Forget the false start when it was last here with an Opel badge, the 2015 Holden Insignia VXR is a genuine view of Holden's performance plans once the Commodore takes its final curtain call.
Importantly, the Insignia could now very well be here to stay.
On appearances alone, the Insignia VXR looks the performance sedan part. It has just enough in the way of bulges and muscularity to claim the requisite road presence. The standard 20-inch wheels don’t hurt either.
And, being a relatively 'new' and unique offering in the Australian market, I definitely received a lot of ‘what’s that’ questions during my time behind the wheel.
So, if it looks the part, the question is whether it can perform to the same level. Commodore fans will need it to, if there’s to be anything in the way of four-door excitement in the future.
With performance the key in appealing to the Commodore faithful, the VXR has an important weapon in its arsenal: AWD. It’s adaptive, too, with a distinct FWD bias, but the system can send drive to the rear wheels as required. At launch on snow, Paul would have had more opportunity to assess that part of the drivetrain (linked below) than we did on bone dry roads in Sydney.
As you can read in our Insignia VXR launch review, the AWD VXR has little in the way of direct competition, but that doesn’t mean things (read sales) will be easy in Australia. A market accustomed to big and easy V8 engines might not be so turned on by a hi-po, small capacity, turbo charged six-cylinder.
Under the bonnet, there’s the aforementioned 2.8-litre V6, which generates 239kW and 435Nm. The only transmission option for VXR buyers is a six-speed automatic, which includes steering wheel mounted paddle shifters.
The ADR fuel claim is a little on the thirsty side all things considered – 11.3L/100km. On test, we used an indicated 13.2L/100km, mainly around town. Buyers accustomed to small-capacity engines won’t be impressed by that fuel usage, but on the other hand, buyers accustomed to large sixes and eights won’t bat an eyelid.
The Insignia VXR weighs a large sedan-like 1836kg and features plenty in the way of standard kit – especially in the safety column. You can read our full pricing and specification guide here, but some of the equipment highlights include emergency autonomous braking, forward collision mitigation, adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, automatic headlights, high beam assistance and lane departure warning.
Starting from $51,990, our test VXR is optioned only with prestige paint costing $550. That means a retail price starting from $52,540 plus the usual drive away costs. Incredibly, that’s a substantial $8000 cheaper than the Opel when it was last on Australia soil.
Take a seat behind the Insignia’s chunky steering wheel and there’s an immediate impression of premium finish and quality. The 8.0-inch colour touchscreen is clear and easy to use, the Bluetooth phone connection and audio streaming works well, the satellite navigation is accurate and concise and the audio system generates crystal-clear audio.
The main 8.0-inch display that sits ahead of the driver seems huge at first. You get used to it quickly, but it’s impressive the first time you cycle through the different options. While the gauges are excellent, there is a major source of annoyance in regard to the temperature controls for the AC and the heated seats. They are accessed via a weird touchscreen system that is neither intuitive to use nor particularly clever. You work out a way to make them reasonably usable, but it’s finicky and annoying.
You can opt to switch between navigation and other features like a lap timer and g-meter. Switch between ‘Touring’ and ‘VXR’ modes and the theme of the display changes. Strangely, though, the theme of the driving feel doesn’t seem to change much when you make the switch to VXR mode.
CarAdvice couldn’t detect much of a difference around town at least, when we shifted into VXR mode. There’s a minute change to the ride (it sharpens up a little), the gearbox assists in holding revs longer and the exhaust note seems a little louder, but none of this directly translates to more urgent outright performance.
It’s easy to get comfortable in the Recaro seats, which strike a perfect balance between holding you securely and remaining cosseting enough over longer distances. Eight-way adjustment tends to make getting comfortable a lot easier. The leather trim is beautifully finished and the front seats are heated.
Despite the compact nature of the cabin, you never feel squashed in when you’re either driver or passenger. The second row is likewise roomier than you might have thought. Two adults can be accommodated in the second row, even over longer distances without needing a visit to the chiro.
The second row folds down in a 60/40 split and there are also two ISOFIX anchorage points. Insignia needs to be able to store as much gear as a Commodore and while it might fall into a slightly smaller segment than the big Holden, it still maintains a 500-litre cargo capacity.
All good in terms of specification then. Out onto the open road and we start to get a feel for what makes the Insignia VXR tick. Like most tuned Euro cars it has a tight, direct feel to it almost immediately.
The steering is precise, with a solid meaty feel to it and the throttle response, while not perfect, is sharp enough to justify the sporty tag. From a standstill, or just off idle, there’s the usual turbo flat spot and while it’s not crippling, it is noticeable.
Once you’re moving and the turbo gets into its sweet spot, the Australian-built V6 rolls on the power nicely and the Insignia gathers pace quite rapidly. The soundtrack is something we found to be a love-or-hate proposition. Some CarAdvice testers weren’t turned on by the combination of engine roar and turbo hissing and whooshing. Others loved it. I think the soundtrack matches the sporting pretensions of the VXR; a vehicle with some semblance of sporting ambition needs to sound the part, and the Insignia does.
Around town, despite the large hoops and sports suspension tune, the Insignia VXR does a solid job of insulating passengers from rough road surfaces. There’s rarely any banging or crashing through the body and the steering maintains its precision even when upset by mid corner bumps. You’ll find the Insignia’s ride is matched nicely to the average Australian suburban ride network. Like the cabin, the ride exhibits a certain amount of European refinement.
The gearshift is generally smooth and snappy enough, regardless of whether you’re cruising around town or pushing on a little. We did notice the transmission had a tendency to opt for taller gears in an attempt (we assume) to get the most efficient end result. The only negative here is that you’ll notice it hunting between fourth and sixth a lot as it attempts to find the most efficient ratio.
Holden offers the Insignia VXR with service intervals of nine months, or 15,000km, whichever comes first. Capped price servicing means owners will spend $229 for each service. We've knocked the Insignia down ever so slightly from our launch review, which gives it a nine out of ten.
In that review, plenty of ice driving and not much city commuting highlighted the Insignia's strong points and glossed a little over its weaknesses. Still, the Insignia is a quality offering.
While the Insignia VXR gets around town well enough, it feels heavy and not especially fast or exciting. If you’ve been driving Commodores with V8 engines, you’ll drive an Insignia VXR and struggle to mount an argument to opt for it over an SS Commodore. It doesn’t do anything badly, but it doesn’t get your pulse racing either.
It’s not quite the answer Commodore fans will be looking for, performance-wise, but it is impressive in the areas of build quality and comfort.
Click the Photos tab for more images by Sam Venn.