Sunday 19 January 2020

Why new Insignia suffers from a pain in the 'but'

Stylish motor - but who will buy one, asks Eddie Cunningham

Opel Insignia
Opel Insignia
Eddie Cunningham

Eddie Cunningham

People tell me I'm an awful man for coming up with the 'buts' - just when everything seems to be going grand. So I might as well warn you in advance, there's an unusual 'but' or two coming in the course of this review.

Opel call it the Insignia Grand Sport for some reason. Frankly, I find that confusing. It's not 'Grand' but it was a good 'sport' to drive. So I'm just going to call it the new Insignia.

It is a big, deceptively stylish, mid-size fastback with loads of room. My extravagantly (and irrelevantly) equipped 'Elite' model was laden with bling - luxuriant deep, brown leather upholstery being the most obvious ploy to create premium-car impressions.

Truth to tell, it was just downright refreshing to get into something that was NOT a Crossover or an SUV. Instead, I got a straightforward (meant as a compliment), smart-looking large car. Remember when they were the mainstay of families and companies? More of that anon.

It was also good to get to drive something with a low centre of gravity (you sit 30mm lower than in the old one) though there was need for taller passengers to stoop a little getting into the rear (they had plenty of headroom once seated).

It is surprising how quickly one forgets the pleasure of simply driving a well set-up, decently balanced motor. I'm not saying the Insignia was a world-beater on handling, drive and performance. I am saying it can now hold its own on that front with the class leaders - not something I would have said about its forerunner.

I enjoyed the sharper handling and the excellent feedback from the steering. It made me feel like driving the car more. The 2-litre engine contributed. It was lively - it would want to be with 170bhp - stayed quiet and didn't go hard on the juice.

Do such considerations (mpg apart) matter any more? I'm not sure. Beyond the shrinking circle of those who like to 'drive' a car and enjoy its dynamics, I believe most people are far more concerned with what's in the vehicle.

They'd be happy with the Insignia on that front, too, not least because with its predecessor's dreadful 'button clutter' eliminated, there is an infotainment interface that's sensible, logical and helpful.

There's loads of connectivity and even a 24/7 'guardian angel' (OnStar can alert ambulance and pinpoint where you are).

Yet the true verdict for me came after four of us travelled at our ease (and at a fair old zip) across twisty, crusty Wicklow roads.

When the rear-seat couple emerged saying how comfortable they'd been (23mm more room), I knew I had something decent on my hands.

Admittedly, the driving was greatly enhanced by the technologically advanced FlexRide chassis control system (€1,300 extra), which at times conveyed the impression we were gliding over, rather than on, the roads.

There is also a monstrous boot (up by 130 litres) which dwarfed the couple of swollen suitcases accompanying a departing cousin. With unrestricted access because of the big, broad tailgate, you'd get smaller versions of the kitchen, never mind the sink, in there.

Another piece of technology we embraced was the IntelliLux LED matrix headlights. It's an important safety element. Basically the system turns off some of the 32 light-emitting diodes (LEDs) in the headlamps so drivers (oncoming, in front), pedestrians, etc are not dazzled.

The light 'flows around them' - you get full-tilt vision without blinding others. I've driven this abroad at night, but this was the best experience I've had of it.

Overall, I was impressed with the Insignia. It is a substantial improvement in all key areas.

It has more going for it than some rivals and, on that basis, I'd say it needs to be on a shopper's shortlist.

But - yes, we're at the party-spoiling 'but' juncture now - who and where are those shoppers of family/fleet cars? I'll tell you. They're over the other side of the showroom trying out Crossovers and SUVs. They want to be Crossover Charlenes and SUV Sonias but not Family-Fleet Freds. And demand from them and their likes is increasing all the time (as I say here frequently). There is no sign of a let-up; quite the opposite.

So, are we witnessing the demise of the large family/fleet car such as the Insignia?

I've asked that of so many senior motoring executives at international launches this year.

Their shrug of the shoulders and downward glances spoke volumes. It was as if they were saying: "It's the market, stupid."

It's just such a shame that volumes of some really good cars, the Insignia among them, are being affected by the rush.

Facts and figures

  • Opel Insignia 2-litre diesel, 170bhp, 136g/km, €280 tax, 5.2l/100km.
  • Range from €27,350 (SC): 24/7 OnStar /Wi-Fi (emergency crash response, etc), IntelliLink smartphone touchscreen (7ins)/Apple Car Play (Siri), Android Auto (Google Now voice control), air con, cruise control and 17ins wheels.
  • SE (€29,350+) adds 17ins alloys, front/rear parking sensors, dual-zone climate control. 4.2ins colour info display, 8ins touchscreen/Navi. 'Elite' on test (€31,595): 18ins alloys, Intellilux matrix LEDs, heated front seats. Test car with options (€46,985): FlexRide, 20ins alloys, Bose sound, heads up display, leather seats.

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