By on June 11, 2009

 

My first car was a 1970s–era Opel Rekord. It was one of the most beautiful cars GM ever made. It was also roomy, reliable, as well as cheap to own and service. Those typical brand values made Opel a star player in Europe, and demoted Ford and many others to the status of also-rans. Later, Opel lost the reliability and beauty part of the plot. Is today’s Rekord, the Opel Insignia, good enough to lead an almost-dead company to the future?

The latest effort from GM-Euro sure looks good enough. The Insignia sports a spectacular design that gets almost everything right. From the side, it has that leaping-panther silhouette. From the front, you see a successful implementation of the puppy-resting-on-paws motif, combined with a dash of HR Giger’s evil alien in the grille. So it’s cute but aggressive. It looks like a contemporary version of the Xedos 6, which itself was an excellent interpretation of what a small Jaguar should look like.

The boldness goes on inside, where swoops and swathes and weird angles reign supreme. Some of it works well, such as the blade-like door handles. The interior treatment is certainly distinctive, without being over-the-top like the Euro-Civic’s is. But to my mind, the net effect is overwrought and over-buttoned. I prefer the Renault Laguna’s simple elegance, or the C-Class’s utilitarian look. Also, some of it just doesn’t work so well. From my POV, the thick steering-wheel rim obscured the temp and gas instruments, and the speedometer typography is unnecessarily small.

Which leads to a major point of complaint: the coupe-like Insignia seems designed in general more for looks than for functionality. Visibility is poor, what with small windows and thick beams. Space is at a premium: this is a 4+1 and not a proper five-seater, and it has insufficient headroom and foot room in the back. (The trunk, however, is big.) I understand the positioning logic: family space is what minivans are for, and sedans are nowadays tailored to professionals. But I don’t buy it. Why should I, when buying a new car, accept a downgrade? Do I look like a schmuck? Nobody makes me pay business for economy.

Most journalists have reported Audi-like interior quality, which sure indicates the value of providing prepared press vehicles. I can say that although the interior feels, smells and looks good, it ain’t no Audi: I heard a faint pip-scratch from the center console when driving over expander joints, and the gearshift surround is made of cheap and ugly plastichrome that crackles at a touch.

My tester had a fantastically tractable 160 HP oil burner coupled to a well-tuned 6-speed automatic. This Opel was quiet, fast (0-60 in under 9 sec), torquey (350 Nm (258 lb·ft)) and economical (providing 28 mpg despite often driven in town or around 120 mph). Once again, a good Diesel in combination with a modern auto is a near-dream team. (If it only had a chain cam . . . )

Handling is pretty fine: stable and secure at high speeds, composed and allowing high turning speeds on country roads. I seldom managed to make the ESP intervene, but when it did, it was discreet. The Insignia lacks the Mondeo’s magic however, with less precise steering and not quite as linear reactions near the limit. This is for a reason: the Opel’s development benchmark for handling was to achieve 80% of the Ford’s prowess. Also, in contrast to most other reviewers, I felt that the Insignia’s ride quality was definitely inferior to the Mondeo’s, with an autobahn experience that is closer to that of the bumpy 1-Series.

I could now stress how the Insignia has all kinds of standard gadgets such as an optical sign-recognition system that reminds you of speed limits, or a lane-departure warning. But I come from the school that says gadgets are only important if the basics are great, unless you belong to the Plymouth Horizon fan club.

I also come from the school that says having some strong merits don’t matter when they don’t fit the brand. Nobody needs a fuel-sipping Lamborghini. A successful Opel needs to be beautiful (check), affordable (Insignia prices are well below comparable Passats, so, OK), reliable (given recent Opel history, check), economical to own (maybe not, given the electronic gadgets), and family-friendly (no way!)

Up to a point, sexiness sells, and the Insignia has had a great sales start. But in time, Opel will have to answer the obvious question: why buy an Insignia from a zombie company, when you can get a (better) Mondeo from a viable one? For a GM car, this Opel is great. For a car that’s supposed to save a bankrupt company, it’s just not good enough.

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34 Comments on “Review: 2010 Opel Insignia 2.0 Diesel...”


  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    Now there is a goal: We want to be 80% as good as the competition. Classic GM.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    the coupe-like Insignia seems designed in general more for looks than for functionality.

    That’s a GM thing, at least in North America. They have an addiction to coupe rooflines and serious tumblehome, and it results in some very large cars with very bad rear-seat accommodations. Shoulder and head room and compromised, and the rear seat cushion is short and often so badly-angled that fitting a child seat is a real problem.

