engaged. The engines felt lively; they had less weight to push around because they have shed 175kg from the car. That means each bhp has one fewer kg to move. It all adds up.

And not just in performance; economy is 10pc better (measured under the more real-world WLTP); the car was also more taut (9pc + in torsional stiffness).

But even allowing for the forecast petrol revolution, the big seller, for now, will be the 1.6-litre diesels (110bhp and 138bhp). There is also a 2-litre diesel and turbo petrol (170bhp). You can have a 6spd manual or auto box on a lot of the cars. And there is an 8spd auto in the higher powered 2-litre diesel and petrols, especially with all-wheel-drive.

Is it the best looking car in its class (Passat, Mondeo, Superb)? It is smarter looking than most. I'd put its svelte outline level with the Superb's stronger-looking shape.

The cabin is all new, the materials felt decent quality but it didn't come across as upmarket as Volkswagen Passat's interior.

It's roomier (23mm at the back - it felt more) and knee room is up 25mm. Overall height is down 29mm but head clearance isn't badly affected though I had to stoop getting out of the rear. Boot space is up 130 litres.

It is 7mm wider (to 1,863mm), longer (+55mm to 4,897mm), wheelbase is up 92mm to 2,829mm; front track (1,596) and rear (1,599) are up 11mm.

The optional FlexRide chassis system lets you pick the sort of drive you want. And the Twinster technology does away with the need for rear differential in the, optional, all-wheel drive system.

The IntelliLux light system is intriguing. It can turn off some of the 32 LEDs in the headlamps so you don't dazzle other drivers, pedestrians etc.

A camera monitors the road ahead and tells a control unit which, and how many, of the 32 LED segments to turn on, or off.

Press a switch on the indicator/lights stalk and it works automatically, closing down just enough to avoid glare in oncoming or preceding vehicles.

The light 'flows around them' while keeping you on full beam. I've driven it at night and it works well. Worth considering. It is an option, of course.

Standard spec, meanwhile, kicks off with SC trim from €27,350 (1.5-litre petrol 140bhp). It has the '24/7 Guardian Angel' OnStar with wifi as standard (emergency crash response, diagnostic services etc), IntelliLink smartphone touchscreen (7ins) with voice control - compatible with Apple Car Play (Siri) and Android Auto (Google Now voice control), air con, cruise control, 17ins steel wheels, electric windows, Bluetooth.

Next up is SE spec (executive mid-range) from €29,350 (up €2,000) with 17in alloys, front/rear parking sensors, dual-zone climate control. 4.2in colour info display and 8in touchscreen with Navi. Sri is a sportier option (same price) and has sports front seats/pedals, tinted rear glass, front fogs, rear spoiler.

Elite (€31,595) gets 18in alloys, Intellilux matrix LEDs, leather seat facings, heated front seats.

Diesels cost €2,000 more than petrols so the 1.6-litre 110bhp, for example, starts from €29,350.

Automatic 6spd transmissions add another layer of cost - the 136bhp diesel SC costs €32,550, for instance.

It is a much improved car, no doubt, far better to drive and a lot easier on the eye. I'm not utterly convinced by the cabin even though the awful button clutter on the dash is gone.

But pricing is good and there's lots of equipment. Last time a new Insignia was unveiled it shot up the sales charts. Mid-size saloons/hatchbacks are less popular these Crossover/SUV days so it's a tougher ask of fleet and, especially family, buyers.

Will families order a petrol Insignia?

I see no reason why anyone doing 15,000km or lower should buy a diesel.

We, and I'm sure Opel, await the revolution.

Indo Motoring

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