Opel Automobile GmbH is now a subsidiary of the French automobile manufacturer Groupe PSA, having been sold by the former owner – America’s General Motors – since August last year. Yet the remnants of the old links will be with us for a long time from now – especially if we’re talking about the second-generation Insignia mid-size model.
The first generation, a radical departure from the previous model, the popular Vectra – sold over the course of three generations from 1988 to 2008 – has been with us for almost a decade, and naturally General Motors targeted a long-lasting campaign for the second generation during development as well. It remains to be seen how the new parentage will affect the evolution of the Insignia – PSA might want to eschew paying long royalties to General Motors over the course of the model’s lifetime by speeding up the development of a third generation. But that’s something that’s only on the horizon, for now – and the immediate reality is we’re dealing here with a true chameleon. If you watched Opel’s recent evolution, you might know the German manufacturer has been hanging out with the French parent for years already (since 2012) – having developed in partnership the architectures for the Opel Crossland X / Citroen C3 Aircross and the Opel Grandland X / Peugeot 3008 crossovers. This is actually how they came to the decision to acquire struggling Opel – most likely their partnership was pretty solid during the years of development and with their recent turnaround in sight the managers from PSA decided to have a go at turning around Opel / Vauxhall as well. These considerations don’t really revolve around the Insignia though – save for the fact that besides selling large amounts of crossovers as is customary today, Opel still needs a very solid performance from their popular midsize sedan.
Even more so considering the struggling segment – which is losing lots of “real estate” to sport utility vehicles – and the fact that even though General Motors was the one with the financial backing, Opel naturally also invested copious amounts of money during development. We can easily imagine that for GM the trouble was well worth – the company’s new E2XX architecture, a successor to the famed Epsilon II platform – was used, and not just for the Insignia. Instead, it was a true global performer, with the Insignia in Europe and the UK, the Chevrolet Malibu in the United States, the Buick Regal at home and especially in China, as well as the Holden Commodore in Australia. And flexibility is the key here – the Opel Insignia itself can be had in Grand Sport (a five-door fastback), Sports Tourer (wagon) and Country Tourer (crossover) attire, along with GSi sporty derivatives and probably in the years to come a new OPC performance version. One thing to note – Opel ditched the four-door saloon version entirely for this iteration, another sign that regular sedans are becoming an endangered species. And just like the first-generation Insignia, while the Vectra had always been a standard size midsize model, the Grand Sport truly lives up to its name in terms of sheer size – we’ll reserve judgment about the Sport derivation for the appropriate chapter.
Design, Interior and Gadgets
It’s clear the Insignia has always been an important model for both Opel and General Motors over the past few years – especially since the first generation was born at the height of the financial crisis and was very popular over the course of its long run. My feel is the second generation was an even more important effort – at least at one time, before the PSA – GM talks reached the acquisition tipping point – with the American automaker wanting to put a solid base in the segment as a way to bring back Opel from financial distress. Of course, the true history behind the decisions that led to the creation of the Insignia as a major platform (one serving as the basis for so many models, all over the world) and then severing all ties with Opel by selling it might never be revealed. We can only judge the product. And in terms of design, the Grand Sport is certainly a major step forward compared to the predecessor – the Insignia has always been a good looking midsize car but the new one even has the allure of certain executive sedans, without actually trespassing on their financial territory. By the way, Opel doesn’t seem to have any intentions to propose upscale subbrands such as Ford’s Vignale or Renault’s Initiale Paris, and we suspect it mostly wants to target the clients of one certain German brand – with the sights clearly set on the Passat/Arteon duo. By the way, one major advantage for the Insignia is Opel’s decision to forego the clear trend in the industry – the Insignia not only comes with a completely new architecture, but also clearly shows the fact in terms of styling. It’s nothing radical – but also nothing evolutionary. First off, the Insignia Grand Sport separates itself from the previous model through its enhanced dimensions – it’s longer, wider, with a larger wheelbase and rides lower. And at 4.897/ 1.863/ 1.455 mm (length, width, height), with a 2.829 mm wheelbase, it certainly sits at the top end of the midsize segment, aiming to take advantage of the new platform’s lightness while also offering a more spacious interior (though there are some issues here, still). Insignia’s front end denotes the new corporate styling signature, and the rest of the car certainly doesn’t denote the fact it was styled to please not only European, but also American, Chinese and Australian tastes without performing too many modifications. One thing you’ll have to take into account is the new design doesn’t bode well with European parking lots – even though Opel claims the 92 millimeters elongated wheelbase led to shorter overhangs. On the other hand, the stylish new design is also an aerodynamic performer – the Grand Sport prides itself with a drag factor of 0.26, which works wonders in terms of cabin noise at high speed.
