By Jonathan Crouch
If you're interested in a secondhand version of the first generation Vauxhall Insignia, the post-2013 facelifted version is a much better bet. It was given smarter looks, a classier cabin, hi-tech features and a more efficient engine range, enhancing its already impressive CV for success in the medium range Mondeo sector. Find a good one and you'll get a great all-round volume D-segment family car.
First launched in 2008 as a more stylish replacement for the uninspiring Vectra, Vauxhall's Insignia was instantly well received, carrying off the coveted 2009 Car of the Year title and racking up impressive sales at the same time as other mainstream brands like Renault and Citroen were struggling desperately in this sector. Beyond the stylish panelwork though, there were a number of issues that began to hold it back as the years rolled on.
An interior over-cluttered with complicated little buttons. A suspension set-up too focused on the firm side. And an absence of the kind of hi-tech features becoming commonplace on many rivals. All of that needed sorting - and sure enough was corrected in the smarter-looking and much improved model we're going to look at here, launched in the late Summer of 2013. This offered buyers a more inviting and up-to-date cabin, a more compliant suspension set-up and a pretty complete rosta of gadgetry. It sold until the second generation Insignia Grand Sport and Sports Tourer models were launched in the Spring of 2017.
What You Get
The Insignia was one of the very first Vauxhalls to feature Design Chief Mark Adams' so-called 'new form' philosophy that was subsequently carried forward across the brand's model line-up. The result from the beginning was quite a handsome car, with a look Vauxhall always liked to describe as 'sculptural artistry meeting technical precision'. Nevertheless, by 2013, it was time for an update, though nothing too radical: in fact, there were no sheet metal changes at all. Instead, buyers got detail improvements front and rear that aimed to bring a wider and lower look to the hatch, saloon and Sports Tourer estate bodystyles that, as before, made up the range.
That's certainly the feel delivered by this facelifted model's smarter front end, with its smarter high-gloss chrome grille and thinner logo bar cradling a prominent Griffin badge, including winglets linking with sleeker gloss black-trimmed headlights. As previously, the tightly pinched lines helped to disguise the bulk of the car and a so-called 'blade' design that was most noticeable in the front doors smartened up the surface areas. Also familiar to original Insignia buyers was the profile, with its smart bowed roofline dropping dramatically towards the rear with the kind of almost coupe-style sweep that characterises other stylish saloons from this period like Jaguar's XF and Volvo's S60. At the back, the chrome logo was mounted lower and extended into the LED tail light cluster.
And inside? Well if you're familiar with the original post-2008 version of this model, you'll find that this facelifted version feels a great deal more up to date. The phrase 'button clutter' might have been invented for the earlier Insignia, which featured a dash with so many confusing little knobs and switches that many owners simply gave up trying to figure them all out. With the 2013 update, much of that was tidied up onto an optional central 8-inch colour touchscreen, there to deal with everything from navigation to trip computer read-outs and audio selections, Bluetooth 'phone functions to a series of Vauxhall-sourced apps. The designers also provided owners with a slightly cheap-feeling touchpad behind the gearlever that could accept one, two or three finger gestures for the various operating functions - or the driver could press a button on the steering wheel and activate the whole thing by voice control.
More hi-tech could be viewed through the redesigned three-spoke leather-trimmed steering wheel where in the instrument cluster, another 8-inch high resolution display was provided. This one, also optional and framed by conventional analogue gauges either side, is primarily there to show a virtual speedometer but can also be configured to display all sorts of information such as smartphone or audio use - or even navigation. Otherwise, owners of the previous model should feel right at home. It's as easy to get comfortable in this improved model as it was in the original Insignia, thanks to a wide range of seat and wheel adjustment. As for cabin quality, well the materials and plastics used feel slightly nicer too in comparison with what went before. Go for an expensive variant though and you might feel the whole ambience could be a little more luxurious.
