Insignia’s pocket-sized petrol power

While it’s exciting to sample top end models from manufacturers, it’s more important to check out the bread-and-butter variants because these will be the high volume sellers. If car companies don’t get them right, it won’t matter how good the version with the big engine and fat wheels is.

So, tempted though I was to ask for a Vauxhall Insignia VXR when I popped down to Luton this week, it was the turbocharged 1.4 litre petrol work horse I was keen to drive. Surely, this was going to be a bit – well – weedy.

In this funny, topsy-turvy world the 1.4 litre unit is actually £825 dearer than the 1.8 and you’ll need to look at the numbers to see why. Although they both provide identical levels of power (140 PS), the 1.4 manages it lower in the rev range. The 1.4 also packs a further 25 Nm torque. With emissions of 139 g/km CO2 (instead of 184 for the ageing 1.8) this little engine starts to make proper sense. The emissions are actually better than some diesel variants too and you won’t have to put up with any diesel chatter. While the 1.4 will fail to match the economy of the oil burners, petrol being nearly 10p/litre cheaper will help offset some of the difference. It could easily find favour with the small number of private Insignia buyers, although high-mileage company car drivers are likely to stick to their diesels.

There is a bewildering 15 trim levels for the Sport Tourer (estate in old parlance). I drove the SE Nav which sits just behind the Elite and VXR models. The SE has all the toys one might reasonably need (and a few more besides) but there are two reasons I didn’t fiddle with all the interior features.

The first is that with the Macadamia exterior paint colour option, the inside is also brown. We learned about brown cars in the 1970s and I’m afraid it’s still a colour which does not work on any contemporary machinery. I’d pulled over to make some notes and was just marvelling at why brown might ever have seemed a sensible choice when I heard a bang. And that was the second reason: a too-tall van attempting to enter the car park with a height restriction. Not only did the guy pretty much demolish the gantry, in fright, he then reversed straight into the vehicle behind. So I decided to leave the car park before the teetering gantry collapsed.

Like all the Insignias, this one will eat the motorway miles. I found the ride a little nervous on non-perfect A-roads but otherwise good. It handles well, and although the 1.4 engine won’t set your pants on fire, it made good progress and had just enough power to balance the car through the corners. The power delivery is very smooth right across the rev range; it certainly didn’t have the over boosted power spike I had feared from the small displacement engine.

The Sports Tourer is not a huge load lugger. At the business end, there is a shallow under floor cubby space making the boot floor rather high, thereby limiting capacity. The aperture is also quite restricted (particularly with the low roof). In the interests of style, the rake of the rear screen chops off further useable space. The term ‘Sports Tourer’ is the key – it’s more of a lifestyle choice than a replacement for the antique-carrying Volvos of old.

This model comes with a powered tail gate. I have never really seen the point in these – they operate irritatingly slowly (for safety reasons), they require additional motors and switch gear (pointless additional weight and extra items to go wrong) and frankly, that’s what arms are for.

Brown aside, the Insignia Sports Tourer isn’t a bad looker at all. The rear bumper has something of the Jimmy Hill about it, but otherwise it is a very neat shape with its gently sculpted flanks. I find it much more pleasing to the eye than its arch rival, the Mondeo. The Insignia can clearly handle a great deal more power but this clever engine in an attractive body offer a stylish and refined alternative to the ubiquitous diesel.

Model tested, Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer 1.4T SE Nav with 19” wheels and metallic paint: £26,750. The Sports Tourer range starts at £19,955.

Power: 140PS, torque: 200Nm, emissions: 139 g/km CO2 (band E), 0-60 mph: 11.1 secs

Motor Writer rating: ●●●●○

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