Speaking of the cabin, this is where the new Insignia distances itself even more from the previous generation – even when compared to the facelifted predecessor, which was notorious for trying to lower the button/switch count for the midsize saloon. The new Insignia’s cabin looks airy and modern – with a clear emphasis on ergonomics that was a major issue in the past. Now the infotainment system’s touchscreen display is the centerpiece – almost all action takes place there. Even better, not all actions are directed from there – the HVAC system remains separate and easily accessible because it comes with most settings in one place, even though you can still access its complete settings menu form the IntelliLink interface. We do like the minimalist allure of the interior of the second-generation Insignia, but all is not perfect – for example the 7-inch touchscreen of the infotainment system is dwarfed even by the instrument cluster’s hybrid setup – analog dials are joined in the middle by an enhanced 8-inch digital display. On the other hand, it’s clear the Insignia is striving for the premium all-round allure – with the more elegant exterior comes the equally upscale interior. The assembly is better now, the materials are smoother and – if you’re willing to pay – you’re getting premium elements, from perforated leather to heated steering wheel, ventilated/heated front seats and a ventilated back bench (not for the middle seat, though). Before speaking of the driver’s position behind the wheel, there’s something to note – I’m not sure if it’s a negative or positive point, it might be decided by personal preference. After seeing the world taken by storm by crossovers – and even hatchbacks now offer just about the same elevated position behind the wheel – it’s refreshingly unnerving to see how the Insignia’s sweeping roofline and racked windshield pose a slight challenge for tall drivers. Once you end up on the driver’s seat the perfect position is easy to find – especially if you select the premium ergonomic seats certified by “Aktion Gesunder Rücken” (Campaign for Healthier Backs). They are specifically designed for comfortable rides even on long trips and have multiple standard adjustment settings, memory and massage for the driver. No issues for the rear seat occupants as well – it’s among the most spacious models in the segment, competing squarely with the champions in this respective department. The boot is also bringing practicality points to the Insignia – specifically due to the liftback design that’s something hard to find in the segment (the Mondeo traditionally has it as well, and this is mostly why we selected the VW Arteon as a contender in our rivals list). Speaking of competition, we can tell you we decided on the Ford Mondeo, the Kia Stinger, the Volkswagen Arteon and the Volvo S90 – a short list due to the Insignia being both a liftback and fitted with the AWD system. So, back to the trunk – the Insignia boasting a 490/1450 liter combo is confronted by the Mondeo’s 550/1446 mix, Stinger’s 406/1114 lowest figures in the test, Superb’s best in class 625/1760 combination, Arteon’s 563/1557 good showing and S90’s odd 500 liter solitary figure.
You can’t ask for popularity today without featuring a huge rack of safety, assist and connectivity features – and Insignia has them all and more. There’s Opel’s IntelliLux LED matrix headlights up front, the Opel OnStar system (complete with the Personal Assistant that lets you search for parking spots or even book hotel rooms via an OnStar Advisor), the IntelliLink infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and of course a 4G LTE Wi-Fi Hotspot. There’s even wireless smartphone charging, along with every safety system conceivable without trespassing onto semi-autonomous territory, from Adaptive Cruise Control with automatic emergency braking, a color head-up display, to many radar and camera-based assistance systems, including Lane Keep Assist with automatic steering correction and others (rear cross traffic alert, park assist, lane change alert with blind side alert, forward collision alert, traffic sign assist, etc.). As mentioned before, the only dread with all this technology is the fact even the top of the line Navi 900 IntelliLink system displays everything on a small for today’s standards 8-inch touchscreen.
