“Any chance of a drive-back?”, I enquired when the kind people at Vauxhall confirmed my travel arrangements for last month’s Geneva Motor Show. Maybe I was blinded by the list of classics we’d be driving from Monaco, along Route Napoleon and into Geneva.
A drive from Geneva to Devon in a Vauxhall Viva GT. Or a Chevette HS. Maybe even a MK2 Cavalier. Utter bliss.
Only it wouldn’t be behind the wheel of a hero from Vauxhall’s past. Instead it would be an Insignia diesel. Has anyone ever gone to bed eagerly anticipating the thought of a dawn raid in Vauxhall’s sales wagon? It’s unlikely.
But hey. Waking at 4am to make a mad dash to the Channel Tunnel has got to be better than hoping on an EasyJet flight to face the misery of Luton Airport, right? Besides – and I appreciate this isn’t a fashionable thing to say – but I rather like the Insignia. As has been reported before on these here pages, give it more fashionable badge, sell fewer units and people may actually accept it for being jolly good at what it sets out to do. Oh, and in case you’re interested, the selection of PetrolBloggy Vauxhalls can be found over on MSN Cars. Warning: contains delightful Viva GT photos.
The plan was simple. Wake at the crack of dawn, get to the Channel Tunnel and plead with the friendly check-in lady to let me on an earlier crossing. I say ‘lady’ fully appreciating it could be a chap, but on each occasion I’ve crossed the Channel I’ve been greeted by a friendly lady.
Two things dawned on me when I set off for the diesel dawn raid. Firstly, 4am was too early for the hotel to offer coffee or food. Secondly, I’d have to do a merry dance to chuck a few euros into the toll booths. Travelling without a passenger tends to involve a rapid Le Mans-style exit and re-entry to avoid annoying the French person behind. I needn’t have worried, as I pretty much had the roads to myself.
And you know what, I reckon the Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer Tech Line with the horribly-named ‘Whisper’ diesel was the perfect partner for this particular road trip. After two days trudging the halls of the Geneva Motor Show, the chance to chill in air-conditioned comfort, with cruise control set to 80mph and a Spotify playlist on shuffle were all the ingredients I needed.
The fact that the Insignia 2.0-litre diesel is capable of 62.8mpg also meant I wouldn’t be stopping for fuel every few hundred miles. As it turned out, I managed to eek just over 300 miles out of the half-tank of fuel I was provided with. Enough to get me well beyond Reims. This was also the first time I stopped for food and coffee. And no, I don’t want a medal.
The stats so far: 310 miles, 5 hours and 48mpg.
— Gavin Big-Surname (@MajorGav) March 5, 2015
The rep-spec Insignia Tech Line proves that you don’t need a long list of toys and gadgets to make a good long distance cruiser. Cavalier man would have been delighted with a pair of cup holders, cruise control and his entire collection of LPs streaming from his in-car telephone. By 11.20 I had reached a near-empty Eurotunnel where a kind young lady put me on the next available train, three hours ahead of my allocated time. Just after lunch I was back in Folkestone and ready to face the horror associated with traveling across the south coast of England.
I’ll admit the novelty of the Jason Bourne-esque sprint across Europe was beginning to lose its appeal when I got to Maidstone. The Insignia Tourer might be a good, but it can’t magic away the pain associated with the M20, M25 and M3. And it’s hardly a car to set the pulse racing on the A303.
But no matter. By 5.30 I was back home in time to read the children a bedtime story. Geneva to Dartmoor completed in a smooth, relaxed and quiet manner. What more could you want? And I didn’t even have to visit Luton Airport.
The final stats: 768 miles at an average of 67mph and 47mpg.
— Gavin Big-Surname (@MajorGav) March 5, 2015
So did I do the right thing by opting to take the drive-back option, rather than letting the plane take the strain? Absolutely, because driving in Europe – especially on near-empty French autoroutes – remains a genuine pleasure. Doesn’t matter if you’re in a Vauxhall VX220 or an Insignia diesel.
And talking of which, I’m now even more convinced by the Insignia. The 168bhp 2.0-litre ‘Whisper’ diesel is a properly good unit and perfectly suited to the big mile-muncher. Any diesel clatter at idle quickly disappears when you’re cruising at motorway speeds and the 295lb ft of torque between 1,750 and 2,500rpm makes for effortless progress. Believe the hype, the ‘Whisper’ diesel would make Björk a very happy lady. Shhh.
What’s more, the ride quality is superb, even on the standard-fit 17-inch alloy wheels of the Tech Line model. The trade off is a softness to the handling and a numbness to the steering, but that’s only ever going to be an issue when rep-man exits the motorway and stops for an Early Starter. You’re never going to order a rep-spec Insignia for its razor-sharp dynamics. It’s all about comfort and toys.
It’s also supremely comfortable, with the seats providing excellent levels of support. Combine this with the Tech Line’s satellite navigation, DAB radio, auto lights, auto wipers, Bluetooth and a smattering of chrome and you’ve got the recipe for a near-perfect middle manager wagon. Vauxhall has a strong understanding of the fleet sector, something that’s highlighted by the Insignia Tech Line.
The £24,264 price tag for a fleet-focused vehicle is largely irrelevant, but the 540 litres of boot space, extending to 1,530 litres with the rear seats folded flat, isn’t.
I’m standing firm and reaffirming my fondness of the latest Insignia. I grew rather attached to it on the drive back from Switzerland and its ability to deliver on its promise is commendable. Would I wake up at 4am and do the same again? Of course I would.
The final result: Insignia 1 – 0 EasyJet.