David Motton

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It's stylish, well-priced and spacious, with a usefully high kerbweight, but what tow car ability does the Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer have? Read on!

Overview

The Sports Tourer is the estate version of the new Vauxhall Insignia.

There’s some family resemblance to the previous generation, but this is a very different car.

There’s more luggage space than before and more room for rear passengers.

With a respectable kerbweight of 1633kg and a legal towing limit of 1950kg, the 2.0-litre diesel we’re testing has strong potential when considering what tow car ability it has.

It’s cheaper than most of its key competitors, too.

A promising specification doesn’t necessarily translate into reassuring towing out on the road.

How well does the Insignia stack up? And have any compromises been made to sell the Vauxhall Insignia at such an affordable price?

Towing

If you are thinking of towing with the new Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer, the 170PS 2.0-litre makes most sense.

Not only is it the heaviest diesel version (until the 4x4 Country Tourer arrives), it’s the only diesel with a 90kg maximum download on the towball.

Less powerful diesels and all the petrol models bar the range-topping 4x4 have a 75kg maximum, a relatively low limit for such a big car.

And it is a big car. It measures just a fraction under five metres from bumper to bumper, making it slightly longer than an Audi A6 Avant.

So although priced to undercut most mainstream family cars, it’s as big as a large executive estate.

The kerbweight of 1633kg is high, compared with the equivalent Škoda Superb Estate’s 1545kg.

So the 85% match figure is a healthy 1388kg, well within the car’s 1950kg legal towing limit.

We matched the Vauxhall to a Swift Expression 636 with a Mass in Running Order of 1417kg.

That’s an 87% match for the Insignia, so more than the 85% match figure usually recommended for newcomers to towing, but within the 100% limit considered acceptable for experienced tow car drivers.

In terms of straight-line performance, the Vauxhall had no trouble pulling such a big caravan.

The engine’s 295lb ft of torque is delivered from 1750rpm to 2500rpm, so there’s enough pulling power for urgent acceleration, even with a hefty twin-axle in tow.

Our usual test route has a long, steep hill after just a couple of miles – the Vauxhall happily held 40mph in fourth gear without feeling strained.

There’s enough punch for brisk overtaking, too, as the 11.8-second 30-60mph acceleration time shows.

The Vauxhall stops well, too. In normal driving we found the brakes easy to apply smoothly, and when you really need them they are powerful.

An emergency stop from 30mph took 10.6 metres, a short distance on a slightly damp track.

There was no shunting from the caravan, and despite the aggressive manoeuvre the whole thing felt refreshingly undramatic.

For a front-wheel-drive car towing a big twin-axle caravan, the Insignia made a decent fist of the hill start test.

The electronic parking brake held the car and caravan still on the 1-in-10 slope and released smoothly.

Plenty of revs were needed to reach the top of the gradient, but there was no wheelspin.

The bulk of our testing took place in very strong winds, so the Vauxhall faced some of the most challenging conditions we’ve towed in for some time.

It did move around a bit, but most tow cars would have in such gusty conditions – the movements were generally slight and needed only minor steering corrections.

And when we were towing with some shelter from the wind, the Insignia Sports Tourer felt stable.

However, the lane-change test was a different story. We could feel some pushing and shoving from the caravan, and the car leaned noticeably when swerving – a VW Passat feels more secure.

Even so, this is a capable tow car.

Everyday driving

So now we know what tow car ability the latest Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer has, what is it like in everyday driving, without a caravan?

It won’t be the first choice of keen drivers. The Ford Mondeo, Mazda 6 and Volkswagen Passat are all more entertaining on a B-road.

However, if you spend more time shunting through heavy traffic or driving on the motorway than spearing down a favourite B-road, the Vauxhall is competent enough.

Comfort is the priority over sharp handling with the standard suspension set-up, and to a large extent the same is true with the optional FlexRide suspension fitted to our test car.

For an extra £800, this gives the choice of Tour (think comfort), Sport and Normal settings for the suspension dampers.

The throttle response and the weight of the steering also adjust.

Without a caravan in tow, the engine’s power and torque make for strong acceleration.

It’s a reasonably quiet motor unless revved hard, and wind noise stays largely in the background.

However, road noise is more noticeable than in some rivals and at times you can sometimes feel vibration from the engine through the pedals.