    The Impala is probably the worst—no reason a car over two hundred inches long should be that uncomfortable in the rear—but it’s not the only one. Sad to see that it may not be just GMNA designs.

    It’s like GM and many other companies’ designers never left 1960: they’re so used to long, low and sleek that when they try to break the mold they’re so without a point of reference that the result is awful (Aztek). I was in a 1949 Dodge Coronet recently and it amazed me how much interior room the average American car lost between designs like this and the low-riders that succeeded it.

    It would be nice to see a return to the upright passenger compartment (eg, cars you can wear a hat in). VW seems to do this very well.

  • avatar
    grog

    Looks like a Genesis.

  • avatar
    Billy Bobb 2

    Nice car.

    It’s the German version of the coming soon Kizashi.

  • avatar
    KatiePuckrik

    I drove one of these as a hire car for work and I liked it.

    The handling is good, but considering how much the car weighs, I didn’t expect anything less.

    I was impressed with the interior, but there was still some room for improvement.

    The only two gripes I had about the car was this:

    1. The diesel engine was unbelievably noisy. I turned it on and the street where I live heard it! If you ran it on premium diesel (i.e BP Ultimate diesel or Shell V-Power diesel) then this should help with the noise.

    2. The brakes were appalling! They worked fine enough, but after 8000 miles (according to the odometer) they squealed like (insert jokes about “Deliverance”). I was really shocked that GM didn’t engineer decent enough brakes, when they’d done a good job overall.

    In short, I like the car, but I wouldn’t buy one. Depreciation will be steep and it won’t shake the “sales rep” image off. I’d personally, buy a Toyota Avensis, it’s really good and it’ll hold its value.

    Having said all that, the next time I need a car for work, I’ll explicitly ask for a Vauxhall (Opel? Who are they?) Insignia.

  • avatar
    ajla

    I actually don’t like the exterior. Its rear angle is Toyota Avalon-looking awful and the very noticeable side crease doesn’t seem to flow with anything. The front angle looks okay, but not spectacular.

    I think this car looks better in its Buick livery.

  • avatar
    twotone

    I bought a used 1972 Opel Kadet for about $500 in 1977. It was a great car — fun to drive, good gas mileage, easy and cheap to fix. A bit like the Datsun 510 that replaced it. Both were “poor man’s BMW 2002s” on a beer budget.

    Twotone

  • avatar

    We’re getting this sheetmetal as the Buick Regal. It looks better in person than in photos. I’m not a huge fan of creases like this one in general, though.

    Sad to hear they didn’t aim to match the Mondeo’s handling.

    Ford has also returned to form over function with the new Taurus. The 2010’s rear seat is considerably less roomy than the 2009’s, and the windows are much smaller. Why? Because the Five Hundred / Taurus was extremely functional, yet failed to sell.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    Why? Because the Five Hundred / Taurus was extremely functional, yet failed to sell.

    You may want to suffix that with “Why did they fail to sell? Because Ford can’t market it’s way out of a wet paper bag”

  • avatar

    Martin, I love Diesels but a chain-driven cam in an oelmotor makes for a noisy machine.

    –chuck

  • avatar
    threeer

    Oh, the 70’s Rekords! We had two…I loved the manual crank-open sunroof. We actually owned Opels all the way through the early 90s, when we, sadly, sold off our last Rekord. All three gave superior service to us for many years. Sad that GM never caught on that clean, reliable and effective cars could sell! On many trips back to Germany, I would periodically rent Opels (maybe as a passing tribute to my father, who absolutely loved the marque). The only one that really impressed was a Vectra GTS that absolutely hauled on the Autobahn. I had high hopes when the Astra came over with Saturn, as I was set to relive the glory days of my family by turning into my father and actually owning my own Opel. Another let down. The Insignia looks nice…too bad they’ve not quite nailed what could be a stellar car for Opel. One wonders where Opel will go now that it’s coming out from GM’s long, dark shadow.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Nice review, Martin. Now pretty please, a review of the Golf IV, with TFSI and DSG. No one has even brought this car up at TTAC; yet its a huge seller in Europe.

  • avatar
    NoSubstitute

    All cars don’t have to be all things to all people. As a soon to be empty nester, the parts of a car I use most are the front seats and the trunk. We have a sedan for those occasions when our offspring deign to travel with us or we’re not being our usual anti-social selves, but all things considered trading in rear seat headroom for a cool roofline sounds like a good deal to me.

    Too bad about that 80% handling though.

