Opel’s next Insignia is set to replace the Commodore from 2018 – in form and possibly name, too.
Holden is still working out whether to stick with or twist the knife into the Commodore nameplate that’s been around since 1978 and once had a 15-year run as Australia’s most popular car.
The company is having mind-wrestles internally because the replacement for the VF will be vastly different in concept – medium sized and front-wheel drive rather than large and rear-drive.
On the other hand, it could be argued the Commodore itself started life as a smaller model than the one it replaced (not the Kingswood!) and was a near facsimile of the Insignia’s long lost ancestor, the Opel Rekord/Senator, at least stylistically, so maybe things could come full circle.
Opel designers genuinely believe the next Insignia, inspired by the German brand’s 2012 Monza concept, will be one of the most beautiful-looking cars on the road when it emerges.
For now, though, I used a two-week break in the UK to get familiar again with the current model – in Vauxhall guise – that will hit Holden showrooms in the second quarter of 2015.
We knew this Insignia as an OPC (Opel Performance Centre) at home, but over here it’s wearing Vauxhall’s sporty VXR badge. It’s also applied to an imported HSV Clubsport to create the VXR8.
There’s a sportier-looking body compared with other Insignias, including the rear roof spoiler on our wagon variant, though the VXR aims for Audi RS-like subtlety rather than HSV heavy-handedness.
A semi-racey look is found in the cabin, too, with Recaro seats, flat-bottom steering wheel and a liberal use of VXR logos.
There’s also a VXR dash button, though press it if you dare – or have just driven out of pitlane for a track-day blast on smooth bitumen.
The button is related to the Insignia’s FlexRide adjustable suspension system, and this hardest VXR setting is too hardcore for the typical roads of the UK or even Australia.
Even in Comfort mode the Insignia doesn’t offer the same impressive country road compliance as the smaller Vauxhall Astra VXR – and especially the VXR8 – we also tested in the UK. Noise from the standard 19-inch tyres is also inescapable on such roads.
Yet in this mode the car proves to be surprisingly comfortable at lower speeds and the suspension is sufficiently flexible on the motorway.
The VXR’s steering also works well on the fastest form of public roads, avoiding the ‘wandering’ syndrome by being settled on-centre, and the light weighting allows for effortless wheel twirling when navigating suburbia.
That weighting doesn’t change sufficiently under load, however, and while the steering is fairly quick the Insignia VXR’s front end doesn’t always point in perfect unison with the position of the steering wheel.
It’s enough to cripple the VXR’s intention to be an involving drive when pushing, and rack rattle further spoils the fun even if all-wheel drive eliminates torque steer.
Accept this and instead view the Vauxhall Insignia VXR as a fast grand-touring wagon, and greater satisfaction can be found.
The chassis feels well balanced on country roads, and the all-wheel drive and electronic limited-slip differential help to tidily deploy the V6’s power to the road.
The Recaro sports seats are brilliant, with the cushioning and bolstering judged just right to help eliminate body aches during long drives while avoiding the sensation someone’s trying to hug you to death.
The engine also feels more GT than GTR.
The General Motors 2.8-litre turbocharged V6, which starts life at Holden’s engine operations plant in Port Melbourne, produces decent numbers – 239kW at 5250rpm and 435Nm at 2250rpm – though is more firelighter than firecracker.
Mated to a precise-shifting six-speed manual in our test car but available with a six-speed auto, the six-cylinder saunters rather than sprints from low revs and doesn’t come on song until 3000rpm. And it needs to be kept in the upper half of the rev range to keep singing.
The engine is beautifully boosty there, even though the power delivery is more linear than the turbo four found in the VXR Astra. The Remus exhaust adds an extra layer of aural interest and the drone it produces when cruising is bearable.
Running costs take a bit of a hit on the fuel economy side. The VXR prefers 98 premium unleaded and official consumption is between 10.6 and 11.0 litres per 100km depending on variant and transmission – and lab testing never takes fast driving into account.
If the Vauxhall Insignia VXR Sports Tourer isn’t perfect in a performance context fewer flaws are found on the practical side (and it’s a shame Holden is importing only the sedan).
Open the automatic tailgate via the key fob or driver door knob and there’s a 540-litre boot that didn’t need to tap into the 1530 litres available with the rear seats folded to easily swallow our touring family’s travel gear: two large suitcases, large pram, travel cot and one soft bag.
The cabin is plenty spacious – and particularly important as it bodes well for this car’s successor not leaving Commodore-type buyers feeling too shortchanged on rear seat room.
Interior materials and quality is not dissimilar to that of the VF Commodore, though the Holden’s dash design is more stylish from this reviewer’s perspective – and certainly doesn’t overdo things on the number of buttons like the Vauxhall.
Unlike the Commodore, though, the Insignia matches up a rotary controller with its 8.0-inch touchscreen – introduced with the car’s 2013 update, and much needed because the Insignia that came here as an Opel was awful ergonomically.
The upgraded IntelliLink system (just a different name to Holden’s MyLink) brings an excellent 3D nav map, accompanied by good, clear instructions. A new feature also allows a full address to be entered in one go.
Temperature adjustments can also be made via the touchscreen, though we found the response to a press a bit tardy and it was quicker and simpler to just rotate the centre stack dials.
The wagon’s cleverly arched rear window provides some good visibility, though sensors and a rear-view camera shouldn’t be missing (options only).
Standard equipment for the car overall is otherwise good, especially considering this is a vehicle that cost $59,900 in sedan form when it was sold here not so long ago as an Opel.
That makes it not only a cut-price answer to a $105,000 Audi S4 but, while we wait for a Volkswagen Passat R to re-emerge, about one of the only responses from the mainstream segment.
Holden needs to fill as many showroom gaps as it can if it has a genuine chance of overtaking Toyota in the local sales race. The Holden Insignia VXR may be more of a niche model, but we’re glad it’s coming back.