Norway Home: Vauxhall Insignia Road Trip

There’s no better way of getting under the skin of the new Insignia than driving 1,600 miles across Scandinavia and Europe. Is there?

There are a finite number of times that somebody can wander around Trondheim airport before security start taking notice. I found that limit while waiting for the new Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport to turn up. After carefully, and repeatedly, explaining why I’d wandered around the airport three times without checking in, I waited outside for my transport home.

Things had conspired to delay the arrival of the Insignia for a number of hours, scuppering my plans for a relaxed meander through some of Norway’s mountain roads, but that was perhaps for the best when the gentle snow gave way to a moody sky and driving rain.

In those conditions the crisp white Insignia stood out like a charm. The design has eschewed the curvaceous, even bulbous, bodywork of the old model and replaced it with a finely chiselled shape. A proud front grille gives way to angular LED headlights ad sharply swept body. This thing looks good. Not in a good-for-a-Vauxhall way, but properly good, and unlike any Vauxhall that has gone before.

Launching a new large hatchback is a bit of a gamble in the current market, where sales are being squeezed by SUVs on one side and downsizers on the other, while cheap money and strong residuals mean that the premium brands can muscle in on the territory with their X3s, C-Class’s and A5 Sportsbacks. The new Insignia (the Grand Sport addendum will surely be dropped, won’t it?) needs to be special if it’s going to have a chance of competing.

Vauxhall has thrown everything at this particular car, ready for a pan-European jaunt. There’s a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine up front, a new eight-speed automatic gearbox, and four-wheel-drive, which should be enough to make mincemeat out of Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany and France, all for just £28,410.

Yes, you can get an Audi A5 for the same money, but you’ll sacrifice 0.6-litres of engine and 108bhp, as well as the 4×4 ability. The Insignia also comes loaded with toys missing from the Audi, especially in this Elite Nav spec that includes four heated seats, Bose surround sound, satellite navigation, an eight-inch infotainment screen and a 4G wifi hotspot. Not that that would be much use in the remote areas of Norway ahead.

Having the fastest Insignia means nothing in Norway, thanks to a network of roads that seems to consist mainly of two-way highways limited to a rather steady 50mph. Cameras exist and fines are steep, so no records were going to be set. There are stretches of motorway, but they’re few and far between, and I wouldn’t see one until I’d headed south for 300 miles or so towards Oslo.

Those slow roads were, thankfully, clear of snow and ice, so the cruise control was switched on and I relaxed as the low speeds allowed me to occasionally switch my concentration to the snow-capped mountains each side of me. Every turn reveals a new vista, a new valley, almost always better than the last. It’s a wonderfully beautiful country, only marred by eye wateringly expensive dining options. A terrible burger and chips from a petrol station? That’ll be £14 please.

The delays at Trondheim only had one effect on the journey, and that was to have it plunged into darkness far earlier through the miles than planned for, so the scenery faded into a pitch black void. With no towns, street lights, or even cars, for miles the darkness was turned up to 11, but that allowed the LED headlights to do their thing. The side windows may now have been almost useless, but out front it was like I’d borrowed the sun for my own personal illumination needs.

One section, miles from anywhere, revealed a few twistier corners that were calling out to be tested. I reached for the paddle shifter to drop down a cog or two, only to find it absent. That was a clue that this hot version isn’t really intended to be a sports model at all. The smooth but slow changing gearbox had suggested how things would be earlier on, but it’s now I noticed that even the adaptive dampers always remained on the soft and cosseting side of sporting regardless of what drive mode was selected.

Still, the big Vauxhall made its way round without drama, the four-wheel-drive system not making its presence felt at any point. Everything was fuss free, just working well and doing what was needed. It was only a short test of the dynamic range of the car (I don’t have an expense account I can put the speeding fines to) but it bodes well for UK roads.

After stopping overnight in Oslo, it was back to the Insignia for a long slog through Sweden and Denmark before heading into Germany, and it was the lack of reluctance that struck me as I sat in. Seven hours behind the wheel before fighting post-midnight tiredness and finding a hotel hadn’t ruffled me at all, and the next 12 hours or so wasn’t something I was dreading.

The Oresund Bridge – yes, the bridge from The Bridge – took me into Denmark, where roads turned flat, straight and wide, yet still restricted and heavily policed. Streaming Google Play Music through the 4G hotspot would have aided the journey, but I just couldn’t get it to work, so it was me and the quiet confines of the Insignia before crossing into Germany. Here the roads toyed with me, switching between short bursts of unrestricted autobahn before squashing any fun by introducing miles of slow and seemingly pointless roadworks. Time was moving on, the 750 mile slog to Bremen taking longer than anticipated. And then the road opened up, and the Insignia’s legs were stretched. Hitting 140mph or so on the autobahn wasn’t doing much for economy, but it was getting me to a hotel before kitchens closed.

The final 500-mile run back to the UK was more motorway, where the Grand Sport felt so at home I was tempted to put my feet on the seats and complain about the neighbours. Some 1,582 miles over three days is enough to make even the smallest of frustrations with a car feel like something enormous, but that didn’t happen with the Insignia. At no point did it leave me excited, and I don’t recall turning to glance at the car as I walked away once parked, but it never ever let me down in any way. Everything was just right, from the comfortable seats to the driving position, the performance to the handling.

Truth be told, it was only once it was gone that I realised just how good a car the Insignia Grand Sport is.

Model Tested: Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport Elite Nav 2.0 Turbo 4×4
Price: £28,410
Engine: 2.0-litre turbo petrol
Top speed: 155 mph
0-62 mph: 6.9 seconds
Power: 260 PS (256 bhp)
Torque: 400 Nm (295 ft lb)
Monthly PCP*: £417
Official fuel economy: 32.8 mpg
Road test economy: 31.6 mpg
CO2 Emissions: 197 g/km
Car Tax: £140
Insurance group: 25E
* Monthly PCP estimate based on 20% deposit, 36 month term, 5% APR, final payment of 40%.
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Phil is a motoring writer for print and web, failed racing driver, car hoarder and banger rally competitor. Nominated for the Headline Auto Rising Star award and a MGMW member, Phil freelances for outlets as diverse as Diesel Car magazine, and Cambridge Magazine, amongst many others. He also maintains a fleet of unloved motors, but spends most of his time driving an old Corvette.

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