Small engine’s tall order

IF ever there was a car that needs a test drive before you make a buying decision it’s the vivid red Vauxhall you see here.

For on paper it ought not to work in any sort of way that might want you taking ownership for the next several years.

Firstly, there’s a little petrol engine trying to move a car that’s almost limo-like in length and width.

Then there are the wheels it sits on; vastly tall alloys that add a track day touch but whose thin licks of rubber around the rim ought to render the ride rough beyond imagining.

But the engine, all willing petrol, turbocharged 1.4 litres of it, will whip this big, big car along at a most satisfying pace.

It does, however, demand a distinctly different driving technique for drivers who’ve become used to the relaxed surge of a diesel.

This engine needs revs, plenty of them. Faced with a gentle incline where a diesel driver wouldn’t contemplate a downchange and, in the 1.4 Insignia, you’ll be dipping the clutch to find fifth, and very probably fourth.

Do that and the car fairly flies. All those revs have a downside, though, when you check the fuel consumption. My test car managed 37mpg on its dashboard readout, while a 2.0 litre diesel would certainly have done better and gone about as quickly.

Turning to the tyres and those enormous 20 inch rims; you expect them on something like an upmarket Porsche, and Audi drivers dream of a set on the company car, but I’ve never seen their like down at the sensible end of the market.

Previous experience of such well filled wheelarches gave little confidence that this Insignia would ride with anything like aplomb. So all credit to the engineers who tickled the suspension to smooth progress to the extent that the car actually rides really well, absorbing the nadgery little hills and hollows that pepper our unmended roads like a rash these days.

Most Insignias are driven as company cars, so the cost of replacement tyres won’t bother their keepers, even if the fleet manager might like to know a typical replacement Goodyear found on Google retails at £257, fitted. Racetrack looks don’t come cheap.

Neither does the car itself, even if there are lots of goodies packed into the red-only shell, itself adorned with sporting touches like side sills, lower skirt and a rear spoiler. Some onlookers said they’d never get used to the paint, others thought it went well with the obvious sporting stance of the car.

Inside, the exterior brashness morphs into sensible black for an interior aimed at making long distance driving as relaxed as clear dials, well placed switches and a multi-adjustable driver’s seat can provide.

Electrically adjustable lumbar support for the driver (and a seat cushion that extends for longer legs) hint at a much dearer car and are welcome attempts to woo the company car driver who will spend long days at the wheel.

Not longer than necessary, thanks to a clear and easily programmed satellite navigation system that ought to make it easy to track down the next appointment.

So, a car that defied expectations and mostly in a good way. Can’t help thinking that a lesser Insignia might make more sense, though.