Lutterworth – a town nestled – geographically at least – right in the heart of England. And – as we found out during the launch of the new Vauxhall Insignia Country Tourer this month – surrounded by the type of rural properties so adored by the middle classes.
It’s unlikely that the good people of Vauxhall had these things in mind when deciding on a suitable location to launch the Vauxhall Insignia Country Tourer, but given that it will be doing battle with the 4×4 estate cars consumed by Middle England, it’s a rather happy accident.
Despite sounding like the name you’d give to a rural bus service, the Country Tourer is essentially Vauxhall’s answer to the Audi A4 Allroad, Volkswagen Passat Alltrack, Volvo XC70 and Subaru Outback. A micro-segment within the lucrative SUV sector, containing a small number of wealthy and fiercely loyal customers.
And this is a key point. Typically, owners of 4×4 estate cars tend to be wedded to their brand of choice, on first name terms with their local dealer, maybe even sharing a drink with them down at the Royal Oak.
To many of these owners, Vauxhall entering the jacked-up 4×4 estate market is like Russell Brand reading the shipping forecast on BBC Radio 4. It’s about as welcome as a high-speed rail service in the Chilterns.
Which is a tad unfair. As PetrolBlog discovered during a recent trip to Frankfurt, the new Vauxhall Insignia is a surprisingly good car, with the top trim models doing a damn fine impression of a premium D-segment Germanmobile.
As we’ve pointed out before, the Insignia’s biggest weakness lies in its biggest strength. It’s the best selling car in the D-segment, regularly appearing in the monthly top ten sales charts. Overall sales are up 60% compared to this time last year and – perhaps crucially for the Country Tourer – retail sales are up 20%.
Which is another crucial point. The Vauxhall Insignia is as much ingrained in company car culture as the coat hanger, the Little Chef breakfast and the Bluetooth headset – with 80% of all sales attributable to the lease sector. Which is great news for the bean counters at Vauxhall, but less attractive when hoping to appeal to Middle England.
To this end, PetrolBlog asked Vauxhall how they would be targeting this niche segment and – in a refreshingly honest response – they told us they had no idea. Which may explain why our less-than-helpful suggestion to park one outside Waitrose and hand out leaflets was greeted with nods of approval.
Vauxhall is hoping to shift 900 Country Tourer units in 2014 – a tough ask in a micro-segment where the brand has little-to-no heritage.
But the good news is – the Vauxhall Insignia Country Tourer is really very good. And with prices starting from £25,349, it manages to undercut the Passat Alltrack by nearly £5,000, the Outback by £6,000 and the A4 Allroad by £6,500.
You’d actually need to spend an extra £10,000 to get behind the wheel of the XC70.
Two versions of Vauxhall’s 2.0-litre CDTi diesel engine are available – 160bhp or 192bhp – with the more powerful engine only available with an automatic transmission. We tested the 160bhp (163PS) version, of which Vauxhall expects 95% of all sales to stem from.
The performance is perfectly adequate for a 4×4 estate – with 350Nm of torque from 1,750 – 2,500rpm more than enough for safe overtaking and rapid acceleration. In manual form – as tested here – the 0-62mph is recorded at 10.9 seconds, with a top speed of 127mph.
Opt for the more expensive BiTurbo version of the Country Tourer and the torque increases to 400Nm, the sprint time drops to 9.9 seconds and the top speed rises to 130mph. The fuel economy of this more powerful automatic-only unit is quoted at 42.8mpg, which compares favourably with the automatic version of the smaller unit – 44.1mpg.
To maximise efficiency, you’ll need to spec the manual gearbox of the smaller unit, where you could expect to achieve 50.4mpg on a combined cycle. Two-thirds of Country Tourer buyers are expected to choose the manual version and whilst it’s not the most engaging of gearboxes, the increased economy should not be underestimated.
On the road, the Vauxhall Insignia Country Tourer falls on the side of comfort rather than exciting. The ride height has been increased by 20mm over the standard Insignia Sports Tourer, with the Country Tourer also benefiting from four-wheel drive, an electronic limited-slip diff and Vauxhall’s FlexRide system.
This means the driver can choose between Normal, Sport or Tour modes. Rather like we experienced in Germany, the changes are too subtle to appreciate during a short test route, but overall the Country Tourer delivers an extremely comfortable ride and, given its raised height, surprisingly good handling.
During a bit of light off-roading – essentially a rutted lane with a few puddles – the Country Tourer performed admirably, easily coping with the lumps and bumps, whilst maintaining a high level of comfort in the cabin. Show it a wet field and stick a trailer on the back and the Country Tourer should be just fine.
Perhaps in an effort to compete with its image-strong rivals, Vauxhall has loaded the Insignia Country Tourer to the rafters with standard kit – effectively treating it to Elite spec.
This includes bi-xenon headlights, LED daytime running lights, front and rear parking sensors, 18-inch bi-colour alloy wheels, privacy glass, a power tailgate, exterior body cladding, DAB digital radio, cruise control, climate control, leather steering wheel…the list goes on.
Upgrade to the Nav models and you can enjoy the rather brilliant 8-inch colour touchscreen infotainment device, the adaptive colour TFT dashboard displays, the upgraded stereo and the we-could-quite-honestly-do-without touchpad.
So with all this in mind, does the Vauxhall Insignia Country Tourer have what it takes to make a significant dent in a relatively insignificant segment?
Well yes and no.
On the one hand, the Country Tourer does an excellent job of mimicking its rivals from Volkswagen, Audi, Volvo and Subaru, without necessarily offering anything new. It’s well-equipped, thoroughly decent to drive and – as far as PetrolBlog is concerned – pretty good looking.
But if we think about people we know who either own or aspire to own a 4×4 estate, could we see them opting for an Insignia instead? No.
It simply doesn’t carry the same level of prestige or village car park appeal as its rivals. For all of its body-cladding, silver diffusers and skid plates, to many it remains a Vauxhall Estate. And – like it or not – the badge is a huge factor in this market.
Which is a shame, because the Vauxhall Insignia Country Tourer is an accomplished motor. And if nothing else, none of its rivals look as retro-cool as the Insignia when the tailgate is raised. It all looks a bit 1950s.
Take that, Allroad and Alltrack.