Insignia looks great but has limited appeal

Opel is badly lacking a competitive crossover or SUV for the family market

Make: Opel

Model: Insignia

Year: 2014

Fuel: Diesel

Date Reviewed: July 28, 2014

Wed, Jul 30, 2014, 01:00

   

Opel has been eager to beef up its image as the tide turns and families – and corporate types – start to return to the market.

The good news for the brand is that its Insignia looks as good today as it did at launch. Few cars retain the head-turning appeal after a few years on the road but the Insignia is an exception to the rule. Admittedly this could also be down to the fact it was launched just as the recession hit and so there are not as many on the road as one might expect for a mainstream brand.

That’s the upside; the downside is that as recovery takes hold and Opel sales staff welcome a revised Insignia range with a bit of nip and tuck and an improved cabin, the big-name rivals it’s up against are all launching brand new versions. A new VW Passat and a new Ford Mondeo will both be on the forecourts by year’s end. The noise these brands can make on the market may well drown out the latest news from Opel.

What’s more, Opel is badly lacking a competitive crossover or SUV for the family market. To judge by the sales figures, Irish buyers still can’t get enough of the high-set SUV, but it’s a thriving market where Opel is left out in the cold. That’s why a beefed up Insignia makes some sort of sense.

For the next few months Opel needs to put the Insignia back on the car-buying map. Part of this is done by adding niche variants. Into that category falls the new Insignia Country Tourer. A four-wheel drive family estate is probably not top of most buyers’ lists, but there is a place for cars like it on the Irish market, as Audi’s All-Road and Volvo’s XC70 can attest. There are buyers who like the beefed up nature of a four-wheel drive estate but don’t want the excessive bulk or Americana styling of a crossover or SUV. These buyers want to avoid the cliché-ridden motoring world of the suburban soft-roader set.

Of course, it’s not all rugged German practicality with the Country Tourer. Despite claims of a “spirit of adventure”, Opel does offer this car in simple front-wheel-drive, which sort of defeats the purpose. All the two-wheel drive version boasts is extra ground clearance and the look of something more capable in a field than it actually is. The Insignia Country Tourer really only makes sense if you opt for the all-wheel-drive.

So what do you get for €38,000 at the Opel dealership? Well, you get some sleek styling matched with a more rugged stance and a car that does have some sure-footed handling attributes.

All versions are powered by the firm’s 2-litre turbocharged diesel with 163bhp and either a six-speed manual or an automatic transmission. The four-wheel-drive system can vary the torque distribution from zero to 100 per cent between the front and rear axles and also features an electronically-controlled limited-slip differential that transfers drive torque to the rear wheel that has the most grip. In most instances, however, this is a front wheel drive car.

While it’s no match for a fully-fledged SUV built with off-roading in mind, we did put it across a rain-soaked muddy field and while there were a few moments when it looked like a friend’s Toyota LandCruiser would have to be called into action, the Opel plugged away enthusiastically. You could imagine it would work well for someone who spends a fair degree of their time having to head up and down boreens. Inside our test car boasted some of Opel’s latest tech features including some unnecessary add-ons like the firm’s touch-pad control. While the touchscreen is a welcome addition – along with the decision to move away from the veritable wall of buttons that used to feature on Opel central consoles in the past – the touchpad is little more than a gimmick, and a silly one at that.

You can trace names and numbers with your finger but while it’s sure to impress less tech-savvy passengers, it’s a slow and annoying process. Audi has a similar system on its premium models and it’s just as frivolous as the one in this Opel. Given that you can control everything from the touchscreen or even via voice control, it’s hard to see the point of yet another way to choose a radio station or enter a phone number.

The Insignia Country Tourer is not cheap when pitted against regular family rivals or even the regular Insignia (which starts at €24,995), but throw a few of the SUV set into the mix and it starts to make some sense. It’s a worthwhile reminder that the Insignia is still a sharp looking competitor in a cut-throat segment where there seems to be an exciting newcomer on the horizon.

While the new Passat and Mondeo will steal the limelight in the coming months, and the likes of the Mazda6 is catching buyer’s eyes, the Insignia Country Tourer not only brings the brand into contention in an important niche, it also acts as a timely reminder that it’s a family range that shouldn’t fall off a buyer’s shortlist.

 

Lowdown Opel Insignia Country Tourer

Engine: 2-litre diesel putting out 163bhp with 380Nm of torque 0-100km/h: 10.9 secs L/100km: 4.3 (65.6 mpg)

Motor tax: €390

Specification: Standard features include: 18-inch alloys; Navi 900 with Sat Nav and IntelliLink system with 8-inch colour touchscreen, voice control and touch-pad control; Bluetooth connection; rain-sensitive wipers; Electronic Climate Control with rear air vents; Tyre pressure monitoring system; parking sensors.

Price: €37,995 for manual AWD