It's a difficult car to approach, the Opel Insignia OPC. There's been nothing before it, at least in this country, so this $60,000 fast four-door sedan is an unknown quantity.
Opel Performance Centre (OPC), based in Russelsheim, Germany, is the sports-engineering division of GM's European arm, Opel, which itself has recently launched in Australia. OPC to Opel is a bit like Renaultsport to Renault, or AMG to Mercedes-Benz, so hopefully it follows those divisions by turning vanilla cars into tasty, brilliant ones.
At $59,900, and with 239kW of power, the Opel Insignia OPC competes with the $55,990/220kW Volkswagen Passat V6 FSI, the $52,990/195kW Subaru Liberty GT, and even the $64,600/180kW BMW 328i sedan – three very different personalities.
Note that the number of kilowatts the OPC makes is higher than its rivals, and that it uniquely comes standard with 19-inch alloy wheels, Recaro bucket seats, Brembo brakes – those two brands are to an enthusiast what Hermes and Armani are to a fashionista – and a rear limited-slip differential. (See the full price and equipment list here.)
The Opel Insignia OPC is, in pie-chart terms, about three-parts Passat V6 and two-parts Subaru WRX STI. Let us explain…
As with the Volkswagen, the Opel Insignia OPC is a quick, roomy and refined all-wheel-drive family sedan. Compared with regular Insignia models, OPC has pulled the front suspension apart and essentially re-built it. Also installed is an adaptive, adjustable shock absorber kit called FlexRide which offers three settings – standard mode, or a dash-mounted button that allows drivers to choose from Sport or OPC modes.
Moving through the modes progressively hardens-up the suspension for sporty driving in addition to sharpening steering and throttle response. But in the regular mode, even riding on liquorice-thin optional 20-inch wheels, the Insignia OPC is superbly comfortable in the city and suburbs. The Opel feels sophisticated the way it deals with pot-holes and expansion joints, thumping slightly through the cabin, but never jarring and rattling occupants' bones.
Also like its Passat rival, the Insignia is quiet on most surfaces, although the large wheels throw up a decent racket on coarse-chip surfaces at speed.
Interior quality isn’t quite up to Volkswagen standards, but the design of the dashboard is modern and built using soft-touch plastics, and comfort from the Recaro seats is superb.
Although rear-seat headroom is affected by the Insignia’s sloping roofline, it isn’t as cramped as proper coupe-style sedans. Rear legroom is prodigous, and rear air vents are included to keep passengers warm or chilled. Door pockets, a tilted backrest and a thick seat base ensure fine comfort for long-distance touring. The boot is a capacious 500 litres and the rear-seat backrest folds to accept longer items.
The inconsistency that plagues a Subaru WRX STI – coincidentally it costs about the same money and offers similar power – begins to seep through, however.
The ergonomics in the Opel Insignia OPC cabin are below average. An overload of buttons on the main fascia is a problem. It’s possible to change a CD/iPod track no fewer than four ways – by forward and backward buttons on the main fascia, a rotary knob on the main fascia, the rotary dial near the transmission lever, or the rocker switch on the steering wheel – yet other functions are buried under a layer of sub-menus. Connecting your mobile phone via Bluetooth cannot be done by pressing the ‘phone’ button on the dash, but inexplicably must be accessed by the ‘settings’ sub-menu. Even then, Bluetooth audio streaming isn’t available.
An Insignia facelift is due soon, and the way occupants interact with the interior definitely needs a re-think.
The 2.8-litre turbocharged V6 engine is another prime example of the inconsistency affecting the OPC. The engine is assembled in Melbourne by Holden, shipped to Opel in Germany, only to come back nestled under the Insignia bonnet. Despite packing 239kW of power and 435Nm of torque – both big numbers for $60K – the Insignia has delayed responses off the mark and only charges hard and fast when the tachometer is in the top half of its range.
These days, sophisticated turbocharging technology has mostly eliminated the old turbo-lag bugbear, but not in the Opel. A BMW 335i turbo six-cylinder, for example, offers maximum torque of 400Nm from 1200-5000rpm; the Opel Insignia OPC delivers 435Nm but needs 5250rpm showing on the tachometer to deliver it. At low revs, the Insignia feels tardy, and slower than its 6.3-second 0-100km/h claim indicates. Yet at higher revs, it feels significantly faster.
Its response around town isn’t helped by a six-speed automatic that is dreadfully slow to kick back gears in auto mode; demanding drivers must use the manual mode, with tipshifter gate and paddleshifters.
Claimed fuel consumption of 10.9L/100km blew out to 13L/100km in mixed conditions on test.
The upside is – and this is also something the Subaru is renowned for – the Insignia offers addictive acceleration when kept on the boil. Plant the accelerator on a country road, and the OPC reels in distance and blurs the scenery. The V6 engine even offers up a whooshy soundtrack, overlaid by an audible turbo ‘whumpf’ when backing off the throttle – few sports cars do this these days.
Suddenly, the comfortable and quiet urban traits are left behind and the Opel Insignia OPC becomes a bit uncouth, verging on demonic.
Fast acceleration is backed by superb handling. In the hardest OPC mode the Insignia sits amazingly flat in corners, and sharpens the steering to the point of being quick and communicative – comparatively it’s a bit delayed in its responses around town in normal mode.
Thanks to the hard suspension, grippy Pirelli P Zero tyres and all-wheel-drive traction, the Opel Insignia OPC corners fast, with noticeable understeer – or front-end push – on turn-in to a corner offset by the ability to pin the throttle in the middle of the corner and feel the car send power to the rear wheels.
It’s a real rush to the drive the Opel Insignia OPC, and that’s something that can’t be said for its VW Passat, Subaru Liberty and even BMW 328i rivals, all of which are polished to a tee. The real trick with the Opel is its ability to then slip back into the urban jungle, swallow a lot of luggage, offer terrific legroom for the whole family, and remain comfortable and quiet whether cruising or commuting.
It may be an unpolished Opel in some respects, but this Insignia OPC is, in terms of character and in the places that matter, a rare gem.