2018 Vauxhall Insignia Sportswagon Review (2018 Holden Commodore Sportswagon Review)
Paul Horrell’s 2018 Vauxhall Insignia Sportswagon Review (nee Holden Commodore Sportswagon) with performance, ride and handling, safety, verdict and score.
IN A NUTSHELL The Sportwagon (estate) version of the new Commodore is practical, though it’d have more room if its styling weren’t so swoopy at the back. It’s well-finished, and loaded with active safety kit. Like the hatchback it’s built in Germany, and most versions are front-drive. Holden says it will tune the dynamics for Australian conditions, which might be needed because the European car isn’t fully sorted on coarse roads.
2018 Vauxhall Insignia Sportswagon 2018 Holden Commodore Sportswagon
PRICE $NA WARRANTY 3 years/100,000 km ENGINE (tested) 2.0L turbo diesel 4cyl POWER 125kW at 3750rpm TORQUE 400Nm at 1750-2500rpm TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual DRIVE front-wheel drive BODY 4986mm (L); 1863mm (W EXC MIRRORS); 2093mm (W INC MIRRORS); 1514mm (H) TURNING CIRCLE N/A TOWING WEIGHT 1950kg (braked) 750kg (unbraked) KERB WEIGHT 1633kg approx SEATS 5 FUEL TANK 62 litres SPARE no (in Europe) THIRST 5.3L/100km combined cycle FUEL diesel
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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 – tuning not reflected in the Europe-spec test car.
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.
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.
The estate version is lengthened over the hatchback by almost 100mm, all of it behind the rear wheels. So let’s look there first. The extension gives a load space that’s deep front-to back, and can claim a volume of 1665 litres, seats-down, to the roof. Seats up, to the luggage blind, it’s 560 litres.
But it’s not as deep as a crossover’s, so it helps to know what shape stuff you’ll be carrying. Also, the stylish swoopy rear end means the tailgate aperture isn’t as big as the cross-section of the boot itself. And the sloping tail cuts into the space for tall objects.
Seats up, the space is covered by a fiddly roller blind. Mostly you won’t bother with it. The seats fold down near-instantly by electrical switches in the boot itself, making a load area more than 2m long. The seats can fold in 40:20:40 split, so you do get choices of people to cargo ratio.
The passenger cabin is 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 adults. The back seats have strong contouring for two people, but there’s decent width to accommodate a third. Anyone who regularly moves a child seat between two vehicles in the family will be delighted by the easy accessibility of the Commodore’s Isofix mounts. Why do so many cars hide them away so you break your finders installing and removing the child seat?
Storage space is strong, with console bins and cupholders ahead of the gear-lever, more cubbies behind – including optionally 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.
What’s it like to drive?
Unlike the hatchback we reviewed, we tested the Sportwagon in a sporty chassis trim. That means 20-inch wheel rims, firm suspension and switchable adaptive dampers. As a 2.0 diesel it is front-drive, whereas the petrol V6 adds a driven rear axle with active torque vectoring.
The adaptive chassis is definitely firmer over bumps than the softer hatch we reviewed, but not disastrously so. In the more pliable damper setting, it lopes along with a relaxed feel. Only thing is, it can’t smother the high-frequency harshness from the shallow sidewalls of the tyres on the 20-inch rims.
Worse than that, these tyres kick up far more noise on coarse sealed roads than the 17s, and on unsealed roads it’s worse. Select them only if you really want the looks. Oh sure they deliver strong roadholding and sharper steering, but is it that sort of car?
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, and the steering itself is over-assisted and so disconcertingly light light. 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.
The 2.0 diesel, which will be going to Oz, could be quieter but doesn’t really vibrate. The turbo action is well-modulated, giving little sense of off-boost torpor or on-boost rush. It’s an easy, predictable if unexciting engine to use. The test car was a manual and has a mushy clutch. Doubtless the Oz-market auto would be a better choice.
What are the safety features like?
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 cruise control and lane-keeping info, plus navigation arrows when a junction is near. It even flashed up an orange pictogram of a pedestrian when I drove past a walker on the road. It’s a clean, high-resolution display.
So, what do we think of it?
The all-new Holden Commodore isn’t due here until next year but, if our drives of its siblings in the UK are anything to go by the new Commodore will be an entirely different beast than the one it replaces. And not just because it’s a front-driver instead of a rear-drive vehicle. The design and entire philosophy of the car is different. Different, bad? No. Indeed, the new Commodore will actually be very good and can be directly compared with the Skoda Superb and Ford Mondeo.