The skinny: A medium sedan sophisticate made to go fast. While there are lesser Opel Insignia models available in its native Germany, Holden has chosen to offer only the flagship VXR model here.
The $51,990 Holden Insignia VXR is designed to offer high-end European specification for much less than the cost of a German Audi S4 or BMW 335i; while charging a premium over Japanese competitors such as the Subaru Liberty 3.6R.
Vehicle Style: Medium sedan
Price: $51,990 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 239kW/435Nm 2.8 V6 turbo petrol | 6spd automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 11.3 l/100km | tested: 12.0 l/100km
With the close-down of local manufacturing imminent, Holden is trying harder than ever to show its Australian heart. Yet you wouldn’t think so with the Insignia VXR, a Commodore-sized flagship sports sedan openly claimed by the brand as, “sophistication, delivered via an autobahn”.
In case you didn’t get the reference, Holden reinforces the point by saying the Insignia VXR is in fact German (it very briefly sold on these shores as an Opel).
For Commodore V8 money, you can have all-wheel-drive instead of rear-wheel-drive, extra safety gear including automatic low-speed braking and adaptive LED headlights and three-mode adjustable suspension.
The 2.8-litre turbocharged V6 under the bonnet is made in Melbourne, and delivers 235kW and 435Nm. Astonishingly, with an 1809kg kerb weight, the Insignia VXR is heavier than its Commodore stablemate.
- Standard equipment: leather-wrapped steering wheel and seat trim, electrically adjustable Recaro front seats with heating, auto-dimming rear-view mirror, cruise and dual-zone climate control, power windows and mirrors, keyless auto-entry and push-button start, multi-function trip computer,
- Infotainment: 8.0in touchscreen with Holden MyLink software, sat-nav, USB/AUX inputs, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming and Pandora and Stitcher internet radio apps connectivity
- Cargo volume: 500 litres, seats-up
The Insignia VXR was already ageing inside when it landed on our shores badged as an Opel back in 2013 before being orphaned by that brand’s local demise.
Two years later and the Insignia VXR has now been fettled inside with a new infotainment system and a revised layout, though the results are still mixed.
The Recaro seats are superb, the driving position (thanks to a huge range of adjustment) is spot-on and the chubby steering wheel gives the impression of piloting something smaller than a 4.84-metre-long sedan.
Plastics quality and general finish are more than acceptable for the price, too.
Less impressive is the scatter of buttons on the steering wheel and over the dashboard, which continue to be ergonomically challenging.
There’s plenty of technology packaged into the Insignia VXR – such as adaptive cruise control, forward collision alert, blind-spot monitor and following distance indicator – but much of it is buried beneath sub-menus.
The graphics on the MyLink infotainment system don’t match that of any other Holden models, either, and it appears cheaper for it, though Insignia singularly gets digital radio standard.
The Aussie Commodore interior trounces the German Insignia for not only ergonomics, but also rear-seat space.
The new European import can be borderline cramped for legroom behind the front seats, though its 500 litre boot does a sneaky job on VF, beating its volume by a scant 5L.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 239kW/435Nm 2.8 V6 turbo petrol
- Transmission: Six-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
- Suspension type: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear
- Brakes: ventilated Brembo cross-drilled front and solid rear discs
- Steering: electrically assisted mechanical steering
- Towing capacity: 750kg (unbraked), 1600kg (braked)
Looking at its svelte, almost coupe-style exterior, the four-door Insignia VXR gives the impression that its character will be of the luxury, sporting GT variety.
Little hints such as the monster 20-inch alloy wheels and Brembo-branded brakes behind them show some intent, as do the Recaro-labelled sports seats inside.
It comes as a surprise, then, that the Insignia VXR is far from a polished opal (ahem). It is actually old-school in some ways, raw and mechanical, and that will be a positive or negative depending on your perspective.
The closest the Insignia VXR comes to being a GT is with its bump absorption.
In the adaptive suspension’s regular mode it rides astonishingly well on low-profile rims.
Around town, though, the 2.8-litre turbo V6 can feel laggy, perhaps unsurprising when both peak 239kW and 435Nm are made at a high 5250rpm. This is an engine that feels to have a potent but narrow mid-range, a bit like a Subaru WRX STi.
The six-speed automatic is one of the most jerky and unintuitive we’ve experienced in a new car, dozing in a tall gear when the throttle is floored yet panicking and kicking down unnecessarily when slight inclines are detected.
Each downshift is slow and lurching.
Wrestle with the paddleshifters, though, and the Insignia VXR will be one of the quickest ways to cross countryside for the money – and that includes a Commodore V8.
Even in the suspension’s sport or VXR modes, the suspension engages with Australian roads as though it were born here.
When a mountain pass emerges, you first need to dig deep into the reserves of the Insignia’s prodigious front-end grip, despite it feeling a bit weighty on turn in. Do so, then use lots of throttle and boost to achieve a slingshot exit.
Ordinarily the all-wheel drive system sends torque 50:50 front/rear, but it becomes increasingly more rear-biased in sport and VXR modes.
Not only does the Insignia feel that way when pressed hard, but you can feel the rear limited-slip differential then portioning torque to the inside back wheel to aid traction.
The otherwise light steering then starts to load up and kick back in your hands. It’s a rapid change in manners.
Just remember, the engine only comes on strong at about 3500rpm and runs out of puff by about 5500rpm, so that’s the narrow window with which to work.
It’s bloody demanding – remember the WRX STi reference? – and highly strung for what seems like an innocent, luxury-sports GT.
ANCAP rating: Not rated.
Safety features: Six airbags including dual-front, front-side, and full-length curtain, ABS, ESC, automatic emergency braking, front collision alert, reverse traffic alert, blind-spot monitor, lane departure warning, front and rear sensors, reversing camera and adaptive LED headlights.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
A Subaru Liberty 3.6R will be similarly quick, but nowhere near as sporty. This is a rare occasion where the Insignia VXR’s closest competition comes from its own backyard – the Holden Commodore SS-V or Calais V.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Inconsistency is the Insignia’s biggest downfall.
For technology and ride comfort it is above average. But, while ergonomics and rear accommodation are average, the driveability is below average due to an unintuitive auto and laggy engine.
However, get it in the zone – a long, sweeping country road – and keep it on boost, and the Holden Insignia VXR is one of the most delightful sedans around for the price.
We love that there is a big dose of rawness hiding beneath a slick exterior.
It requires deep excavation to find its best talents and that may be too much work for some. Those prepared to work for their performance will reap the rewards of a $52,000 sedan that plays both European sophisticate and hidden turbo-AWD ninja.