A day in a Vauxhall Insignia VXR Supersport: warts and all, I’m sold

My #MSNCarsF1tour took place as Friday morning practice of the 2013 British GP was washed out.

Didn’t I know it. But there was no sitting in the garage nice and dry for me – I had a job to do. Drive 205 miles and visit every one of the eight British-based F1 teams, to show how concentrated both in and within the UK Formula One is.

Car for the mission was perfect: a 170mph Vauxhall Insignia VXR Supersport (Vauxhall’s removed the speed limiter to achieve this: the word ‘UNLIMITED’ in the rev counter confirms it). I wouldn’t be seeing 170mph but I would be making good use of its 325hp, particularly on the Oxfordshire roads within the heart of Motorsport Valley. Throw in four-wheel drive and job’s a good ‘un.

Naturally, it stormed the tour. You don’t get many ill-sorted 325hp cars these days. But it wasn’t without grumbles – which, by the end of the journey, illuminated my thoughts even more brightly than the orange glare of the low fuel warning light.

Vauxhall Insignia VXR Supersport: six grumbles

  • Why are those gorgeous blue-caliper’d Brembo brakes so soft and squidgy in initial response? Did the engineers not notice the layer of long-travel mush you have to press through in order to get some of the expected retardation? (The electric handbrake was irritating too but this isn’t something reserved for Vauxhall.)
  • The noise: it’s so incredibly distant and anodyne for a supposedly snorting V6, lacking a remarkable amount of audible drama compared to the promise it has on paper. Sound symposer, anyone? (Vauxhall reckons it should sound like this. It might do. From the outside.)
  • The drivetrain: it’s somewhat agricultural in feel, as if the engineers have taken some thing that works well for more meek cars and simply welded on more ironwork until it copes with the fireworks this car gives out.
  • Speaking of fireworks, why does the power delivery have to be so explosive? There’s no linearity here, just a pause then… a veritable hurricane of power that you don’t really notice due to the car’s composure and quietness, until you reach the next corner at <insert here> speed.
  • And boy, for a 2.8-litre V6 turbo, is it lacking in torque. I mean, seriously deficient: nail it at 2500rpm and nothing will happen. Change down and a whimper will happen, but not 325hp’s worth. You have to keep the thing nailed at 5000rpm or above to make it shift as rapidly as you’d expect. This really is old school, Vauxhall.
  • You don’t help it with your choice of gearing. Every ratio feels like an overdrive. In town, the quiet and remarkable, exemplary, rotary-like engine smoothness means you’re sometimes tempted just to leave it in first, felling several of the above niggles in one swoop.

All of which makes it sound like I didn’t warm to the Insignia VXR and ended the drive with relief. Not a bit of it. I loved this car, warts and all. Indeed, they’re all part of the appeal.

This is an old-school performance hatch. It feel like a highly bespoke version of a mainstream car, one that’s had a lot of engineering attention lavished on it. The modern-day Vauxhall Carlton GSi 3000 24v or, indeed, Ford Sierra Sapphire RS Cosworth.

It also does do stuff well: this is a £30k car (yes, £30k) with the sophistication of adaptive damping, for example – and it’s intelligently set up, with lots of suppleness in normal mode but vital extra control in Sport. The ride, slightly nuggety as default due to the 20-inch wheels, actually improves in Sport too: the adaptive bit means it doesn’t crash but the Sport bit ties down the body more firmly for less passenger jostle.

It’s not quite stiff enough even in VXR mode but then, it’s not really that sort of car. The <embargo means I can’t reveal what it was until 1 July> I drove recently was riduclously, stupidly stiff in full-on sport mode, whcih just seemed a bit daft. This doesn’t.

What else? The Recaros are brilliant, the VXR styling updates are a success, and it feels in its own special way a bit like that RS Cosworth must’ve felt back in the day.

Vauxhall Insignia VXR Supersport = Ford Sierra Sapphire RS Cosworth

Indeed, this, I reckon, is the modern day Sierra RS Cosworth: blindingly fast, relatively affordable to run (I saw 34mpg on the motorway – yes, really) and, most importantly, affordable to buy. As in, yup, £30k.

Admit it: you’re tempted, aren’t you? Just as that Sierra was an imperfect car whose quibbles were all cancelled out by the fact it was so damn fast for the money, so this is something that’s appealing almost because of the bits it’s not so good at as the parts of it that are so headline-grabbing.

You don’t get many cars like this Insignia VXR anymore, and that’s why I celebrate it. A super sport? Absolutely.