David Motton

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Read our Vauxhall Insignia review to find out what tow car ability this 138bhp diesel estate has – is it the perfect companion for your caravan holidays?

Overview

New competition led Vauxhall to refresh the Insignia in 2013. We’ve been running Sports Tourers for a few months, first a petrol car and now this 2.0-litre diesel.

The Ecoflex engine promises remarkable economy, with an official combined figure of 72.4mpg. As well as low running costs, the Vauxhall is inexpensive to buy: just over £23,000 is competitive for a big family estate car. But, of course, we're keen to discover what tow car potential this diesel estate has.

We want to see if Vauxhall’s improvements to the Insignia Sports Tourer are enough to keep it competitive against the likes of the new Ford Mondeo and VW Passat. Does it tow well and how fuel-efficient is it with a caravan behind it?

Towing

We were impressed when we towed with the petrol Insignia at last year’s Tow Car Awards. The diesel also makes an able tug.

In this spec, the Insignia has a kerbweight of 1658kg. That gives an 85% match figure, as usually recommended for safe and stable towing, of 1409kg. That’s well within the legal towing limit of 1600kg (incidentally, going by the VIN plate rather than the figure in Vauxhall’s brochure gives a higher limit of 1630kg).

We matched the Vauxhall to a Bailey Unicorn II Cadiz with a Mass in Running Order of 1344kg. The Insignia coped comfortably, staying straight and true at motorway speeds with little help from the driver. 

Some cars feel stable at a steady 60mph but lose their composure in emergency manoeuvres. Not this Vauxhall Insignia. Since the revisions in 2013 the steering is more direct, so the driver can place the car more precisely. The Insignia turns quickly if you need to change direction in a hurry, pulling the caravan along behind it. Even when the Bailey’s tyres reached the limits of their grip, the Vauxhall pulled the tourer straight again.

So, stability-wise the Insignia acquits itself well. In terms of acceleration, the Vauxhall is good rather than great. Pulling the Bailey from 30-60mph took a respectable 14.2 seconds, but tall gearing takes the edge off in-gear acceleration. Towing from 50-60mph in fifth gear, as you might after being stuck behind slower traffic on the motorway, needed 15.1 seconds. It’s quite a vocal engine, too, and doesn’t match the best diesels for refinement.

If that makes the Vauxhall’s engine seem a bit underwhelming, the pay-off is excellent fuel economy. We achieved 32.2mpg while towing on a mixture of A-roads and motorways, including a couple of long, steep hills. That’s a very impressive figure for a car of this size towing a middleweight family caravan.

The Vauxhall’s performance in the hill-start test was mixed. The electronic parking brake held car and caravan still on a 1-in-10 slope and released smoothly. While the Insignia had no trouble pulling the tourer to the top of the slope, we felt some vibration through the clutch pedal. We tackled the same slope in reverse and noticed the same vibration, and had to carefully balance the clutch and throttle to climb the slope.

In an emergency stop the Insignia needed 11.1 metres to stop from 30mph. That’s a solid performance on a damp track. In normal towing we found the brakes were easily up to the job of slowing the outfit smoothly.

All told the Insignia tows well, so would be a pleasing companion on your caravan holidays. But while the 1.6-litre turbocharged petrol performs better than you might expect of a car which fills up on unleaded, the 140PS (138bhp) diesel’s acceleration is blunted slightly by tall gearing. There’s the option of more powerful 163PS and 195PS engines, which will no doubt offer more punch when towing, but they are unlikely to match this model’s economy.

Everyday driving

Just as when towing, in solo driving the improvements made in 2013 are noticeable and welcome. However, that’s not to say that there aren’t quieter family cars or alternatives that are better to drive.

One of the most successful improvements has been to the steering, which we’ve touched on already. The Vauxhall Insignia's steering has a more positive feel. You’d still have more fun driving a Ford Mondeo or a Mazda 6 – but the Vauxhall no longer keeps the driver at arm’s length.

Motorways are the Insignia’s natural habitat. Like most cars that are stable when towing, the Insignia is composed and easy-going when driven solo. At a steady cruise there’s little noise from the engine, and wind and road noise are kept in check. The ride is mostly comfortable, even with the sportier suspension set-up of our SRi-spec test car. If your day-to-day life involves long hours behind the wheel, the Insignia is a sound choice.

A steady cruise disguises the gruff nature of the engine, which sounds obtrusive when accelerating hard. And in stop-start traffic the irritating vibration through the clutch pedal that we noted when performing the hill-start test also makes its presence felt.

