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.
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!