Blog : Vauxhall Insignia vs Rover 75 – the parallels are uncanny

Carole Nash Classic Insurance Specialists

Mike Humble

The Vauxhall Insignia: unappreciated and unfairly underrated but with a very Rover 75-like driving experience - and that's no bad thing...
The Vauxhall Insignia: unappreciated and unfairly underrated but with a very Rover 75-like driving experience – and that’s no bad thing…

As most of you will know, I take a big interest in all the current cars and other vehicles which are built by the major UK-based manufacturers on my own website. Needless to say, I was chuffed to bits when the new Vauxhall Astra was awarded the 2016 European COTY award and rightly so – it’s very efficient, technology-led and represents an all-new standard in terms of driver and occupant safety. In a past life, I have been lucky to have an above average exposure to the Luton-based company – I sold them for one of the UK’s largest dealer groups and made a lot of money doing so. Indeed, my remuneration for this was better than the times before when I retailed MG Rover products.

I missed out on Insignia because the family or fleet hack on sale back then (up to 2007) was mainly the Vectra. Personally, I always thought the Vectra was a decent weapon for the money even though it was completely lacking in any style or panache. However, in my gin palace, they sold like hot cakes in a fairly equal mix of fleet and retail. When the Insignia came along in 2008, I recall thinking that it was a good-looking car. The 2003 Adams/Ward-styled concept vehicle was the first sign that GM was getting its mojo back. An extended platform even became the basis for the short-lived, all-new SAAB 95 – spot one today and tell me it doesn’t make you look at it that little bit longer than average.

Currently, I have an ultra-low emission ecoFLEX mid-range Insignia on test – that sounds exciting, doesn’t it? However, travelling home from work earlier on shocked me to the bone – in a good way I must add and here’s the rub. You all know why I moved the recent Rover 75 on – the simple reason was that I couldn’t bond with and love the facelifted model despite the fact that any decent example is like the four-wheeled equivalent of a strong and sweet cup of tea. You jump in and, after a few moments, you exhale with a satisfying ahh, cocooned in a world that protects you from the outside hubbub with an invisible layer of cotton wool and its retro styling cues.

In just one working week, I drive 2018.072 miles, which excludes the commute there and back and any weekend shenanigans. Any vehicle, be it car or commercial, has to be comfortable for me. Past non-MGR steeds have been rich and varied from Sierras to a SAAB 9000 and only three strict criteria must be met: a good wireless, a good driver’s seat and a sprinkling of creature comforts. Despite post-2004 Rover 75s being criminally stripped of much of the deep-rooted quality they were originally praised for, they still waft along remarkably well for a car with a troubled reputation and residuals that plummeted faster than the piano in that famous PG Tips advert.

With a supple yet supportive driver's seat, chunky, weighty steering and sublime cruising refinement, my journey home has rarely been more smooth or enjoyable
With a supple yet supportive driver’s seat, chunky, weighty steering and sublime cruising refinement, my journey home has rarely been more smooth or enjoyable

Despite the fact the Insignia has the perceived image of a bowl of vanilla ice cream, it’s far from bad news. I clambered into it this morning after enduring two horrible diversions on the southbound M1 and was not looking forward to the 23 mile run back home. Think of this as running a marathon and stumbling across the finishing line only to be told the hot showers and refreshments are a mile walk down the road. I sometimes get into the car almost wanting to weep at the thought that my missus, the kettle and bed are still another 40 minutes away. This was where a Rover 75 had an uncanny knack of almost soothing away the shortest or longest of journeys.

The Insignia has perhaps one of the finest driving positions and seats to be found on a mass volume vehicle. Its driver’s chair has a seemingly infinite number of angles, height, lumbar and recline settings. Just the right amount of bolster and under-thigh support are there while, once in top gear, there’s masses of room beside the clutch pedal and a hefty foot rest. The steering is weighty and the wheel has a good chunky rim and, as for the heating and ventilation, well let’s just say they’re superb. Previous generation Insignias had a lumpy, crashing ride but this new facelifted model has a sorted ride that’s supple yet controlled – a rare treat these days and, once again, very like a Rover 75 to experience.

