Sometimes it takes a drive on a familiar road to make you realise when a car is good or not, the knowledge of a certain road, camber, corner, roundabout, dual carriageway that you’ve driven countless times before in a variety of machinery that allows you to make direct comparisons that result in a conclusion and its taken this for me to make a conclusion on the Insignia VXR.
As a lot of our regular customers know we’ve been working on the Insignias for some time now, using a car from one of our successful Performance Centres we’ve been developing engine remaps, exhausts and handling upgrades for the model. Typically we buy our own development cars but initial test drives I had on the Insignias left me a little cold about them generally so I took the view that we’d just borrow one and see how we got on. Here in itself lies a piece of advice (both to dealers and potential buyers) – don’t make a decision to buy an Insignia VXR based on a test drive of a car with less than 1k miles – these cars need at least that to start to show their true potential.
Its taken me a little time to get under the skin of the Insignia, lot least due to the fact that I’m still recovering from 6 broken ribs resulting from an on track smash in a CSL Cup car which doesn’t really help ascertaining a car when you’re either racked with pain or doped up like a East German weight lifter. Indeed my first trip in the Insignia was being collected from hospital when on the way back our COO Christian didn’t see a speed hump in a petrol forecourt resulting in my screaming like a little girl as we hit it at a mere 20mph! Ask me what I thought about the ride of the car then and there wouldn’t have been enough swearwords possible.
As a result I’ve been quiet (noticeably quiet according to some) about what I thought of the Insignia but now I’m feeling a bit more healthy, not race fit but fit enough to test a road car I’ve finally come to a conclusion – we’re buying one.
Well, the car is now significantly quicker than it was, granted I’m testing a stage 2 car now with full TMS performance exhaust from Milltek Sport and a higher power ECU remap we’ve developed with Superchips but even underlying that the whole chassis seems more alive and purposeful than when it had 2 miles on the clock. Grip is excellent, on the test drive this morning there were a few corners that my where regular car (a heavily modified E92 M3) would’ve been at its limit in terms of lateral grip the Insignia (with its AWD) inspired confidence when the RWD BMW would be encouraging alertness, it was fun. The car now feels smaller than it did before and tighter around you although this is also helped by dropping the seat right down, this alone transforms how the car feels in my view, but them I’m used to sitting on the floor in race cars. The aggressive tone from the exhaust (we’ve developed two, a quieter version and the one this now has – a lairy in your face version) add to the overall presence of the car but even standard the exhaust sounds sporty albeit a bit droney at 4k rpm. We’ve developed the map to take into account the VXR button so there is greater power all the time but with shorter throttle response only when you feel like it (Sport or VXR button pressed).
At this point Adam (who runs all our websites and reports) will get up, walk over and say “eh, you said it was crap?” and he’d be right, I did, it was crap or more correctly it felt crap for some time but as time has passed I’ve come accustomed to the fact that each time you drove it it got better, noticeably better in fact culminating in this mornings 2 hour test drive at 5am resulting in my asking Christian to go an source us one (we still buy our cars like everyone else, no freebies from Vauxhall sadly). So whats changed?
Handling wise its really feeling pretty good which is impressive seeing as we’ve not even looked at that (yet, a few sets of lowering springs are on their way from Eibach to test) in fact I’d say if you drive the car to its attributes (use the AWD drive, trail brake into corners, make the car use its drive and grip) and it will cover ground every bit as quick as the tighter handling Astra and even Corsa VXR models all with an air of charging about the county in a stately home. The difference in ride between standard and VXR mode is marked, graphically so, trust me when I say this as I’m testing it with broken bones as the measure – VXR mode = pain, non VXR mode = no pain which is impressive as Vauxhalls previous play with electronic damping on the Astra was awful, they’ve got it right on the Insignia. Handling is such that once you get out and look back you realise the car is a big old bus in terms of size but doesn’t feel that way in driving.
Much has been said on the interior, which overall is a huge improvement in design over the Astra (the new version shares the Insignia design) although the quality of the plastics is still down on Audi and BMW the overall fit and lack of creaks shows its been well built and works well. Rear passenger space is excellent (although I am using a 6 year old a test so hardly a difficult test) but the fact I can get a child seat behind the driver seat and still have my seat as far back as I need is a big plus over the BMW and the Audi where I cant.
I’ve got a few gripes of course, I love the adaptive headlights but for some reason every time I hit a bump (living in the countryside means thats pretty often sadly) the lights go to full beam so think we need to look at that. I also can’t stand the electronic parking brake which seems to have a mind of its own sometimes refusing to disengage no matter how many times I stamp on the brake peddle. The brakes are huge Brembo items but despite their size they seem to run out of steam round Milton Keynes roundabouts (most standard cars do in fairness, only one we’ve not had issues with of late is the Nissan GTR) and I find the car hard to park, although thats likely to be my fault and not the car to be fair. Stereo is good (better than my M3 if I’m honest), satnav equally as bad as the BMW (think I’m going back to maps) and the array of buttons on the dash whilst easy to understand seems cheap compared to BMW’s iDrive, which isn’t itself without its detractors of course. I’m also not a big fan of the steering wheel, a bit too bling in my view.
This last paragraph demonstrates that road testing cars really is down to personal choice in 99% of all tests, be that testing from an engineer, road tester for a magazine or performance upgrade R&D as my role is but the ultimate measure is always would you put your own money down and buy one to which the answer is yes. Indeed I’m suitably impressed that we plan to build a track version for corporate events, fit 4 race seats with harness’s and use it for passenger rides for tuning shows and action days, you’ve got to be pretty impressed with a car to look to that as an idea.