And back seat space? Well it's easier to get to it if you've a Sports Tourer estate bodystyle: the sloping rear roofline of the five-door hatch version means that on that car, you've to dip your head a little getting in. That model's tapering profile also resulted in the adoption of a lower seat cushion across the range so as to preserve sufficient headroom. If you're really tall, you might find once inside that even this isn't enough to keep your head from brushing the ceiling but ordinary folk should find that space here is reasonable and comfort levels quite acceptable - at least for the two outer occupants. Unfortunately, as with most cars in this class, the middle occupant will be less comfortable, perched on a harder, narrower seat centre section with legs astride a prominent central transmission tunnel.
Out back, luggage capacity is class-competitive. The Sports Tourer estate offers a 540-litre boot extendable to 1,530-litres if you push forward the rear bench. Insignia owners going for the hatch variant get a wide, long (though not particularly deep) 530-litre boot, extendable to 1,470-litres with the rear bench down - though the seats unfortunately don't fold quite flat. If you must have the rare saloon version, then the respective cargo bay figures are 500-litres and 1,015-litres.
What to Look For
Though our customer survey uncovered plenty of satisfied buyers of this post-facelift first generation Insignia, there were also quite a few issues that came up, things you'll need to look out for when assessing used examples. We can across plenty of minor electrical issues - and a few that related to the ECU system. There were various touchscreen issues with the centre-dash infotainment screen and in one case, the dash info unit suddenly switched itself off. In another, random warning signals started showing in the instrument binnacle.
Engineering issues included a report of a squeaking fan and a coolant leak that was traced to a faulty EGR unit. In one case, the stop/start system stopped working. In another, the car exhibited squeaking sounds when cold, or after long trips. One owner with an automatic model reported whining from the transmission too. Another had to replace an inlet manifold rail, a flywheel and a steering rack. And in one case, there was an issue with the fuel filter causing the car to stall when driving.
Minor issues included a report of a rattly parcel shelf, an issue with the power mirrors not returning to their usual position after being dipped for parking. One owner pointed out that the paintwork marks easily. And anther reckoned that the front tyres were only lasting 10,000 miles.
(approx based on a 2013 Insignia 2.0 CDTi 130PS - Ex Vat) An air filter costs in the £13 to £18 bracket and an oil filter costs in the £11 to £19 bracket. Brake pads sit in the £11 to £19 bracket for a set, though you could pay up to around £35 to £55 for a pricier brand. Brake discs cost around £125. Wiper blades cost in the £4 to £6 bracket. Try not to damage the headlamp; a replacement unit costs at least around £130 and could cost as much as £220. A timing belt costs around £62, but we also found pricier-branded parts costing around £112 or even as much as £150. A water pump costs in the £30 to £50 bracket but could cost as much as £75. A radiator can be had in the £125 to £135 bracket
On the Road
If medium range model buyers all prioritised pin-sharp handling and razor-sharp response, they'd all buy Ford Mondeos. But they don't. And they shouldn't. Cars like this one don't spend their lives on open Highland country roads but on endless motorway trips and snarled-up suburban crawls. Dynamically, they should be designed to suit that remit. The original Insignia always was, though it had a suspension set-up that many felt was rather on the over-firm side and levels of refinement that weren't good enough with the diesel engines that most buyers chose.
Both those issues were addressed with the 2013 update. First up, this improved model got a thorough chassis update tested on proper bumpy British roads, with a redesigned rear suspension system to improve ride comfort and a steering calibration refreshment that brought a more direct feel through the corners. Buyers were also offered an optional FlexRide adaptive damping system able tonetwork ride and response via three driving modes: 'Tour' softens the suspension for long distance comfort, while 'Sport' sharpens the steering and throttle response at the same time as stiffening the springs for a firmer, more dynamic experience. Finally, there's 'Standard', which aims to strike a reasonable everyday compromise between the two.
You can't fault the effort that went into all of this - over 60% of the chassis componentry was new - but it wasn't enough to make this into a car you'd really describe as 'rewarding'. What it did do was perfect what was there in the first place. True, a Mazda6 or a Mondeo from this era might handle the twisties with a little more elan, but for most of the people, most of the time, this, dynamically, is all the car they will ever need, able to quietly and effectively get on with the job of getting you from A to B.