Motorway refinement is really good too and, as the journey progressed, the more I thought about how Rover-like the Insignia’s qualities really are. They both have a smart curvy body, both are incredibly comfortable and soothing, both feature a good dash of chrome and both have an odd way of subconsciously telling you: Don’t worry Sir… Everything is all in hand. I have kept in touch with a few former colleagues from my Vauxhall retail days and these are not just my sentiments. A good number of Rover 75 customers traded in for an Insignia as it’s the only British-brand alternative to a car of that size without going premium – even if production does take place in mainland Europe.

Oh, and before some of you pooh-pooh the Vauxhall brand, let me tell you that, in terms of public perception, our very own MG Rover brand image was on its knees some time before the April 2005 event – to coin a phrase from the Welsh comic Max Boyce, I know ‘cos I was there.

I like vanilla!

Mike Humble

Upon leaving school, Mike was destined to work on the Railway but cars were his first love. An apprenticeship in a large family Ford dealer was his first forray into the dark and seedy world of the motor trade.

Moving on to Rover and then PSV / HGV, he has circumnavigated most departments of dealerships including parts, service and latterly - the showroom. Mike has owned all sorts of rubbish from Lada to Leyland and also holds both Heavy Goods & Public Service Vehicle licences, he buys & sells buses and coaches during the week. Mike runs his own automotive web site and writes for a number of motoring or commercial vehicle themed publications

59 Comments

  1. Agree,not a bad car at all. British though? I hardly think so. It’s as German as any BMW or VAG branded car. The Astra is assembled at Ellesmere Port from a basket of Siemens,ZF and Bosch components shipped in from the Fatherland. With the Insignia they don’t even bother to do that. Its as German as Bratwurst. Mind the BMW conceived and developed Rover 75 was a bit of a Saxe Coburg Gotha itself.

    • Still Paul the Astra is assembled in Blighty the other production line in Belgium has gone, GM decided that even with UK’s lax laws on job security that it made business sense to keep assembly here

      • You said it is a British brand. VAUXHALL Insignia is to British car making what De Lorian is to long term mass produced vehicle production in Northern Ireland…. Sweet FA

        • Paul, he said ‘British BRAND’, not made. So many still think it’s made here. Just like Panasonic, Sony are Japanese brands, but not often made in Japan anymore.
          But I think he would also agree with your sentiment that it’s sad that people have that perception. I wonder how many would be surprised to find a Nissan was more British than the Vauxhall.

  2. I think that the Insignia is a much better drive than it’s predecessor the Vectra,the puzzle is why doesn’t it sell more it’s German has good built quality but it seems that motorists are brainwashed into choosing a “premium” brand where much less can be bought for much more outlay. I can’t understand why isn’t the Insignia VXR isn’t a better seller after all it’s got a better performance that the revered Lotus Carlton and for what you get the sticker price is extremely reasonable and Ford has declined to produce an ST or RS version of the Mondeo so it should be a serious consideration for the motorist who can see beyond the brand illusion.

    • I guess it depends how you view “outlay”. In one big list price lump, then yes its hard to see why anybody would fork out from £10K extra for a premium badge. But who buys new cars like that these days? In terms of monthly payments then why not have a BMW or Audi for the same outlay as a Ford or Vauxhall?

  3. I often see recent model Insignias on dealer forecourts at reasonable prices so they seem to be a good used buy if you are after a biggish car. I still have a soft spot for Vauxhall (my Dad owned a Victor F then a VX 4/90).

    Despite him later owning Japanese and Audi’s / BMW, he still said the VX was his favourite, despite it being from a simpler generation… happier times. Who would have thought that Vauxhalls & Opels would become the same cars? Perhaps though, Vauxhall wouldn’t have survived otherwise

  4. I know why 🙂 no one’s buying cars like this any more as they’re all buying SUV’s!

    I saw a new 4×4 Insignia estate the other day, wowzer it looks good, I always buy ex lease three year old rep mobiles, can’t wait till these come up for sale as with Vauxhalls residuals they’ll be a massive bargain!

