You’ll recognise the Astra name that’s returning to Australia with Opel’s entry into the market, but what of their other vehicles? EFTM sent Chris Bowen out to test drive the Insignia wagon, a new name for Australia with a great drive and handling response.
After my recent experience with the Opel Astra Hatch, a car I was mightily impressed with I was more then happy to jump behind the flagship model for Opel Australia, the Insignia Select Sports Tourer.
The Insignia model is far more foreign to the Australian market then the Astra nameplate. Because of this I’m sure it will be a significantly harder sell then it’s more familiar sibling.
Internationally this car in both sedan and wagon incarnations has collected over 50 domestic and international gongs. The poms ranked it as Best Executive Car and in Ireland it was voted Best Family car twice. It’s received awards as a fleet favourite in the UK, Austria, Denmark and Portugal. In 2009 it was voted Car of the Year across Europe. The Germans presented it with awards for its build quality and reliability.
It’s no dud.
So how does such a lauded car stand up down-under? I guess time will tell, but I can say that I found it difficult to give back.
My first car was an 11 year old 1990 Audi 90, and to this day nothing else I’ve ever driven has given me a sense of driving a machine that felt like it was constructed of granite. That feeling of deep inherent solidness and durability.
The fact the old Audi ended up being a total nightmare as it gradually experienced complete organ failure is another story. (But mental note – don’t buy ageing European cars.)
The Insignia did evoke this feeling again for me. It’s without doubt a fine piece of German hardware. Our test car was the top of the range Select Sports Tourer, expect a price tag of over 50 grand once on roads are dealt with.
Interior wise, there’s the same chunky leather wrapped sports steering wheel as seen in the Astra. Piano black trim extends in a flowing arc right across the top of the dash and into the doors. An elevated 7-inch colour display shows navigation and other information such as climate control, system preference settings and bluetooth phone controls – although again with no direct streaming capability.
I was critical of the lack of touch screen functionality and the cumbersome rotary dial control system in the Astra, unfortunately the same system exists in the Insignia. Life is made a little easier thanks to a separate turn/push controller module which is closer at hand near the armrest. It allows for more practical and safer operation of some of the systems.
I must say there is absolutely acres of black plastic trim throughout, it’s all of decent quality but I’d go for lighted coloured seat trim to off set what does boarder on being a little plain.
The higher-end Opel models have simply superb seats. Up front they are both heated and ventilated. A cool cushion of air seeps though the hundreds of perforated holes. Sticky sweaty backs on hot leather seats becomes a thing of the past.
There are a series of menus behind the wheel which are a little annoying to scroll through. The glowing red LCD trip computer and a digital speedo pages are accessed via an awkward button and rotary switch on the indicator stalk.
Everything is automatic as one would expect and the must have quota of airbags and electronic safety systems are present.
I briefly experienced automatic high beam control in the Astra, however this time after a lengthy night time trip in the Insignia, it really hit home how advanced the system is.
A forward mounted camera in the windscreen is able to detect – almost without fail – oncoming motorists, it can see the tail lights of others ahead and it knows when streetlights mitigate the need for high beam. The only time the system can be fooled is when larger reflective street signs such as those displaying off ramp information on freeways confuse it.
The optional Advanced Forward Lighting System with bi-xenon headlamps developed by Opel is very impressive and definitely contributes to making this a safer car to drive at night.
There’s ample space in the back of the wagon. I’m not a big fan of quoting load space volume in litres because it means nothing to me. But if you wish to fill your Insignia with liquid it will hold 540L and with the 60:40 split rear seats down up to 1530 L. So essentially enough room for a few suit cases or a substantial piece of furniture. Or perhaps an English Springer Spaniel, not that I’d ever do that in a loan car (insert smiley face).
The tail gate itself is enormous and very heavy, it takes two heavy duty struts to hold what could double as a blast door at NORAD. A nice touch is its automatic closing feature which will suck the door shut should it be left slightly ajar. Oh and there’s a second pair of twin tail lights inside, it’s a safety feature so on coming traffic can still see you when the tail gate open.
Hitting the road
On the road, the wagon handles impressively. It’s a reasonably firm ride in part due to the optional 19-inch low profile alloy wheel package and lowered sports chassis. Over some of the more ordinary roads in my area the Insignia does become a little disheveled and protests with plenty of tyre roar and deep but muted booming thuds from the suspension. It’s a dynamic package and can really be thrown into corners with basically no body roll. Steering is crisp and inspires confidence.
The 2.0 Turbo Diesel engine fitted to our test car produces 118kW. It seemed to have far less turbo lag then what I experienced in the Astra. Proof of this is flurry of screeching front wheels when planted from a standing start.
At lower speeds the Diesel is frustratingly loud, it rattles and chatters away at idle and is not befitting of such a fine vehicle. Like referred pain vibrations are delivered straight into your hands via the steering column. But at freeway speeds this agricultural orchestra is silenced, it surges ahead like a road train. Perhaps its German origins and bias towards performance on autobahns is why?
Thankfully it doesn’t lack pace, although I think the 2.0 L Turbo Petrol unit would be my pick. Fuel consumption is good, I averaged mid sevens.
The six-speed auto is a smooth shifting intelligent package, it shifts down at just the right times when on steep inclines and never seems to hunt for the right cog.
In my opinion the Insignia is a clean stylish design on the outside. It’s been around for a few years now so there’s nothing groundbreaking here. But it really has an air of sophistication and sporty form to it. Its completely inoffensive to look at.
The reality is that this is a car that can’t be ignored. If you’re in the market for an affordable alternative to some of the more expensive European offerings, Opel in general will surprise you.
Price: From $41,990