The 'quietly' bit's important. Almost all Insignia buyers want a diesel and though the original version of Vauxhall's 2.0 CDTi unit had many merits, refinement wasn't one of them. In fact, it was one of the noisiest, rattliest diesels in its class. That was addressed as part of the facelift package and buyers got a choice of five different states of tune for this 2.0 CDTi unit - 120, 130, 140, 163 or 195PS. The 140PS model is probably the best all-rounder. The stats suggest its 0-62mph figure of 10.5s to be a second slower than the supposedly pokier 163PS version but in practice through the gears, it feels just as responsive and offers a useful step forward in speed from the feebler variants at the same time as still theoretically being able to achieve over 75mpg and dip beneath the 100g/km of CO2 barrier in class-leading style. Impressive. The 195PS version of this engine came with twin turbos and storms to 62mph in 8.7s on the way to 142mph. We should also mention that in 2015, Vauxhall introduced the 134PS 1.6-litre CDTi engine from the Astra into the Insignia: it was far more efficient than the 2.0 CDTi unit - and not much slower.
At the top of the Insignia range, the VXR model continued, with its 2.8-litre 325PS petrol V6, but this variant now gained 'SuperSports' branding designating the addition of a pack including 20-inch wheels and Brembo brakes. As before, the VXR didn't lack performance, the 62mph sprint being demolished in 5.6s on the way to 168mph. And it featured a clever HiPerStrut front suspension arrangement that aimed to reduce torquesteer, that writhing feeling you get through the steering wheel of cruder performance cars as they struggle unsuccessfully to get their power down under heavy acceleration or out of slow corners. Very effective it is too, especially in conjunction with the VXR's standard four wheel drive system.
4WD was also offered on selected versions of more powerful models and this set-up also featured on the 'Country Tourer' estate derivative. This is an Insignia Sports Tourer estate with a bit of off road attitude thanks to a raised ride height and the aforementioned 4WD system that changes this front wheel drive car into an all-wheel drive machine when declining grip levels automatically set the Haldex mechanicals directing up to 40% of the engine's torque rearwards. This variant was only available with 163 or 195PS 2.0 CDTi diesel power.
As for petrol power, well the most affordable option for post-2013 Insignia buyers lay with two 140PS units, an old-tech 1.8-litre powerplant and a newer, more efficient and quicker 1.4-litre engine borrowed from the Astra that was good for 62mph in 10.9s en route to 127mph. More modern still were the two turbocharged SIDI (or 'Spark Ignition Direct Injection') units freshly developed for this revised Insignia, brisk little engines featuring in-built balancer shafts for extra refinement and optional low friction 6-speed automatic gearboxes. There was also 170PS 1.6-litre unit good for 62mph in 9.2s on the way to 136mph. And a properly rapid Astra VXR hot hatch-derived 2.0-litre powerplant which reduced those figures to 7.5s and 155mph.
By almost any measure you care to name, the first generation Insignia turned out to be a successful car for Vauxhall. Sales were crushingly superior to those of its Ford Mondeo arch-rival and continued to increase at a time when those of most other medium range sector models were struggling. The reasons why had to do with sharp pricing, smart styling and low running costs, the attributes that business buyers value most and the things that remain most attractive about this much improved facelifted first generation model.
At its launch, this car wasn't completely new - but it felt that way behind the wheel thanks to all the fresh cabin infotainment and the higher quality feel. Running costs were much better too, with the most frugal 2.0 CDTi units able to average over 75mpg and put out less than 100g/km of CO2.
This car doesn't have to be economy-focused of course. You could tackle a mountain trail in the Country Tourer version or take on the Nurburgring in the tarmac-burning VXR variant. But it's really built to satisfy typical families and temperate middle management folk. People who'll appreciate the comfortable ride and the thoughtful functionality. It's the kind of thing you'd expect from a brand that's been making four-seater family cars since 1903. Experience that really shows.