Space

Vauxhall admits the old Insignia Sports Tourer lost some sales because it wasn’t practical enough – that’s a lot less likely with the new car, which offers more room.

It’s better made inside, too. For the most part everything looks and feels well screwed together from high-quality materials.

There’s a good range of adjustment to the steering wheel, and lots of scope to tweak the seating position including electrically adjustable lumbar support – a big plus for anyone with back trouble. We spent full days behind the wheel without any aches or pains.

The old Insignia was relatively cramped in the back. The new car is much more spacious, largely thanks to a 92mm increase in the wheelbase (the distance between the front and rear wheels).

That makes for a lot more legroom, although the tall and wide transmission tunnel for 4x4 versions gets in the way if sitting three abreast.

The Vauxhall’s luggage area might be smaller than a Škoda Superb’s, but it’s long and wide, and sits low to the ground for easy loading, however the distance between the boot floor and the luggage cover is relatively shallow.

The overall volume is a useful 560 litres, but that’s substantially less than the Škoda’s 660 litres.

Folding the back seats down is easy, with buttons either side of the tailgate.

There’s also a manual release for the centre portion of the rear bench to allow the seats to split 40:20:40 rather than 60:40.

With the seats lowered there’s a slight slope to the floor and a total luggage capacity of 1665kg.

Running costs

The Insignia Sports Tourer offers excellent value for money.

The range starts from £18,685, and even our well-equipped 2.0-litre diesel has a list price of just £24,080.

That makes it £720 cheaper than the Škoda Superb Estate 2.0 TDI 150, and the Vauxhall has a considerable power and torque advantage over the Škoda.

For now, it seems that discounts are small, with What Car?’s Target Price team reporting a modest £405 saving.

However, the Vauxhall is still remarkably affordable for such a large and powerful car.

As for resale values, What Car? is predicting that the Vauxhall will be just one percentage point behind the Škoda Superb after three years.

If you choose the 2.0-litre diesel, the Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer achieves 53.3mpg on the combined cycle and emits 136g/km of CO2.

Both are unexceptional, although we achieved a reasonable 28.6mpg while towing.

Equipment levels are very impressive if you choose Tech Line Nav spec, including sat nav, in-car Wi-Fi, a DAB radio, an 8in colour touchscreen, rain-sensitive wipers, and front and rear parking sensors.

There’s a long list of safety kit too, contributing to the car’s five-star safety rating from crash testers Euro NCAP.

Technical specs

Engine size1956 cc
Kerbweight1633 kg
85% KW1388 kg
Towball limit90 kg
Maximum towing limit1950 kg
Power168.0 bhp
Torque295.0 lb ft
Official MPG53.3 mpg
CO2136 g/km
30-60mph11.8 seconds
30-0mph10.6 m

Verdict

The Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer is a good tow car and an impressive load-hauler.

It’s not good enough to displace the Škoda Superb as our favourite family estate, but it’s a strong rival.

Value for money is the Insignia’s strongest card.

The whole range is keenly priced, and even our powerful diesel is surprisingly affordable.

Yet there’s little sign that the Vauxhall has been built down to a price, with a solidly built cabin and lots of standard equipment.

There’s not as much space in the Insignia as you’ll find in a Superb Estate, but the new Sports Tourer is much more practical than its predecessor.

Rear-seat passengers have much more legroom, and the boot is bigger. The easy-fold rear seats also make life simple.

In solo driving, the Insignia prioritises comfort over an entertaining drive.

Even so, we’d like a more controlled ride at speed – it doesn’t feel as well tied down as the Škoda Superb or VW Passat.

As a tow car, the relatively high kerbweight and the torquey diesel engine are definite strengths. It’s heavier and more powerful than most rivals.

The Vauxhall Insignia is mostly a stable tow car, too. Much of our testing took place in very strong winds and while the Insignia did move around a little, we never felt nervous.

However, the Vauxhall was pushed around by the caravan in the lane-change test.

So it’s not a class-leader, but the Insignia is a capable tow car at an affordable price and is worth a second glance.

Conclusion

Pros

  • A talented tow car that's keenly priced
  • You get a lot of standard kit and a high-quality feel
  • This variant has a torquey engine and a high kerbweight

Cons

  • It feels less tied down than rivals
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