THE new super-slippery aerodynamic Vauxhall Insignia Hatchback hit the road in October with higher levels of specification, new and revised engines, lower taxes, lower prices and more comfort and sharper handling thanks to steering and suspension revisions.
All elements that will keep it the market leader for sales in this hard-pressed sector, at least until the new Ford Mondeo comes along in 2015.
The new Insignia Sports Tourer range which has just arrived in the UK has prices starting at £18,629 which is £2,000 under the previous entry-level model and on a like-for-like basis the new comers can work out as much as £4,800 less with the most expensive VXR version.
The Sports Tourer is available with new 1.4, 1.6 and 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engines plus the 2.8T VXR unit. Diesel will be the main choice so there is the one core 2.0-litre turbodiesel unit, but available with many power outputs from 118 to 139bhp.
With more than 80 per cent of Insignia's 30,000 annual UK sales going to company car drivers and fleet operators there is a combination of engine and spec level to suit most tax requirements. Some versions offer CO2 emission levels as low as 98g/km. Vauxhall claim company car drivers can save £1,000 in Benefit-in-Kind tax over three years against comparable models.
I have just had a spell in probably the best-selling version of the Insignia Sports Tourer, the SRi 2.0 CDTi 138bhp (140PS) turbodiesel ecoFlex with Start/Stop. Priced at £22,949 on-the-road this is the leanest version as far as fuel economy and CO2 emissions go, but it's not the meanest as far as the specification it offers.
With 258lb of torque available from a low 1,750rpm, the acceleration response should be strong and flexible. Well it is until you want to accelerate using fifth and sixth gears.
The high ratios, or it could be a high final drive ratio chosen by the engineers to obtain the best possible official fuel consumption and CO2 emission figures, dulled the puling power on A/B roads so I was constantly changing from sixth to fourth gear to get more response and I found myself driving for longer periods in 4/5th gears instead of sixth.
Cruising on main road between 55 and 70mph was the only time sixth gear felt appropriate. The 2.0-litre CDTi unit, although uprated, still sounds course under load and noisy at tickover.
In the handling and ride comfort departments the latest generation Insignia shows much improvement following UK specific changes to the suspension and steering.
The ride is more compliant and comfortable and the steering sharper, faster responding with better feedback.
There is still some road noise intrusion but with the 17-inch alloy wheels it is generally a much improved package.
The improvements continue inside.
The car of course remains roomy, only tall six-footers might find the rear seat headroom a bit on the tight side but the wide opening doors give really easy access.
The layout of the instruments and controls have been also been improved, generally simplified and are now less cluttered.
The poorly located and labelled buttons have gone and models with sat-nav now have a large touch-screen which provides access to the car information, phone and sound system.
It is easy to move between these functions but dragging your finger across the screen to operate some of them can be inaccurate when on the move but there is also voice control to compensate for this. There is also a touch-pad control positioned in the centre console between the front seats but it is so fiddly and out of site to use I found it was useless. Generally though the interior looks and feels smarter and it seems well built, in fact close to premium brand models in this sector such as Audi, BMW and Mercedes.