Gear ratios chosen for economy mean that the driver sometimes needs to hold on to a lower gear for longer than expected, and the 2.0-litre engine runs out of steam towards the top of the rev range. However, change up early and there’s enough torque to make brisk progress.

The Insignia drives well enough, but despite the 2013 improvements, the Ford Mondeo and VW Passat both drive better.

Space

There’s no shortage of space up-front, with lots of legroom. There’s enough adjustment for the seat and wheel for most drivers to find a comfortable driving position. However, all-round visibility is hindered by thick windscreen pillars and a shallow rear screen.

Those in the back seats have the benefit of chilled air from vents between the two front seats. However, legroom isn’t especially generous. According to our measurements there’s 8cm (over three inches) less than in the Škoda Superb Estate, for example. What’s more, the sloping window line means it’s easy for tall adults to catch their head when getting in and out of the back of the car.

When a manufacturer calls its estate car ‘Sports Tourer’ it usually signals that some practicality has been sacrificed to make a car that’s easy on the eye. That’s the case here, with the steeply angled rear screen eating into the total capacity. With the seats up and loading to the luggage cover, there’s a reasonable 540 litres to fill. That’s less than a Škoda Superb Estate (633 litres) or Volkswagen Passat Estate (650 litres), but beats the new Ford Mondeo Estate (525 litres).

For caravan holidays, trips to the tip or taking the eldest to uni, the rear seats fold to leave only a slight slope to the load floor and a total capacity of 1530 litres. However, this is well beaten by the Superb (1865 litres), Passat (1780 litres) or Mondeo (1630 litres). The Insignia Sports Tourer is practical enough for the needs of many buyers, but there are several roomier rivals for passengers and luggage.

Running costs

With a list price of £23,284, the 2.0 CDTi Ecoflex S/S SRi Nav model, as tested here, is decent value. You’ll kick yourself if you forget to haggle, though, because discounts of around £1500 are available, according to What Car?’s research. 

Securing a saving up front is especially important when you consider the so-so resale values. Expect to get back around 39% of the original list price after three years and 36,000 miles.

The big plus with this model is fuel economy and low carbon dioxide emissions of just 104g/km. That puts the car in Band B for Vehicle Excise Duty.

Although we never matched the official combined figure of 72.4mpg (who does?) we saw better than 50mpg and achieved 32.2mpg when towing. Insurance bills should also be affordable, since the car sits in group 19.

The Insignia earned a five-star rating from Euro NCAP, which is reassuring. However, it’s disappointing that Vauxhall has recently reduced its warranty cover from seven years/100,000 miles to three years/60,000 miles.

The Insignia makes most sense for company-car drivers who will pay little in tax because of the its low emissions. Fuel economy is the strongest point for private drivers, who should make sure they buy at a discount to offset the Insignia’s modest values on the secondhand market.

Technical specs

Engine size1956 cc
Kerbweight1658 kg
85% KW1409 kg
Towball limit85 kg
Maximum towing limit1600 kg
Power138.0 bhp
Torque258.0 lb ft
Official MPG72.4 mpg
CO2104 g/km
30-60mph14.2 seconds
30-0mph11.1 m

Verdict

So, come the end of our Vauxhall Insignia review, what's the verdict? There’s still plenty to praise about this car, even though it now gives best to several newer rivals as an all-round buy.

Judged purely as a tow car, it can hold its head high. Stability at speed is excellent, with a relaxed, unflustered feel that makes long journeys straightforward. Punchier in-gear acceleration wouldn’t hurt, but many buyers will consider steady performance a small price to pay for such impressive fuel economy. 

As a solo drive, the Insignia has improved considerably since it first went on sale, but the opposition hasn’t stood still either. There’s more fun to be had behind the wheels of a Ford Mondeo and Mazda 6, and the new VW Passat has the Insignia well beaten for refinement. Although the Vauxhall is quiet enough at a steady speed, put the engine to work and it sounds too gruff. 

The Sports Tourer has never been the most practical of estate cars. It has quite a shallow boot, and even if you load it to the roofline, the sloping screen limits capacity. The angle of the screen could also be an issue if you own a large dog.

Official economy figures may be hard to achieve outside of laboratory conditions, but there’s no doubt this is a very economical car and it’s reasonably priced.

There are roomier and better estate cars. As a tow car, though, the Insignia continues to impress.

Conclusion

Pros

  • This is a very economical model
  • It is a very solid, composed, competent tow car
  • It's a super car for munching motorway miles

Cons

  • Boot space is compromised in the name of style
  • Rivals are roomier and better to drive
  • The engine is quite gruff under load
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