In 1973 BMW launched the 2002 Turbo onto an unsuspecting market. It was their first turbocharged car, producing around 170BHP which gave it the ability to accelerate from 0-60mph in a whisker under seven seconds. It became a legend, partly because of the bright reversed ‘2002 Turbo’ badging on the front spoiler, the fact that only 1,672 were produced in a two-year production run and because the turbo lag was epic. The power delivery was reputedly all or nothing, leading to some exciting rear-first exits to corners.
Why is this relevant to our long-term Insignia?
Well, so far I haven’t been fortunate enough to experience the 2002, but I now have some understanding of the turbo lag. In the Vauxhall Insignia nothing happens between tickover and around 1750rpm unless you’re in first gear. You might think this would be no great problem, but this is the rev range that you tend to find yourself in when slowing down for a roundabout or junction and in second gear. You cruise up to the give way line, check that there’s a gap in the traffic and, if there is, you accelerate and… nothing. You’re going too fast to drop into first gear and second gear isn’t achieving anything. All you can do is sit and wait for the turbo to kick in, which as you pass 1500rpm, it starts to do. In the early days you find yourself rocking your body to urge the car forward, particularly if you eased out into a now rapidly closing gap in the traffic. To ensure that it wasn’t specific to this car I checked with a couple of other owners, one with a similar Insignia and one with the current Astra, and they suffer the same problem. To solve the problem, I’ve found the easiest thing to do is stop at every junction. I’m sure this doesn’t annoy following drivers.
Is this the only issue so far?
There’s the fuel consumption. The official combined figure is 65.7mpg with an urban figure of 52.3mpg. My average, in mainly a 30 mile daily commute with the occasional long run, is 41mpg. Strangely, my figure is in line with the claim for the non-Ecoflex model in Vauxhall’s January 2009 brochure, which leads me to question exactly what they’ve done in the intervening few months to so dramatically improve the figures. On a long cruise-controlled run at sub-motorway speeds I’ve achieved nearly 60mpg, still short of the combined figure.
The electric handbrake is a solution in search of a problem. Inside the car the normal handbrake is replaced with a large button similar to an electric window button. Pull the button up and you can hear the electric motors engaging the rear brake. Press down on the button and nothing happens other than another of the irritating reminders in the instrument panel. You have to have your foot pressed on the footbrake before hitting the button to disengage the handbrake. Being the type of person that I am, I got a bit fed up with continually pressing the brake pedal to let the handbrake off so one day at a quiet junction I tried driving off with the handbrake still on to see what would happen. To my surprise it let itself off! The key is to lift the clutch pedal about an inch and blip the throttle. You’ll hear the motors disengage (yes, even above the diesel engine note) and you can then drive off. The button needs a good pull and hold action for a couple of seconds before it engages the brake and even after twenty-thousand miles I occasionally don’t hold it for long enough leaving the car sitting with the handbrake off.
It’s worth reporting that the classic handbrake turn is also impossible. Don’t ask how I know.
For me, the complication and noise are not worth the additional space that losing the lever adds. Can we have our traditional brake back please Vauxhall?
The automatic dip function on the headlights is great but easily fooled. In short the system detects vehicles in front of you and dips the headlights, reverting to main beam when it’s sufficiently dark. However large signs reflect enough light to fool it, and it’s not sensitive enough to detect vehicles a good distance in front which means you end up dazzling them from behind. When it works though it’s very good, allowing you to concentrate on the art of driving without having to worry about switching your lights up and down all the time.
Visibility is surprisingly poor for such a large car. Unless you have the seat set quite high you can’t see any of the corners of the car, and the large door mirrors contribute to massive blind spots. The rear window is tiny and even turning your head when joining a dual carriageway from a slip road can’t eradicate the rear three-quarter blind spot.
The iPhone functionality via the built-in USB socket is basic and can be erratic, especially if the iPhone you’re using is also connected via Bluetooth. If you’re listening to music via the phone and a call comes in the music is paused and the phone uses the speakers and an in-car microphone to relay the conversation. However after a few seconds the car terminates the USB connection and it’s extraordinarily difficult to get it to reconnect. On occasions I’ve had to resort to disconnecting the iPhone entirely, switching the hifi off, then plugging back in, waiting thirty seconds and switching the hifi back on. This doesn’t always work but is usually effective. It sort of offsets all the good work of handsfree Bluetooth when you spend the next couple of minutes juggling a phone and cable instead. I’ve checked with Vauxhall and there are no software upgrades to solve this issue. Seems a shame as the new model has slightly different software.
Finally the car went in for its first service a couple of months short of it’s 12 month/20,000 service interval when the computer decided that the oil had had enough. I took it to Brandish Vauxhall in Coventry who were very helpful in providing a courtesy Corsa without any fuss. Surprisingly the car wasn’t washed or vacuumed on it’s return which was disappointing. Also the heated seat pad in the drivers seat stopped working immediately after the service. It was replaced under warranty but it was irritating in the extreme to have to take the car back to Brandish twice, first for them to check that it was broken and on a second occasion to have the heating pad fitted as they didn’t have one in stock and had to order it.
Sounds like a litany of complaint doesn’t it? The reason that I’ve got these problems out of the way first is that they are easy to find when a car has been promoted by Vauxhall as being significantly better than the preceding Vectra. In truth, it’s as big a step forward as the Ford Focus was from the Ford Escort. It’s a credit to Vauxhall that they’ve put together a car so good that I’m not at all jealous of colleagues with Audi A4s, Mercedes C-Class or BMW 3-series, especially when comparing the specification of the car at similar price points. It’s the little niggles that frustrate when the car is this good. I mean, flaky iPhone handling? Come on – the iPhone precedes the car by a couple of years so it’s a bit slack not to have better integration or at least provide some kind of software upgrade.
Styling is subjective, (if it wasn’t the Ssangyong Rodius would never have existed), but the Insignia has grown on me. I didn’t particularly like it at first and I still don’t like the rear aspect. However the profile is very like the Jaguar XF which I love and the front has a happy, somewhat self-satisfied smile to it.
Performance is good with decent acceleration once you’ve passed the lag zone. A journey from the midlands to Minehead on the Somerset coast, and then after a short break another trek all the way to Skegness on the Lincolnshire coast was completed with ease. Completing a solo drive of over seven hundred miles in one day without aches and pains is testament to the seating and ambience. The entertainment system is better than my home hifi, and the DAB radio is a boon.
To drive enthusiastically the car is, well, pretty good actually. The Vectra was a hysterical understeer queen, seeming to throw its metaphorical arms up in horror at the merest whiff of a high speed corner. In the Insignia you’d have to be a complete hooligan to instigate understeer on a dry road. It goes where you point the steering which is always a good thing.
The steering itself has probably the best feel of any Vauxhall I’ve ever driven.
So am I happy with the car? The answer is a qualified ‘yes’. It looks good, drives well, has a feel of high quality about it and easily swallows the family detritus that having two young sons brings. The turbo lag problem is seldom far from your mind, and it genuinely spoils the experience on a daily basis.
As you’re a PetrolBlog reader you’re likely to be enthusiastic about cars. Therefore there’s only one important thing you need to know. I’d be ashamed to tell you that I drove a Vectra. It doesn’t matter which model or age, which speaks of a fairly spectacular run of bad cars.
I’m happy to tell you that I drive a Vauxhall Insignia. ‘Nuff said.