    • From some places it actually costs MORE per month to lease an Insignia than a 3 series, due to the residuals. Another reason why fewer reps are choosing Mondeos and Insignias these days and instead are getting BMWs and Audis.

      • Indeed when I worked for a large corporation that had a salary sacrifice car scheme, the lease for a BMW 320d was cheaper than that of the mk4 Mondeo 2.0 TDCi Titanium (the big ‘Casino Royale’ version).

        All to do with residuals. If I can sell a car with a book price of £25k for £18k to a fleet, have someone run it for 3 years and be guaranteed a £15k return, then that is only £3k loss. Versus a car with a book price of £20k being sold at £18k to a fleet, ran for 3 years with a value then of £10k, an £8k loss.

        • And residuals are dependent on demand. And demand is dependent on making cars that people actually want (good handling, good engines, and a sporty image backed up by excellent halo cars).

  5. The Vectra was one of my least favourite forms of 4 wheel transport, especially the early ones which had pretty dreadful handling, mediocre ride and lashings of stodge. I know because I drove enough of them up and down the M62 and A1 back in the days [hire cars]. When it was time to dispose of the Saab I looked at the Insignia estate but was very disappointed by the amount of interior space compared to the size of the car. In particular, the boot space is compromised by the huge bumper and shape of the tailgate. As a near 6′ parent with two near 6′ kids, the Insignia just didn’t cut the mustard and so a C class estate was duly purchased.

    I like Vauxhalls, I owned half a dozen of them and particularly like the new Astra. What I can’t understand is how the Astra estate seems to have more space than the Insignia.

    The Insignia is a good looking car in a pretty bland market sector but I feel that the car is still blighted by the perceived poor quality of the GM/Fiat diesel engines, notorious for throwing cam belts at 40,000 miles.

  6. I had the misfortune to run a ’15 plate VXR for a few weeks whilst waiting for my new car to be delivered. Awful seats, bad ride, crash you gearbox, playskool dashboard, unrefined noisy engine and a funny smell. Nice wheels though. I couldn’t stick it and was lucky enough to swap temporarily into a Skoda Superb. I’ve had lots of Vauxhalls in the 90’s and genuinely loved them all – including a mad Vectra V6 – but the Insignia was dire.

  7. I agree, it’s a good, decent car for the money. It is a little bit bland? but far better than any Vectra..
    I suppose there are many reasons why these cars sit under the radar. The drop in demand for this type / size of car being one.
    But for me, the Cavalier still seems more appealing than any Vectra or Insignia. 🙂

  8. Ironically SAIC seem to be more successful knocking out GM (Chinese Buick, etc) vehicles than MG/Roewes and there is increasing GM (some Opel/Vauxhall genes) input into the latter’s vehicles, eg the Roewe 950 is based on the Epsilon II platform common to the Insignia.

  9. I just don’t like the insignia when I have rented them (the fleets never seem short of them) they have always felt cheap and rode terribly. Not as good as the mondeo in my view. Now the new Astra is a fantastic car and shows that GM can be excellent.

  10. I would draw more parallels with the aforementioned Insignia based Saab 9-5.

    – Both were range topping sub-premium-executive saloons
    – Both focused more on comfort than ‘sport’
    – Both were all new products created by their parent company before they sold them off

    Though at least in MG Rover’s case, they could continue on their own with the 75, Saab had to stop production lest anyone get their mits on the Epsilon GM platform, which led to the situation where they are still producing the Vectra based 9-3, albeit in small numbers.

    • Having owned a 2002 9-5 3.0tid I can say with certainty that the best things about it were the seats and the space plus the lovely Isuzu V6. The worst things were the Vauxhall Vectra chassis which was utterly dreadful and the obstructive Ansin-Warner gearbox.

      I haven’t driven an Insignia far enough to judge the ride and handling, but I found the seats ok, and the dash fairly modern / typical (have you been in a Fiesta? Worst looking audio controls ever).

