Long term test: Vauxhall Insignia 2.0 CDTi 160 EcoFlex Elite

Major Waffle 00s cars Vauxhall
Rob Griggs-Taylor joins PetrolBlog as a resident blogger and in his first post gives the lowdown on his Vauxhall Insignia EcoFlex Elite.

Following his recent Real World Review and Real World Dream Barn, I'm delighted to say that Rob Griggs-Taylor has joined PetrolBlog as a resident blogger. I have of course just made up the term 'resident blogger', but I can't exactly call him staff writer, as then I'd need to prepare a contract and pay him some hard cash. So resident blogger he is and in his first post under this new, made up title, he gives the lowdown on his Vauxhall Cavalier...I mean Vectra...sorry, Insignia. 

Over to you Rob...

As the newest member of the PetrolBlog team I thought I should introduce my long-term test car. And not for PetrolBlog the normal 12,000 mile (or even less) test. That's not long term, We'll be keeping this one much longer than that. Without further ado then, let me introduce the latest addition to the PetrolBlog fleet,

The inimitable Jeremy Clarkson once described the Vauxhall Vectra as "one of my least favourite cars in the world." He went on to state that he hated it because he felt that "it had been designed in a coffee break by people who couldn't care less about cars." With this in mind, you can imagine how I felt when I was told that my next long-term car was going to be a Vauxhall to replace the Mondeo I was driving.

Usefully, Vauxhall had replaced the Vectra with the new Insignia and it was one of these that arrived at the office back in February 2010. 'My' car is a 5-door hatch in Elite trim level and with the 160PS CDTi 'EcoFlex' engine and six-speed manual gearbox. The only optional extras fitted are metallic paint and Bluetooth, both of which should be standard these days, but with the specification on this car it's almost hard to know what else you could usefully add. Leather trim, dual climate control, DAB radio, satellite navigation, electric driver's seat with memory, adaptable xenon headlights, front and rear parking sensors. It adds up to a very well equipped vehicle, with possibly only some kind of DVD system to keep the kids occupied in the back as a missing requirement.

So, the spec list looked good on paper, but Vauxhall interiors have been extremely poor over recent years and the exterior design has been a bit, well, origami.

On first sight the Insignia couldn't be more different.

The exterior is much more curvaceous than the sharply angled Vectra, and could even be described as Reubenesque. The front has a huge grille and a surprisingly large Vauxhall badge. You begin to think that Vauxhall might be a bit proud of this car. The side profile is similar to that of the larger Jaguar XF, a point I really picked up on when my car was parked next to one in the car park. The rear is, for me, the only point that jars. How to best put it? This car has a fat arse. I guess that sums it up. Yes, there's a capacious 520 litres in the boot but the small rear window and lights leave a lot of metal to fill in the gaps. and the large rear bumper doesn't help the effect.

[caption id="attachment_3539" align="aligncenter" width="618"]Vauxhall Insignia 2.0 CDTi 160 Ecoflex Elite rear Does my bum look big in this?[/caption]

Eighteen inch alloy wheels are appropriately sized for the body. The seventeen inch ones on more basic models leave the car looking a bit like those trainers with the wheels in the bottom.

My car is finished in a dark metallic blue colour which makes a pleasant change from the almost regulatory black or silver that most people choose these days. (Side note - what is it with colour charts these days? Four silvers, one grey, one black, five blues. One red, one white, one beige, one green. Whatever happened to orange, yellow, brown, purple? Come on Vauxhall - be a bit adventurous!)

Into the interior and things couldn't be more different from the depressingly uninspiring Vectra. Nicely finished plastics, comfortable seats, wood trim, a curvy dashboard and, most tellingly, high quality switchgear. Deeply cowled chrome-ringed instruments with elegant markings sit behind a nicely designed (and leather trimmed) steering wheel upon the top two spokes of which sit the hifi and cruise control switches.

Vauxhall Insignia 2.0 CDTi 160 EcoFlex Elite centre consoleThe centre console is topped by a nine inch colour screen which can be toggled between the functions of satellite navigation and hifi display. Immediately below is a plethora of almost identical buttons to control most settings in the car with just a tiny slot to indicate that you can play CDs here. Below again are the knobs, buttons and display for the climate control system.

In front of the cutaway central armrest are two cup holders with a sliding cover, which is sadly not tall enough to fit drinks cans underneath, and the small button for the electronic handbrake. Inside the armrest is a power socket, USB port and 3.5mm jack socket for plugging in your MP3 player. Although the hifi is iPod compatible, and Vauxhall have confirmed that it is iPhone compatible, my iPhone always brings up a message suggesting incompatibility when plugged into the USB port.

Interior lighting is plentiful, with front and rear overhead lights, map lights, footwell lights and some nice ambient lighting that you don't notice unless you're looking for it at night.

All in all, the Insignia gives a good first impression.

Whilst the car was delivered in bright sunshine, sufficient snow fell in the afternoon to make the 11 mile drive home later in the day somewhat trying. The first thing to irritate was the little screen in between the speedo and rev counter which acts mainly as a thorough trip computer but can, and does, flash up various warnings with monotonous regularity when you're getting used to the car.

"You MUST press the clutch in to start the engine", "Press the brake pedal while releasing the handbrake" demanded the car as I tried to go through the normal acts of starting up and driving away. Forgetting to put my seatbelt on after reversing out of a parking space resulted in an irritating "bing...bing...bing..." noise until I stopped to put it on. Vauxhall clearly forgot to mention that my mum was included as a piece of standard equipment and was still teaching me to drive some *harrumph* years after passing my driving test.

As an aside, the various bonging noises that occur do really grate. I am an adult and don't need or want all this electronic mothering, so you will understand how delighted I was to discover a setting for the chime volume, and how [censored] off I was to find out that the options were 'loud' and 'normal'. I have contacted Vauxhall and apparently there is no way to switch them off. Presumably if I signed multiple declarations indicating that I indemnify them from ever being sued in the event of my acting stupidly in some way they'd be able to find a software upgrade that would add 'quiet' and 'off' settings to the chime volume.

Driving in snow, and the resulting queues of traffic, made it hard to gain any useful driving impressions. ABS and wide low-profile tyres are not good things in snow, an electronic handbrake that requires pressing the brake pedal every time you want to release it is a royal pain, and trying to discover what all eight-hundred buttons on the centre console do while in stop start traffic was perhaps not the smartest thing to do. The sat nav was useful though. When I finally got fed up of the pedal/handbrake samba I worked out an alternative route across B-roads and was home with no further irritation.

This is a family car and will be used as such during my tenure.

So the final irritation was discovering that my eight year old son's booster seat couldn't be placed squarely in the rear seat without the seat belt socket being under it.

Will things get better as time goes on? Let's find out...

Don't forget you can follow Rob on twitter @robgt2.