GM’s New Mondeo-fighting Insignia – the Next Saturn Aura?
By Andy Bannister
In the perennial battle between Ford of Europe and GM’s Opel and Vauxhall marques, the blue oval has scored a major hit with the success of the latest Mondeo. Wounded by falling sales and desperate to keep buyers interested, GM has now released teaser shots of its rival contender, the Insignia.
Due for its world debut at the London Motor Show at the end of July, the new model will be on sale in November.
The Insignia replaces the fast-fading Vectra, a model which shares its platform with Saturn’s Aura (though, unlike the smaller Astra, the European and North American cars are far from being identical).While the current Vectra is pretty square-looking, the Insignia sits on an extended wheelbase and in pictures appears notably sleek, with a very low drag coefficient of just 0.269.
In profile it looks spookily similar to Jaguar’s new XF, and possibly some offerings by Lexus.
As well as the four-door saloon, a sleek five-door hatchback and a station wagon will be offered. The line-up will feature petrol engines ranging from a 138bhp four-cylinder to a 256bhp V6.
Diesel versions will probably sell the best of all, and customers get a 2.0-litre turbo with direct injection, available in 128bhp or 158bhp versions. Inevitably there will be a low-CO2 Ecoflex model too.
The quirky stretched Signum version of the current Vectra, which features a roomier, more executive-looking interior and an odd upright hatchback rear end, has been a notable flop and is unlikely to be replaced in the Insignia family.
As the first GM product to be based on the group’s new Epsilon 2 architecture, developed from today’s Vectra, the Insignia will eventually be the basis of a dozen or so Opels, Saabs, Buicks and Saturns over the next few years. It seems a fair bet the next Aura will be very much like the Insignia.
In Europe, Britain and Germany will be by far the Insignia’s biggest markets, accounting for over 80% of sales in total, so the company can ill afford to get this model wrong. It’s not just the Ford Mondeo this car needs to beat – this is a hotly contested sector, with other European-built competitors including the VW Passat, Renault Laguna, Toyota Avensis, Honda Accord and Peugeot 407 all vying for sales.
The Insignia will be badged as an Opel everywhere except the UK, where the century-old Vauxhall marque name is still used. At one time, Vauxhall and Opel were completely separate entities effectively competing with each other, but the two GM-owned companies gradually came together from the 1970s onwards.
This year Vauxhall has just unveiled a new version of its time-honoured griffin logo, in another signal GM wants to move its image upmarket. It’s unfortunate, then, that the Insignia name itself evokes memories of a similarly-titled and fairly cheap-and-nasty men’s shower gel sold in Britain in the 1980s.
For years, successive generations of the Vectra, and before that the Vauxhall Cavalier, sold in huge numbers to UK company fleets and were the archetypal salesman’s cars, alongside their Ford rivals.
“Vectra Man” is now a pejorative turn for such drivers in British popular culture, usually to be seen steaming up the overtaking lane of highways or at a fast food joint filling up en route to another business meeting. No doubt the company would like to leave this particular stereotype behind, even though fleet sales will still be of key importance.
Vauxhall does sometimes take independent decisions from those of big brother Opel. It has put a lot of effort into developing the sporty VXR sub-brand, and its most notable attempt at independence has been importing small numbers of high performance Australian Holdens to the UK and selling them with Vauxhall badges.
The current mighty 6.0-litre Vauxhall VXR8 therefore has no Opel equivalent but is closely related to the Pontiac G8 sold in the States. It is definitely a left-field choice but offers unrivalled performance for a fraction of the cost of pedigree competitors from the likes of BMW.
In due course, it’s likely that a hot VXR Insignia with 300bhp or so to its name will come along to be the big Aussie’s little brother.
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