      The main things that put me off the Insignia were:

      1 .Poor rear seat space
      2. Poor boot space with a full 18″ between the bumper and the firstuseable boot floor
      3. Reputation of the GM 2.0 diesel for chucking cam belts
      4. Arnold Shark dealers

      • Problems 1 and 2 are common to a lot of D-segment cars, not just the Insignia, and go some way towards explaining why many families now prefer crossovers…

  11. I’m not sure I see that much connection between the Insignia and Rover 75 to be honest.

    The Insignia has been a decent seller actually. Demand for that whole class of car has clearly declined, but the Insignia has easily outsold its rivals such as the Mondeo (surely Ford is just as much a “British Brand” as Vauxhall?, employing far more people over here), Passat, 508/C5, Avensis (British made) etc

  12. Rover 75 was a solid car and better finished car and no fair comparison to an Insignia. They sell on value for money and if your lucky early car can be bought for under a grand but Insignia is a poor design especially when getting into the back seats is you are of a reasonable height. Car feels cheap especially the dash and plastics, gearbox and steering vague, annoying horrible grille badge that always seems to fall off or get pinched?, last one I glued on with body mastic.
    Estate car lacks space of competitors and has a bizarre light system.

  13. Well I think the Insignia is a good looking car – better looking than the Mk3 Mondeo which was just an ugly blob. And plastics are no worse than a BMW or a Mercedes these days. Yes its a comfort drive but if you like your cars more sporty buy the blue oval – so much better value than the premium German mobiles when second-hand and just as reliable these days.

    As to its predecessor the 2.2 was a hoot in a straight line but its interior was not a comfy place to be and it couldn’t go round corners, and it definitely a no go as a second hand motor.

  14. The 75 replaced the 600 and 800, the Insignia (silly name) replaced the Vectra and the Signum (silly car).

    If only the Omega had a steering rack instead of the “guess where the front wheels are going” recirculating balls-up, they might have hung onto a bit more of the prestige market. My Omega was the most disappointing car I have ever owned.

  15. Speaking of GM’s eccentricities, can anyone think of a car other than the Omega which was sold with straight-6 and V-6 engines at the same time? Particularly in Europe..

      • No – Opel Rekord and Commodore where replaced by the Opel Omega A in 1986. Vauxhall sold this car but hung onto the Carlton name for it until the Omega B was launched in 1994 when Vauxhall also adopted the Omega name plate.

      • These used 4-in-line and 6-in-line engines; which is a common option (think, how many million 3-series). I was thinking of the considerably more eccentric option of 6il and V6 in the same range at the same time, like the ’69 Capri with 4il (1300 and 1600) and V4 (2000GT) options.

    • Not 6 cylinder, but one eccentricity that springs to mind is the Renault 21, which was available with transverse and longitudinal 4 cylinder engines, with differing wheelbases, depending on engine size.

      • Renault seemed to try every variation of engine layout possible for a front wheel drive car.

        Some longitudinal layouts had the gearbox at the front, & some at the rear.

  16. Why do you say the Rover 75 was BMW designed? I worked at Gaydon on student placements during summer of 96 and 97 and lots of the development was being done in the UK, Gaydon was full of prototypes and went out in an early mule based on a Rover 600 Turbo. Most cars will have ZF and Bosch components these days so bound to have some German content.

  17. Insignia is a good car for sure.

    It is built in Russelsheim, Germany and most components sourced locally.

    I hate to say it, but this is one of the reasons it is very good.

    Higher power versions have very poor traction however. It is a big old bus and solidly made so trying to overcome it’s large inertia means there are issues with traction, especially in the wet.

  18. Nothing about the car is British, Vauxhall is no more than a piece of trim on an Opel these days. , it is owned by American GM and run in Germany by Opel. The article makes no sence at all.

    • “..Nothing about the car is British, Vauxhall is no more than a piece of trim on an Opel these days..”
      =========================
      these days???? I don’t get it.
      What was the last Vauxhall that wasn’t an Opel??? The Viva AFAIK.
      there’s no “these days” about it.
      It has been “these days” for quite a long time.

