2018 Opel Insignia Review (2018 Holden Commodore Review)
Paul Horrell’s first drive 2018 Opel Insignia Review (nee Holden Commodore) with specs, performance, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.
IN A NUTSHELL The new European Opel Insignia has a mountain to climb in Australia. It has to capture the mainstream, as it’s going to wear Holden Commodore badges. And yes it’s front-drive, or in top versions AWD. The cabin is big and finished with a lush quality the Commodore never had, it’s loaded with high-tech features and it’s a quiet comfy machine to ride in. Not such good news for the driver though: it’s a dull steer. That said, we drove about the dullest version in the Euro lineup. Oz versions get more power and a locally developed suspension tune, so there’s hope yet.
2018 Opel Commodore (European spec)
PRICE $NA WARRANTY 3 years/100,000 km ENGINE (tested) 1.6L turbo diesel 4cyl b 100kW at 3500-4000rpm TORQUE 320Nm at 2000-2250rpm TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual DRIVE front-wheel drive BODY 4897mm (L); 1795mm (W EXC MIRRORS); 2093mm (W INC MIRRORS); 1455mm (H) KERB WEIGHT 1500kg approx SEATS 5 FUEL TANK 62 litres SPARE no (in Europe) THIRST 4.4 L/100km combined cycle FUEL diesel
IF HOLDEN IS to remain a serious player, a massive amount hinges on this car. And to a degree it’s out of Holden’s hands, as it’s designed and built by Opel in Germany. But Holden specified certain aspects at the beginning of the project, and is doing its own chassis tune at the end.
Then, crazily, on the day before the Insignia’s public launch in March 2017, it also slipped from GM’s direct control too. GM did a deal to sell Opel to the French Peugeot Group. Still, Peugeot has agreed to honour the agreement to supply cars to Holden – why wouldn’t it, as it’s all about selling cars and never mind the badge.
Oh, and by the way, the car we drove ran the Vauxhall badge, which is Opel’s British-market sister nameplate. So, when the local marketing people talk about it carrying authentic Holden DNA, remember Vauxhall people say it’s a true Vauxhall, and Opel people say it’s a true Opel. And likely American Buick salesmen will get their turn too. Some car brands are consistent and authentic… and then there’s General Motors.
Anyway, to the car itself. The Insignia/Commodore runs on a new platform over the current Holden Insignia, and it’s much longer in the wheelbase for extra cabin space. The structure has shorter overhangs for better looks, and it’s lighter for better fuel efficiency and performance, and yet stronger to improve safety. Active safety tech and connectivity are bang up to date too.
What’s the interior like?
For a Euro-format front-driver, this is a big cabin. Not so vast as a Volvo S90 maybe, but up there with an Audi A6 for room in the back. It’s wider than a current Insignia, but not up to the current Commodore for shoulder width.
It’s also well-trimmed and feels like a high-quality piece. The mid-spec car we drove had a stitched dash-top, and chromed trims around much of the switchgear.
Ahead of the driver lives a digital-with-analogue dial combo. The rev-counter and fuel and water temp gauges are permanent hardware, but the speedo and oil temp and voltmeters (don’t see them on many cars these days, but useful in the hot outback) are rendered on a TFT screen. You can reconfigure that screen to emphasise a lot of useful info: trip computer, entertainment, navigation.
In the centre of the dash, the touchscreen is a high-quality item with good graphics and quick responses. It’ll also do phone mirroring, ie. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Basic audio functions and the climate controls, have proper hardware switches and twist-knobs beneath the screen, which is a good ergonomic solution for making quick adjustments as you drive.
The seats are low in the car, but the cushion on the base-version’s manually adjusted seats is oddly angled so it’s not easy to get comfy at first. The optional chairs have a massage function. In the back, there’s good leg and headroom even for tallish men.
Storage space is strong, with console bins and cupholders ahead of the gear-lever, more cubbies behind – including an inductive phone charging plate – and a big hollow box under the armrest. Twin USB points replenish rear passengers’ devices’ batteries, and another, connected to the infotainment system, resides up front.
The boot is 490 litres, which is going to be more than adequate for most. Even the hatch has a 60:40 split-fold backrest with remote-switched releases in the boot. There’s no spare wheel in the UK car we drive, but there is space for one.
What’s it like on the road?
We drove the car in its softest spec: small engine, 17-inch wheels, front-drive. Some versions will go up to 20-inch wheels and get adaptive damping – which GM is good at. The V6 adds a driven rear axle with active torque vectoring.
But this cooking version does comfort very well. The springs are soft and generally soak up poor roads well, though there’s a bit of a shuffling motion as if there’s friction at play. Happily, the chassis and tyres don’t kick up much noise as they go.
The steering is accurate and calm – it’s an easy car to place on the highway for hours on end, even if you don’t turn on the lane assistance systems. And around spiral off-ramps or tight rural turns the car has a decent cornering balance, seldom coming across as nose heavy. In that sense, I didn’t mind it was front-drive. The issue is the sense of connection through the steering – there’s basically none of it. Neither does altering your accelerator position do anything much to alter that cornering balance. So, you just point the car and round it goes. It’s easy, but not engaging.
Our tester was a 1.6-litre diesel, a quiet unit at urban speeds and when cruising, but strained when pushed beyond 3000rpm. It wouldn’t have the performance to tow uphill. The manual transmission shifts easily but, like the steering, the lever doesn’t feel like it’s connected to any actual mechanical action.
For Australia, there will be a pair of 2.0-litre engines, petrol and diesel. We’ve driven the diesel in other GM cars and it’s a bit grumbly, but the Insignia’s more modern installation will, we guess, calm it down. The petrol engine is all-new. Both those drive through an eight-speed automatic, while the V6 AWD uses a new nine-speed auto.
What about the safety features?
Too soon yet for NCAP, so we can’t say anything definitive about this car body’s crash strength.
There’s a strong portfolio of active electronics. For Oz, Holden speaks of (standard or optional): Autonomous Emergency Braking; Forward Collision Alert; a display on the speedo that shows you how many seconds gap you are leaving to the car in front; Adaptive Cruise Control and Speed Limit Cruise Control; Lane Departure Warning; Lane Keep Assist which nudges the steering to keep the car between white lines; Side Blind-Zone Alert; Rear Cross-Traffic Alert.
Those warnings and driver-assist functions, which are enabled by radar and cameras, are handy and reassuring, and worked properly on the test car.
But the Commodore can also help you see better: the optional Intellilux LED headlamps are, literally, a brilliant help on rural night drives. They shine a variably and precisely shaped beam pattern just where you need it, by switching 16 LEDs on each side. An additional spot beam shines up to 400m ahead, the manufacturer claims.
To help you keep your eyes on the road, and better remind you of your speed, a head-up-display shows speed, plus speed limit read by the car’s camera, plus navigation arrows. It’s a clean, high-resolution display.
Why would you buy one?
Because you want a German designed and engineered car with a Holden badge. But that might also be the same reason why many people won’t buy the new Commodore. There’s no doubting it’s a very good car, but can the new Opel, er, Vauxhall, er, Holden Commodore convince the Commodore-buying heartland and even those looking to SUVs, or Government agencies moving away from Commodore and Falcon (because they have to and also because they no longer need the size) to consider the Commodore? Time will tell.
The new Holden Commodore won’t be here until next year, but there’ll be an Australian reveal later this year. Stay tuned.