Vauxhall Insignia BiTurbo
Alan Partridge's car of choice in a new, gutsy guise
Price: from £27,180
Engine capacity: 2.0-litre twin-turbo diesel
Power (bhp @ rpm): 192 @ 4,000
Top speed (mph): 143
0-60 mph (seconds): 8.2
Fuel economy (mpg): 57.6 (combined) CO2 emissions (g/km): 129
It may be a common sight on Britain's roads and outsell the once-mighty Ford Mondeo by a margin of two to one, but the Vauxhall Insignia isn't the sort of car you can get very excited about. Indeed, anyone watching Monday's Alan Partridge: Welcome To The Places of My Life, might have spotted that it's North Norfolk Digital's finest's car of choice.
Yes, it won the prestigious Car of the Year award in 2009, but it won't set your heart racing. And because in the public consciousness it is mainly driven by travelling salesmen, junior management and middle-England's budget-conscious families, it has struggled to shake off its dull but dependable reputation.
You might argue there's nothing wrong with that – it certainly hasn't hurt Vauxhall's sales figures – but as Kia, Hyundai and other manufactures challenge its mid-market homeland, Vauxhall is launching a raft of new cars and has taken the Insignia, its flagship model, upmarket.
The new BiTurbo, as the name suggests, gets a gutsy, twin-turbo diesel engine in the hope that it will lure well-heeled premium buyers away from their powerful BMWs and Audis. Vauxhall's traditional four-pot diesel is by no means a dud, but the new diesel in the BiTurbo produces a hefty 192bhp to send you barrelling down the motorway at licence-endangering speeds without much fuss, which is fine on a German autobahn but tricky on the M1 at rush hour.
In that respect at least then, it's just like an Audi or a BMW. Find an open road, though, and from 2,000rpm the BiTurbo delivers torque in waves of endless power and smooth acceleration. It's all down to a complicated set up with the second turbo and the exhaust gases, and it results in a peach of an engine and one that will let you throw the Insignia around at some pace with ease.
Combine that with the Insignia's excellent handling, smooth ride, strong brakes and the accurate damping (as standard on the BiTurbo) and you'll soon think you're behind the wheel of a more expensive motor. Not a brash or showy one but one that's competent enough to get you along quickly, smoothly and safely.
Economy and practically aren't sacrificed either. Pushing hard in sport mode you'll struggle to do better than 35 mpg, but on a three-hour run up to north Norfolk – Aha! –I managed a fairly respectable 43mpg. Inside, the cabin is spacious and well-equipped, while the rear and boot are big enough for all your needs.
The BiTurbo isn't available in Vauxhall's entry-level trim, but you'll still need to tick the boxes for satnav, alloy wheels and parking sensors if you want to give it a real premium feel. This means the price soon hits £30k, which is mid-range Audi A4 and BMW 3-Series territory and begs the question; is the Insignia as good?
At a motoring event recently a senior figure from one of Vauxhall's rivals admitted to me that Vauxhall make "some excellent cars" but "they'd sell a lot more of them if they ditched their badge and used the Opel one instead". He had an axe to grind of course, but he's probably right, which is a shame.
The BiTurbo is cheaper than some of its rivals, gives you just as much power, more space, more kit and cheaper running costs. Audi and BMW won't be worried just yet – some people will always pay a premium for a posh brand – but if you're not bothered about the badge on the front (you shouldn't be), this is a very good car indeed.
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