  19. I drove an Insignia 1.8 manual hire car for a few days. Overall it was comfortable but the engine really struggled to move the car and its overall fuel consumption was the same as my 3 litre 406 automatic even though the acceleration was worse. From the driving seat the Insignia always felt like a large car whereas my Peugeot is light on its feet. And the rearward visibility was dire like many current cars.

  20. The Insignia has an upmarket look that its predecessor, the Vectra, lacked and seems to be a better built car. I think, though, with quite a large body, you’d need a 2 litre petrol or a TDi to appreciate it.

  21. I guess the Insignia is a decent enough car, but walk past any big Vauxhall dealer and you’ll see delivery mileage examples on the forecourt selling for £8000 off the list price. Great value if you intend to keep it for its lifetime (which few of us do, let’s be honest…), but the resulting scary depreciation is why private buyers who tend to switch every two or three years are now beating a path to the German Big Three.

    And there’s the rub. Audi, BMW and Mercedes are so successful because they undersupply and generate demand through desirability, and top up their profits further through overpriced optional extras. GM Vauxhall-Opel have been stuck in a self-fulfilling prophecy of oversupply and weak demand since the 1990s because of too much production capacity – GM has been losing money in Europe for decades now, and the bosses in Detroit only put up with it because firstly they subsidise the European losses using US profits, and secondly they rely on Opel for their R&D expertise.

    Ultimately they have to start producing cars that people actually want to pay a premium for and thus create private demand; whether that’s encapsulated in brand values, styling, quality etc – is another discussion.

    • That’ interesting, even with Luton & Antwerp plants closing down.

      A lot of American built GM cars seem to platform share with the European models so I guess it’s the economy of scale.

      • Yes, but the difference is that there is strong consumer demand to support that level of production. BMW don’t have to dump tens of thousands of 3-series onto the rental fleets at knockdown prices.

        • Ford and Vauxhall have to do this as BMW and Mercedes are offering a lot lower deals with the hire firms than Joe Public can get, and they have to undercut the German boys. The real reason resale value is lower is because of brand image. People will buy a German branded car as it’s supposedly better built and holds more cache as a premium product, not because its better. The Mk2 Mondeo was a better buy than the comparable 3 series, drove nearly as good and less were made but the equivalent 3 series holds its price better?

          • More or less back to what I said originally. It boils down to the simple laws of supply and demand.

            I work in a mass manufacturing industry (not cars), but the logistics problem is a very similar one. Your factories and supply chain are optimised to run at a certain rate, you can’t just switch it on and off like a tap….Ford and GM in Europe have had the problem where they had too many plants churning out too many cars that people don’t want, and the short term fix is to dump them via rental fleets and “ghost sales” through pre-registering….the source of all those cheap Insignias we are referring to. As far as GM Opel/Vauxhall is concerned they may have to cut installed capacity even more (Richard16378 referring to your point about Luton/Bochum/Antwerp), or as I said originally move upmarket to where the customers actually are. Ford are already trying this with their Vignale Mondeo, and bringing the Edge and Mustang over from the States.

          • Totally agree, the E36 was one of most shoddily made cars BMW have ever made (and that’s saying something), they creaked, bounced and literally feel to pieces around you, they were also very heavy to drive and were quite thirsty and sluggish for what they were unless you opted for the bigger six cly models, I remember seeing fairly low mileage examples riddled with issues and flaws, whereby the Mondeo was an extremely appealing package that looked friendly, had a lovely fresh and airy interior and it handled like a dream, give me a MK2 mondy over any of your German tat any day!

  22. The Insignia as always struck be as a decent car, but when I was recently picked up by an Insignia Estate taxi, I was surprised that what is generously proportioned car had lost so much rear load space on what has to be the world’s least space efficient rear hatch which appears to consume around 25% of the expected rear load length giving it a very unimpressive load space given its size.

    Whilst I can understand the need to build in crash resistance, I note Volvo who take crash resistance very seriously do not need to do this with their V series cars.

