The Holden Insignia VXR may look familiar, and that's because it is. It was last here in 2012/13 wearing an Opel badge during a short-lived stint for the European brand.
Fast forward to today and the 2015 Holden Insignia VXR launches in Australia with the benefit of a facelift (which occurred for the Opel Insignia OPC in 2013), new features and several Holden-first safety technologies.
Not content with just launching the all-wheel-drive Insignia VXR on Australian roads, Holden chose the picturesque surrounds of Queenstown, New Zealand to take the wraps off. The launch was designed to give the media a chance to test the Euro performance sedan on windy roads, along with the snow-topped plains of the Southern Hemisphere Proving Ground.
Priced from $51,990 plus on-road costs, the Insignia VXR launches costing $8000 less than the last time it was here with an Opel badge. The price drop doesn't compromise features either, with the car premiering Holden's new MyLink infotainment system and several brand-first safety features.
The all-wheel drive flagship sits in a segment with little immediate competition. The nearest rivals are perhaps the cheaper front-wheel drive Skoda Octavia RS, the all-wheel drive Subaru Liberty 3.6R and the more expensive all-wheel drive Volkswagen Passat CC 4Motion. There's also the cheaper rear-wheel drive Holden Commodore SS-V and the more expensive Ford Falcon XR8.
Luckily for the Insignia VXR, it's the styling that sets it apart from its competition. Available in four colours — white, grey, black and the hero blue colour — the Insignia VXR is easy to spot in the crowd. Huge 20-inch alloy wheels and beefy Brembo brakes with cross-drilled rotors fill out the wheel arches, while vertical air intakes and a sizeable grille make a statement up front.
The rear is equally as impressive with chrome highlights, LED taillights, dual exhaust pipes and a boot-lip spoiler.
Inside the cabin there is an immediate feel of premium quality and sportiness. The button-explosion effect in the Holden Astra VXR is nowhere to be found thanks to the 2013 interior facelift of the Insignia OPC, which consolidated buttons and paid greater emphasis to the MyLink infotainment system.
Holden's new MyLink infotainment system features an 8.0-inch colour touchscreen with Bluetooth audio streaming, voice control (including text to speech), satellite navigation, seven speakers and DAB+ digital radio as standard. It uses a cleaner layout and advanced voice recognition to help the driver do more without taking their eyes off the road. Text-to-speech even allows the vehicle to read out text messages to minimise distraction while driving.
In addition to MyLink, the Holden Insignia VXR (brand) debuts automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning and adaptive cruise control. These safety features are in addition to six airbags, electronic stability control, front and rear parking sensors, reversing camera, rear cross traffic alert, automatic headlights and windscreen wipers, blind spot monitoring and high beam assistance.
For the full pricing and specifications, read here.
The wrap-around door sill is reminiscent of the Jaguar XJ, housing the door lock and wing mirror adjustment buttons.
The chunky steering wheel sits beautifully in hand and contains the controls for the adaptive cruise control and infotainment system. Paddle shifters are attached to the back of the steering wheel and sit within easy reach, but do feel slightly cheap to the touch.
In the centre of the driver display is a huge 8.0-inch LCD screen that shows the speedometer and can interchange between navigation and other interesting features such as a lap timer and G-meter. The display changes theme as the driver switches between the 'touring' and 'VXR' modes. It's a very neat system and particularly impressive on a sub-$60k car.
The driver and front passenger pews are extremely comfortable. The awesome looking Recaro branded seats feature eight-way power adjustment with leather trims and three-stage seat heaters — particularly handy in chilly Queenstown.
Leg and head room in the first row is great, while the rear isn't actually too bad either. As a taller person I found it easy to slide into the second row and had enough room to sit comfortably, despite the bulky Recaro seat taking up the row in front of me. That said, while two adults would sit comfortably abreast in the second row, three would definitely be a squeeze.