Engine, Transmission and Handling
The Opel Insignia tested here – a 2.0-liter diesel with all-wheel drive – is something that was pretty hard to spot on during our search for viable competitors. That’s because we had to find midsize sedans on the large end of the segment, perhaps with the same liftback configuration (Arteon, Stinger), with all-wheel drive and a manual transmission. Actually, the latter element was the one that bogged down our search – it’s certainly an odd choice from Opel to deliver a quite powerful engine in combination with AWD and without an automatic transmission. As such, we had to settle on some compromises – the Insignia comes with 170 horsepower and delivers the following performance figures: 8.7 seconds to 100 km/h and a maximum speed of 226 kph, with an average fuel economy of 5.2 liters per 100 km. The selected Ford Mondeo came with a 2.0-liter diesel good for 180 horsepower, AWD and the PowerShift automatic transmission – that’s good for 9.3 seconds, 221 kph and an average fuel economy of 5.2 liters per 100 km. Next up is the Kia Stinger 2.2 CRDI that offers 200 horsepower and has AWD and again an automatic transmission, giving out the following figures: 7.6 seconds, 230 kph and 6.4 liters. The Skoda Superb 2.0 TDI arrives with AWD and the ubiquitous DSG, its 190 horsepower being good for 7.6 seconds, 229 kph and 5.2 liters per 100 km. The VW Arteon group brother has the exact same engine, but no AWD in combination with the manual transmission – and we selected it merely because it’s a liftback and has the proper size. Last, but not least, the Volvo S90 D4 arrives with AWD and an automatic transmission, putting on the table 190 hp and the following figures: 8.4 seconds, 230 kph and 4.8 liters. The Insignia is certainly not the top performer here – even though its sporty lines would have put the driver into the proper mindset. But that’s not the idea, because the Opel managers have also cooked up the GSi – which can be had either with gasoline or diesel power, the latter putting out 210 ponies. It’s more of a grand tourer rather than a Grand Sport in this iteration – although we would have loved to see it equipped with the automatic transmission, even at the expense of a few extra grams of diesel. Speaking of fuel economy, the Insignia is still hefty and massive, at more than 1.5 tons in this version – so don’t expect to see figures coming even remotely close to the cited average fuel economy. This, as we all know, is only good for comparing rivals – and you can clearly see from the above the Insignia is in the middle. It’s an all-rounder in nature, good but not great performance, good but not stellar fuel economy.
More importantly, in terms of handling the Grand Sport remains the chameleon from the title. That’s mainly due to the presence of the torque vectoring all-wheel drive system, which is among the most advertised features of the new generation – and is especially useful during winter and when driving sporty. It comes with a modern setup instead of a conventional rear axle differential: two electronically controlled multi-plate clutches act in split-seconds to deliver higher torque to the outside rear wheel, inducing rotation around the vertical axis (yaw). It can even be controlled – the driving modes Normal, Tour and Sport are quite easy to distinguish in terms of actual comfort/handling feel, showing how far the well known FlexRide adaptive chassis has evolved. The standard setting will adapt dampers, steering and propulsion automatically after information is collected and analyzed from the vehicle sensors. Naturally, the Tour is the way to go on long-distance drives or if you want the best possible fuel efficiency. Opposite is the Sport – and the differences are notable, with stiffer dampers, a faster steering and throttle response. Interestingly, the normal mode is now governed by a new ‘Drive Mode Control’ that both analyzes data from the sensors and is also smart enough to adapt to the individual driving style. In effect, it needs some time to recognize the “mood” change, so if you’re feeling sporty better go the extra mile and hit the Sport button in advance – the Insignia is a large car, and all the electronics in the world can’t save you from that. On the other hand, its limits are certainly higher than before, especially since the new Insignia also comes with an extra 11 mm wider track both front and rear. The Grand Sport name is well worth though – if you get the FlexRide, which is not a costly option, actually – relaxed and mannered (a true yacht on the road) when looking for comfort, ready for action when you’re after dynamic prowess. Just don’t forget this is no GSi, let alone OPC, and the 2-liter diesel engine has its performance limits, even though its handling prowess is certainly befitting of something more thanks to the intelligent AWD and chassis combination.
Pro: Elegant and fluent styling both in and out. Interior space for the rear passengers. Lives up to its Grand Sport moniker when featuring AWD and the FlexRide chassis.
Against: Riddled with technology, but the biggest screen is just 8 inches. Odd to see a manual transmission offered in combination with AWD and a rather powerful diesel engine.
Starting Price – Opel Insignia 1.5 XFL – 20,400 EUR
Tested Version Starting Price – Opel Insignia 2.0 CDTI Dynamic AWD – 31,000 EUR
Tested Version – Opel Insignia 2.0 CDTI Dynamic AWD – 38,657 EUR
Engine: 2.0L four-cylinder, diesel, turbo, VGT, intercooler, S/S (1956 cc)
Power: 170 HP (125 kW) / 4000 rpm
Torque: 400 Nm / 1750 – 2500 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Dimensions: length – 4,897 mm, width – 1,863 mm, height – 1,455 mm, wheelbase – 2,829 mm
Fuel Tank Capacity: 62L
Trunk Capacity: 490/ 1450 liters
0 – 100 km/h: 8.7 s
Top Speed: 226 km/h
Fuel consumption: urban – 6,7L/100 km, highway – 4,3L/100 km, average – 5,2L/100 km
Rating: 4.6 / 5