  23. Speaking of Rover 75s, it’s amazing how many of these I see, as well as two immaculate late model 600s locally, unlike big Vauxhalls of this era that seem to have almost disappeared. I’m sure the 75, if looked after, is a far more durable car than its 800 predecessor, which seems very rare as well now, and Rover got the quality right from the 75. Also the 600 proved to be a durable, reliable car and 2.3 versions got the Honda V6, an engine known to be bombproof.

  24. Problem with all Vauxhalls is that they seem to be the preserve of what I call the idiot class. 95% of Vauxhall drivers in my experience are either people who know nothing and care nothing about cars, are chavs and council estate dwellers, live in a self-appreciating bubble of righteousness, or are generally loud, thick and arrogant. Also, Vauxhalls nowadays tend to be patchy at best as far as reliability and build quality is concerned. I love the look and feel of the Insignia and nearly bought a nearly new 12 plate one a few years ago. However, I was pretty underwhelmed at the low standard of customer service at my local Vauxhall dealer so gave up and bought a nearly new Zafira instead, which turned out to be a complete heap of badly made and fragile junk…

    • They’re just a mainstream manufacturer. I know a fair few nice people who drive them.
      To counter with my own sweeping generalisations, some of the most chavvish behaviour I’ve witnessed on the roads have been from BMW, VW and Audi drivers, and strangely, Nissan Qashqais. Not to mention blinged out SUVs.

      And I really don’t understand the logic of not buying a nearly new Vauxhall because you didn’t like the Vauxhall dealer and instead buying a nearly new Vauxhall?
      (Surely you wouldn’t count yourself in the first statement in owning a Vauxhall?)

      I do agree that the dealers I’ve experienced are dire. I knew an enthusiast who picked up a bargain Vectra VXR. Didn’t take it out often but dropped it in for the yearly servie. The service department basically threw the fresh out of technical college lads at it, who probably were used to servicing 1 litre Corsas and diesel Astras. Left it with no dashboard lights and mucky bootprints all over the fresh interior. Going back, the service desk were busy actively loudly arguing with a taxi driver that the wishbone on his diesel Vectra was not covered by warranty.

      Sadly puts me off a bargain used buy of one of the last “new shape” 9-5s. The Saab dealer became a Porsche dealer and doesn’t really want to know, and despite it sharing an Insignia platform the thought of taking it to a Vauxhall dealer would fill me with dread.

  25. Another immaculate Rover 75 spotted in Langholm yesterday, a 51 plate Tourer in silver. It’s odd how I see plenty of immaculate 75s on the roads, but Vauxhalls of this era seem to be wrecks that no one cares about, including even top of the range Vectras and the very rare time I see an Omega. Maybe people who own 75s now are enthusiasts, knowing this was the last big Rover, and keep their cars in excellent condition and possibly the quality was better, as Vauxhalls from the early noughties always fared badly in customer surveys.

  26. We have Insignia’s as pool cars.

    Every one I have driven is a dog (ok only 4, all nasty diesels). That not to say that at the right price I would not have one.

    In my experience of them, they are not anywhere near as refined as the 75 and not a patch on the very underated Peugeot 508sw (which to my mind has overtones of the 75 in the styling).

    But hey, thats just my opinion.

  27. Interesting your comments on driver comfort.

    When my father had to give up driving about two years ago, he passed his immaculate Insignia SRi on to me. As an ex-Cavalier owner who always disliked the Vectra I was unprepared for how much I enjoyed it. It was the 2.0 turbo petrol and went like stink, was surprisingly economical and drove really well. However, I got rid of it for two reasons – the minor being that I really need a hatchback for practicality reasons (although I prefer saloons) but the major one was the seats.

    I drove it from Southampton to Bristol during my ownership and literally fell out at the other end with everything below my waist completely numb! It was like sitting on a piece of granite and resting your back against a slab of concrete. I have genuinely never driven anything with such hideously uncomfortable seats! I seem to recall there were complaints early on, and my father’s was a ’58 plate so its good that it sounds like things have improved. I could still be tempted by a VXR one day if so…

    • I thought most Insignias were hatchbacks, albeit they look like saloons thanks to clever styling?

      Considering it myself, they’re a lot of car for the money, fastback hatch hugely practical for a young family.

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