Opel Insignia 2.0d SE

Car design is a dark art, from the time a designer sits down and doodles something futuristic to you seeing the car in a showroom takes years. The Insignia came out in 2008 and had been 4 years in development, that makes it 2004. That’s the height of boom time, plenty of money floating around; people were buying big safe cars so they could waft along to the next business meeting. But they were buying BMW, Mercedes, Audi and any number of hot hatches. Then it all ended, and as soon as it did Opel bring out a big heavy new Vect…I mean Insignia. You see, and they won’t tell you this on the Opel Ireland site, I’m assured by a man who knows that the lightest of these Insignia’s is more than 1.5 tonnes, and in car terms that might as well be the moon. Heavy cars need bigger engines to push them around, if you put a smaller engine in it will struggle and use much more fuel.

I don’t blame Opel for trying to shake off the Vectra anvil around its neck, the last one was terrible to drive and was way too expensive. Opel and its parent GM are in trouble, the money is running out and sales are dropping in the States, and the good people of Europe go green. Opel was left with nothing really new to offer, so they now bring us the Insignia.

I looked at the car with an open mind, it has some handsome lines; the roof line looks sporty in a coupe sort of way. There’s a strong stance from the front of the car, and I like the blade door handles. This is the SE model with 18” alloys; it’s a good look, sporty but puppy dog all at the same time. Round the back there are more of the same lines and swoops on the body work. The boot is huge too 530ltrs, but the boot opening suffers with a somewhat oval shape, and the high boot line so no chest of drawers then.

The interior is nice to look at, more of the sweeping lines that follow the exterior. The dash seems to have a separate button for everything; consequently it looks like someone used a machine gun to lay out the controls.  The drivers’ seat is firm and in the SE model it has the world’s slowest electric adjustment. Everything seems well put together, there are signs of budget cuts though; the gear lever feels flimsy as does the handbrake.

Once the hamster had stopped running and my seat was in the right position I got into the back, and that’s where the problems started. I am over 6 feet tall, and that sloping roof line means my head was hitting the roof lining; also there just wasn’t enough leg room. The seat squab in the middle looks tiny, at best this is a 4+1 seat arrangement, but I wouldn’t like to be the child in that calculation.

For the driver all is well in the seating department, rake and reach mean I can, for the first time in an Opel, find a comfy spot easily. The 2.0ltr 160bhp engine is quiet on start up and quick to respond on drive off. At low speed the car feels well planted and safe, however get up to motorway speeds and there are some jitters. The nose becomes light when you’re cruising which in turn causes the steering to become light.

On the back roads the handling is good, the turn in is nippy but sure footed. The 160bhp engine gives plenty of power, and I didn’t see much of the traction control light. The 6 speed box is light but the ratio is far too long between 4th and 5th gear, to get power you need 3rd, that made the engine sound like a cat with it’s paw stuck under the bonnet. It’s hard to find a gear the car is happy with when you’re trying to be a bit sporty, it becomes a trade off, the screaming cat or no power.

Around town you’ll find it hard to stop changing gears, at low speeds the engine never seems happy. I had to stop and think about this car so I pulled in for a coffee, that’s when the biggest problem really started. I needed to reverse into a space, rear visibility is terrible, the small back window coupled with a huge c pillar meant I could see nothing; it became a case of “use the force” style of parking. You need parking sensors on this car, it’s a must.

The Insignia then is a mixed bag; it seems to be more an Executive saloon, but that market is dead. It’s all about form over function, it’s looks nice both inside and out, but once the new sheen wears off and you get to use the car the foibles will appear.

Frustratingly there is a good car in there somewhere; the overall design is good, there’s just not enough thought gone into the execution. Opel hasn’t got the badge to carry off the Executive saloon (despite pushing its German heritage) and the car just won’t work for a Family, that back seat is too small in all directions. The Mondeo dominates this market for a good reason; it’s all things to all people. This is supposed to be a car to save Opel, market forces and more choice means that the Insignia might just kill the brand altogether.