Upward social mobility, it seems, isn’t just for people. Cars, too, can climb the ladder and improve their position in the great automotive social hierarchy.
For example, the erstwhile Volvo estate evolved into the XC70, a car Lady Frou-Frou would be happy to be seen tootling off to bridge in. Even the ubiquitous VW Passat – so often seen three inches off your rear bumper on the M4 with a reptile at the wheel – can improve its lot in life with the addition of a bit of body-cladding and a subtle Alltrack badge.
Not wishing to be left out, the humble Vauxhall Insignia – flushed with success from its recent facelift – is also now making a dash for the upper echelons of country life.
Using the more conventional Sports Tourer as a base, the Country Tourer sprouts all-wheel-drive, increased ground clearance, and more rufty-tufty styling.
Much of the latter arrives in the guise of the grey body-cladding and wheel-arch extensions, the handsome 18-inch alloy wheels, the sharper headlights with distinctive LED running lights, and a smattering of skid-plate-like silver trim.
The cabin is much as you’ll find in any other Insignia, with a dash that’s generally well laid-out, although a few of the buttons – such as those for Sport and Tour mode – are mounted a touch too high making them a bit of a stretch.
The centre stack is dominated by Vauxhall’s IntelliLink system, and this provides audio, phone, and navigation functions, all controlled via an eight-inch touch-screen. The system paired easily with our test phones, the sound quality is decent, and the navigation system gave generally clear instructions, complete with the option of piping guidance into the instrument cluster.
If you’re not a fan of jabbing a sticky finger at a touch-screen, you can instead use the voice recognition system or the touch-pad controller mounted down by the gear-lever. This allows you to control the system via a range of smartphone-esque swipes and taps, complete with haptic feedback, and you can even ‘draw’ letters on the pad with your finger when entering names and addresses.
While the instrument cluster contains conventional gauges for revs, fuel and engine temperature, everything else appears on a central digital display. Sport mode engages an alternative design theme, while the buttons on the steering wheel allow the driver to cycle through a vast array of information.
Rear-seat passengers will find themselves enjoying fairly laid-back accommodation, and although there’s plenty of head- and knee-room, there’s not a tremendous amount of room to get your feet in.
All Country Tourer models are equipped with a power tailgate as standard, and this can be opened and closed from the key fob or via a handy button in the driver’s door that also allows you to limit how far it opens – useful in a restricted height multi-story car park.
The tailgate opens to reveal a large rear overhang that can make loading a bit of a stretch for some. That aside, though, it’s a good size, with a variety of tie-down hooks, rails for accessories, and an underfloor compartment. With the rear seats folded, there’s 1,530 litres of space on offer.
Two engines are available, starting with a 2.0-litre turbodiesel with 163PS. It’s offered in both automatic and manual forms, as well as with and without the 4×4 system. The more powerful 2.0-litre BiTurbo unit of our test car produces 195PS but is matched only to a six-speed automatic gearbox and four-wheel-drive. It is a little noisy, though, and the Country Tourer would benefit from a touch more sound-proofing to help keep its diesel drone confined to the engine bay.
The auto ‘box feels a little out of its depth when mated to this twin-turbo torque monster, with each new gear engaged with something of a jolt. The ratios all seem rather tall, too, and this is exasperated by its somewhat relaxed attitude to kick-down – give the accelerator a determined right hoof, and the ‘box seems willing to down-shift only one gear, and this blunts what would otherwise be a very quick car.
Engage Sport mode and the transmission will hold on to lower gears for longer in an attempt to feel more responsive, but in reality this results in not much more than leaving the engine spinning higher up the rev range than feels natural. Thankfully the gear-lever’s tiptronic function allows drivers to flick sequentially through the transmission’s ratios themselves if they’re feeling enthusiastic.
The concept of driving a jacked-up estate car enthusiastically might sound a little implausible, but the truth is that the Insignia is underpinned by a well-sorted chassis, with a pliant ride and a surprising ability to soak up surface imperfections without drama. Some of this ability stems from the Country Tourer’s standard FlexRide adaptive dampers, and there can be few cars that smother speed-bumps into submission so easily.
That doesn’t mean it wallows about – indeed, body-roll is very well controlled, especially when you consider the Country Tourer is 20mm higher than the regular Insignia models.
Of course, that modest increase in ground clearance doesn’t turn the Insignia into a Paris-Dakar contender. Realistically, the Haldex-based 4×4 system is more of a safety net to keep you mobile in adverse weather conditions. By default, 95% of engine torque is sent to the front wheels, with anything up to 95% being diverted to the rear wheels automatically as conditions dictate.
With Sport mode engaged, the distribution alters to 70:30 for a slightly sportier feel, and there’s also an electronically-controlled rear limited-slip differential that can meter out torque to whichever wheel has the most traction.
Slap on a set of winter tyres and the Insignia Country Tourer is likely to keep you out and about in all but the deepest of snowfalls; certainly more than a match for your neighbour’s Audi.
Despite its new-found 4×4 ability, the Insignia may find itself spending much of its time trudging up and down the nation’s motorway network. That’s no bad thing, though, since the Country Tourer shines here, too, with a well-composed ride, comfortable seats, and wind and road noise that are both kept well in check.
It’ll prove economical while it’s doing it, too, with the government’s official figures for our BiTurbo test car claiming 42.8mpg on the combined cycle. We averaged around 33mpg on our test route, while a day spent circumnavigating the M25 notched up a respectable 41mpg.
Prices for the Country Tourer start at £24,349 for the front-wheel-drive model, with the entry-level 4×4 priced at £25,494. The BiTurbo version starts at £31,004, with our well-optioned test car tipping the scales at £35,579.
By comparison, the VW Passat Alltrack starts at £29,385, the Audi A4 Allroad at £32,235, and the Volvo XC70 not making an appearance until £34,410. Whichever way you cut it, the Vauxhall represents a sizeable saving over the established players.
The Insignia Country Tourer, then, isn’t just a value-for-money repmobile. It’s now also a ruggedly-handsome social climber in its own right.
|Entry-level Price||£24,349||Price as tested||£35,579|
|Engine||4-cyl biturbodiesel, 1956cc||Transmission||Six-speed auto|
|Power||195ps @ 4,000rpm||Torque||400Nm @ 1,750rpm|
|0-62||9.9 secs||Top speed||130 mph|
|Economy||42.8 mpg||CO2||174 g/km|
|Dimensions||4597 x 1826 x 1656 (LWH)||Kerb Weight||Not available|