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Holden Insignia 2015 review

Look familiar? We've seen this car before, albeit briefly.

Just 71 examples of the Insignia were sold in this sporting guise wearing Opel badges in the 11 months General Motors introduced the German brand to Australian buyers in 2012 and 2013.

It was an epic fail and GM should have known better than to think its European subsidiary could hit the ground running in the world's most competitive new-car market.

Apparently Opel bosses looked at how many vehicles the company sold here in the late 1990s and early 2000s -- when they were wearing Holden badges -- and thought they could do the same again.

But Opel meant about as much to Australian buyers as Skoda, sales tanked and the 20 dealers who took the punt ended up taking a bath.

Lesson learned, some of the Opel cars are back (we've already seen the return of the Astra hatch and Cascada convertible in the past two months) but this time wearing Holden badges and sold through Holden's massive network of 200-plus dealers.

The Opel-sourced cars are designed to add some polish to Holden's battered image (independent research shows the number of customers who intend to buy a Holden has halved), and reverse a sales slide that has seen Holden hit its lowest tally in 21 years. Indeed, the brand is about to be overtaken by Hyundai for the year, having already been passed by Mazda.

For now, Holden has elected to only import the flagship model, the Insignia VXR, which costs $51,990 plus on-roads.

That makes it as much as some of the dearest Commodore models on sale today, but it's worth noting the price is about $10,000 less than it was with an Opel badge.

The Insignia is a former European Car of the Year, but it's a relatively old one. Released in 2009, the model we have here includes some recent changes that extend beyond the badges.

The Insignia is also the strongest clue yet to the imported sedan that will replace the homegrown Commodore

The updated model gets a new interior treatment with two large digital display screens (one for the instruments, the other for the cabin controls) and the suspension has apparently had a spanner on it.

The biggest difference is the arrival of a raft of safety equipment that wasn't on this car last time around, and makes the Insignia VXR the most hi-tech car to ever wear the Holden badge.

It can brake automatically to avoid hitting the car in front, if the driver is distracted, although GM refuses to say what speed it can mitigate a crash. Most other brands give an indication of the system being effective from 30 to 50km/h.

The same technology enables the Insignia VXR to stop and go automatically when radar cruise control is activated -- and the "beam" isn't broken. And if the car in front is going where you want to.

A rear-mounted radar can spot cars overtaking at a high speed (designed more for autobahns than Australia's clogged commuter freeways), and headlights that follow the direction of the steering and automatically adjust their intensity in wet weather.

The Insignia is also the strongest clue yet to the imported sedan that will replace the homegrown Commodore once production in Adelaide comes to an end in late 2017.

While Holden has imported the current generation Insignia from Germany, the all-new successor to this vehicle, due in 2018, will wear a Commodore badge and replace the locally-made sedan and wagon. 

It means the Commodore will have come full circle: the original 1978 model was an Australianised version of the German family sedan made by Opel.

So this is definitely a sign of things to come.

On the road 

The first thing you notice is that this is much smaller, narrower and shorter than a Commodore. I bumped my head on the low roof getting in the front and the back seats.

But once you've regained consciousness you're welcomed by what are clearly European levels of quality, technology and refinement.

The new instruments are well laid out and, mostly, easy to use.

The Insignia VXR is more like a car with a bit of extra oomph rather than a performance sedan

The temperature adjustment (one tab for the driver, another for the front passenger) is a touch screen; it's finicky and doesn't work as well as a switch or a dial.

The race-bred Recaro seats are snug, supportive and comfortable, and the steering wheel feels like you're grabbing a bag of golf balls.

The back seat is comfortable for two, but three adults would need to be family if they were to squeeze in the back.

On the move, the Insignia VXR is more like a car with a bit of extra oomph rather than a performance sedan.

The Australian-made, single-turbo 2.8-litre V6 (yes, it's shipped to Germany and then comes back in a car) doesn't exactly excite the senses with more than 1800kg to lug around.

In other words, it's as heavy as a Commodore without the benefits of size or performance.

The Europeans get excited about the VXR but they haven't grown up on a diet of cheap V8 horsepower like we have.

So if you want grunt, you'll still buy a Commodore V8 (at least until the end of 2017).

Holden is banking on what it admits will be "niche" buyers who want a European car with more grunt than $51,990 typically buys you in a European showroom.

With all-wheel drive, race-bred Brembo brakes (front only), and grippy 20-inch tyres, the VXR feels secure on the road.

The steering has a nicely weighted and precise feeling; the suspension is taut but not at all uncomfortable, in standard or sporting modes.

A good alternative for European brand snobs who want more bang for their buck

Downsides? It's thirsty and heavy (for its size). The tyres are noisy on coarse surfaces. There is no spare tyre. And acceleration is only ok by Australian standards. The claimed 0 to 100km/h is 6.5 seconds but the best we could manage was 7.7 seconds, and that was downhill. Translated: a Toyota Aurion V6 is quicker.

The image of the rear-view camera is milky, and not as sharp as other cars (yes, we checked the lens was clean) and the premium stereo isn't all that premium sounding.

The exhaust note booms in the ears of back seat passengers at low engine revs when the car is cruising. It needs a bi-modal exhaust or a quieter one.

If the next generation of the Insignia is to become our next Commodore, the performance flagship needs to be much quicker than this and the car itself needs to be roomier than this.

Verdict

A good alternative for European brand snobs who want more bang for their buck, but it's not a Commodore V8 beater.

Pricing Guides

$22,975
Based on 17 cars listed for sale in the last 6 months
Lowest Price
$15,999
Highest Price
$25,990

Range and Specs

VehicleSpecsPrice*
VXR 2.8L, PULP, 6 SP AUTO $15,999 – 25,990 2015 Holden Insignia 2015 VXR Pricing and Specs
Pricing Guide

$15,999

Lowest price, based on 17 car listings in the last 6 months

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