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Grand Sport is the last Opel developed fully under the ownership of GM.
The launch of the second
generation Opel Insignia, or officially Insignia Grand Sport, could not
come at a worse timing. Just before it went on sale, parent company GM
announced the sale of its European operation to PSA group, ending an
ownership that dates back to 1929. In the past 5 years or so, Opel has
been working hard to turn around itself. It has renewed all its model
lines, added the niche Adam and is replacing its old-fashioned MPVs
with crossovers. It tried to build a green image by badge-engineering
Chevrolet Volt to Ampera. It supplied the old Insignia to Buick and is
offering the new car to replace Holden Commodore. In short, it tried
everything it can but, somehow, failed to turn black. In fact, it has
been losing money in each of the past 16 years. So frustrated that the
American opted to quit Europe altogether. Consequently, Insignia Grand
Sport becomes the last Opel developed fully under the ownership of GM.
Coincidence or not, the Insignia GS is also the most American-like big
car. For starter, it is a lot larger than the old car, being 4.9m long,
1.86m wide and runs a 2829mm wheelbase – the latter is 92mm up from the
last generation. Its sleek, handsome shape returns a Cd of only 0.26,
while the expressive design owes more to American than German school.
Rebadge it as a Buick and no one would feel strange. Its low roof line
– some 29mm lower than before – and steeply raked C-pillar may earn it
equal status to Audi A5 Sportback or Volkswagen Arteon (new CC), yet
the Opel is as affordable as ever. Like American saloons, it offers
more space and kits for the money.
raked C-pillar may earn it equal status to Audi A5 Sportback, yet the
Opel is as affordable as ever.
Inside, it is remarkably close to Buick, too. The interior design is
quite stylish. Infotainment system is up to date, if not outstanding.
Materials are generally high quality, although the lower half of the
dashboard is made of hard plastics to save cost. Switchgears, fit and
finish are not quite premium grade, but it is probably higher than Ford
Mondeo/Fusion’s. The seats are supportive and comfortable. Driving
position is good and ergonomics is sounded. The cabin feels easily more
spacious than before. There is vast of rear legroom thanks to the
wheelbase extension. Predictably, rear headroom is not as good due to
the swoopy roofline, but by mounting the rear seat 30mm lower it is
still good enough to fit 6-footers, just. The only real drawback is the
boot, which shrinks by 40 liters to 490 liters, smaller than the class
The new large car is built on GM’s EXX platform which also underpins
Chevrolet Malibu and Buick LaCrosse in the USA. Its chief progress is
weight reduction. The monocoque chassis is made 60 kg lighter, thanks
to using high-strength steel and aluminum bonnet. As before the
suspension is struts up front and multi-link at the rear (4WD models
have 5 links instead of 4 links). There won’t be torque-steer-reducing
HiPer strut anymore because Opel has dropped the poor selling OPC
version this time around. This means, the most powerful engine will be
the 260 hp 2.0 Turbo, which is coupled to the new Aisin 8-speed
automatic transmission and GKN Twinster 4WD system with torque
vectoring (like Ford Focus RS). Another new engine is the mass-selling
1.5-liter direct injection turbo with 165 hp. It can be equipped with
either 6-speed manual or 8-speed auto. If these are familiar, it is
because you have already seen them on Chevy Malibu. Exclusive to the
European car is diesel engines, of course. These include a 1.6-liter
with 110hp, 136hp or 160hp, or 2-liter with 180hp. At the lower end of
the range, the 1.5T petrol is available in 140hp tune.
|The cabin feels
easily more spacious than before, thanks to the wheelbase boost.
On the road, the Insignia GS also goes quite like a Buick. It is
neither sporty nor fun to steer, but it is smooth and comfortable to
cruise along. With very long high gears, the 165hp 1.5T engine cruises
at motorway speed with only 2500 rpm on the rev counter, no wonder it
is remarkably hushed. When you want to overtake, engage the light
clutch and sweet gearbox, you will find the small turbocharged motor
offers plenty of useful torque, and then the car gathers speed
willingly, if never dramatically. In corners, the new car’s lighter
weight is evident, as it threads through corners willingly despite the
growth in dimensions. However, there is little feel from the electric
power steering. The chassis tuning is not as hardcore as Ford or Mazda
either, so it lacks the sharp turn-in or composed body control of its
rivals. On the flipside, the car cruises with superb ride comfort as
well as high-speed stability.
On the 2.0 Turbo 4x4 fitted with 18-inch wheels (instead of 17-inch of
lesser models), the ride comfort suffers some losses, especially on pot
holes or rough surfaces, while tire noise is more evident on cruising.
Opt for the largest 20-inch wheels and it becomes nearly unbearable, so
it is best to save money. This car has electronic adaptive dampers
fitted as standard, so you can alter the suspension stiffness between
Comfort and Sport mode. However, the former lacks body control to
inspire driving thrills, while the latter returns a ride too harsh to
be enjoyable on back roads. It proves that Opel has yet to master the
art of ride and handling like Ford, Mazda or even Volkswagen. In fact,
the 2.0 Turbo 4x4 may disappoint customers who expect a lot from its
name. It is simply not fast enough (0-60 mph takes just under 7
seconds). Its Aisin automatic has long gearing to promote fuel economy,
and it does not downshift quick enough when you call for action. The
result is a lukewarm performance. Even the Twinster 4WD here is not as
remarkable as on Ford Focus RS, because all it does is to maintain the
neutral handling without permitting the slightest drift on throttle.
The result is a secured driving manner like Audi’s Quattro.
|The result is
less than the sum of its components...
Sadly, the last Opel developed under the GM umbrella fails to break
away from the usual mold of Opel. It has the necessary ingredients in
place, such as Twinster, adaptive dampers, multilink suspension, new
turbo motors and even a good look, but the result is less than the sum
of its components. Given more development time and budget and I think
it could have a good chance to succeed. Unfortunately, for a subsidiary
losing money in the last 16 years, GM ran out of patience.