The second row folds 60/40 and features two ISOFIX child anchorage points, which are easy to access. The centre seat features a fold-down armrest with a couple of cup holders and a storage cubby. Keeping in line with the other big car in Holden's range, the Commodore, the Insignia VXR features a massive 500 litre cargo capacity — that's four litres more.
Powered by an Australian built 2.8-litre turbocharged six-cylinder engine, the Insignia VXR produces 239kW of power and 435Nm of torque. It's only available with a (decent, not exceptional) six-speed automatic gearbox with steering wheel mounted paddle-shifters. Fuel use is a fairly high 11.3L/100km and it only accepts 98RON premium unleaded petrol.
When you turn the six-cylinder engine over, it idles with a menacing burble. Give it a stab at idle and it belts out a brilliant exhaust note.
As we set off into our drive, the first thing I noticed was how impressive the ride was in its 'touring' mode. Adaptive dampers help smooth out bumps in the road and give the Insignia VXR an almost non-sport ride quality. The only things that reminds you of its raucous nature are the seats and chunky steering wheel.
At low speeds the electrically assisted power steering is gentle and easy to turn. Parking is made easy thanks to its variable steering ratio that adds resistance as speeds increase and softens up response during low speed or stationary manoeuvres.
Our road loop stretched through incredible scenery around Queenstown and Wanaka, with a stretch of gravel road driving for good measure. Through fast switchbacks, the Insignia feels settled and composed. The adaptive all-wheel drive system does a great job shuffling torque as required so you can confidently throttle out of a corner with ease.
Switching to VXR mode totally changes the Insignia VXR's character. The VXR button immediately makes the ride firmer (thanks to the FlexRide adaptive suspension dampers) and sharpens throttle response. Hitting the VXR button also activates a sport mode for the gearbox, which allows the car to hold gears for longer and aggressively change up and down with less focus on economy. The steering also changes by firming up immediately.
This is when the Insignia VXR is really at its best. The turbocharged V6 engine howls, barks and bellows as it approaches its redline. Traction is immensely impressive thanks to the four-paw drive system underfoot. This gives you more confidence to throw the Insignia VXR into a corner knowing that you can get on the throttle to power out.
This is all partly thanks to the Insignia VXR's adaptive all-wheel drive system. Unlike most conventional all-wheel drive cars, the Insignia VXR uses an electronically controlled all-wheel drive system with an electronic limited-slip rear differential.
This allows it to split torque distribution from 0 and 100 per cent between the front and rear axles. Additionally, the eLSD can then uses torque vectoring between the two rear wheels to further enhance traction.
Testing the all-wheel drive system on road was always going to be a challenge, so we took a detour via the Southern Hemisphere Proving Ground to really put the Insignia VXR to the test.
Located around one hour from Queenstown, the privately owned 400ha Southern Hemisphere Proving Ground is one of the largest facilities of its type in the world. Manufacturers from all over the world come here to test stability control, ride and handling along with their vehicles' thermal properties.
Featuring over 15 different test circuits, we settled for a large open plain to see how the Insignia VXR fared in the snow. Aside from Pirelli winter tyres, the cars were unchanged from stock to ensure we were sampling a regular road going product.
Before really getting stuck into the driving activities, we tested out the vehicle's stability control. We literally couldn't walk on the ice without metal soles attached to our boots, yet the Insignia VXR was able to perform lane change manoeuvres from around 70km/h with relative ease.
The effects of the all-wheel drive system were amplified on this surface with torque being shuffled to the rear axle to help prevent understeer.
The day culminated in a motorkhana and the dreams of every car enthusiast in the world — ice drifting. Once mastered, it was easy to throw the Insignia VXR into the circular track and just the throttle to steer the front end, all while the all-wheel drive system did its thing to keep the momentum going.
At $51,990, the Holden Insignia VXR represents excellent value for money when you look at performance and features. There's nothing much on the market at the moment in this price bracket that can match the Insignia VXR for style, performance, features and size.
If you want something a little bit different with bucket loads of performance to match, there are good reasons to look no further.