  • avatar
    dwford

    Now there is a goal: We want to be 80% as good as the competition. Classic GM.

    +1

    Way to shoot for the fences, GM.

  • avatar
    geeber

    psharjinian: You may want to suffix that with “Why did they fail to sell? Because Ford can’t market it’s way out of a wet paper bag”

    You’re right that Ford’s marketing was terrible, but I don’t know how many times I heard people say, “That looks like an old man’s car.”

    Ford had the 2010 Taurus at the Carlisle All-Ford Nationals this past weekend, and the interest it received was quite amazing. The comments were interesting, too…many along the lines of, “What an improvement,” and “Wow, I can’t believe this is a Taurus”.

  • avatar
    N8iveVA

    after reading your review, it sounds like it doesn’t excel at anything. so why 4 out of 5 stars? Sounds more like a 2 or 3 star car to me even though i like the exterior design for the most part

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Duh; I meant Golf VI.

  • avatar

    Pretty sharp-looking car…never? to be sold in the US? Not by GMNA? Saturn? Saab-Konigsegg? Fiat/Opel/Chrysler? Seems like theres plenty of lameass NA and euro market-share to gobble. Nice job Lutz!

    Yes, Katie…diesels DO run quieter with premium diesel fuel, a few splashes of bioD even better.
    If such a thing existed in NA, they could be here.

    Chuck…Ill take a well-Mobil1-lubed chain to a rubber-band anytime. All diesels make a little/lot of noise at idle. The beauty is that nice hum at 2-5Krpm.

  • avatar

    I really don’t see the spectacular sex appeal or “leaping panther” shape. As with the Jag XF, it strikes me as a basically tasteful but unmemorable design with some uncomfortable surface detail. The rear clip is the worst, reminding me of a weird blending of Toyota Avalon and Hyundai Sonata, with the unfortunate drooping decklid found on recent Mercedes.

    I think psarhjinian is dead on about GM’s love of coupe profiles and tumblehome. It goes back at least to ’59, with the big B-body hardtop coupes with the tiny little greenhouses on a massive body. It can look really slick, but it’s none too practical. That was one of the failings of the Oldsmobile — it looked pretty good, but it was absurdly cramped for a two-ton car.

  • avatar
    don1967

    This review reminds me of my conclusions after renting an Impala back in 2006: Much better than expected, in fact I would have seriously considered buying one if it had been available in 2002.

  • avatar
    Bearadise

    The Opel Rekord was “one of the most beautiful cars GM ever made?” Yikes.

  • avatar
    pacificpom2

    So do we see an diesel in Holden’s Commodore (G8)future to turn it green. Then will it return to the states as part of a Buick/Chevrolet “green” future?

  • avatar
    Mirko Reinhardt

    @Martin
    why buy an Insignia from a zombie company, when you can get a (better) Mondeo from a viable one?

    German buyers seem to answer the “Insignia vs. Mondeo” question with a resounding “Passat”.
    In April, 8615 Passats were sold in the Fatherland, compared to 4433 Insignias and 2441 Mondeos.

    it has insufficient headroom and foot room in the back

    So they eliminated the one thing that the Vectra had going for it?

  • avatar
    Mirko Reinhardt

    @Paul Niedermeyer :
    Nice review, Martin. Now pretty please, a review of the Golf IV, with TFSI and DSG. No one has even brought this car up at TTAC; yet its a huge seller in Europe.

    It’s not. The best selling gasser Golf is the 80hp naturally aspirated 1.4.

  • avatar
    vento97

    @Paul Niedermeyer :
    Nice review, Martin. Now pretty please, a review of the Golf IV, with TFSI and DSG. No one has even brought this car up at TTAC; yet its a huge seller in Europe.

    Mirko Reinhardt:
    It’s not. The best selling gasser Golf is the 80hp naturally aspirated 1.4.

    I believe Paul said it’s a huge seller, not the best seller. There is a difference…

  • avatar

    I often see TTAC review scores ridiculously low for cars I know aren’t THAT bad. However, the 4/5 score seems to be a bit high compared to the author’s words. I expected to see a 3/5 score. 5 out of 5 should be a car that you’d sell your first born to get (or at least the naming rights). 4 out of 5 seems to be a great car that you’d recommend to friends & family, but isn’t quite perfect. 3 out of 5 is more of a not bad, but I would probably pick another vehicle over this one. 2 out of 5, di anybody try with this one? 1 out of 5, how did this abomination ever get approved for production? Maybe we just need an explanation of the rating system.

  • avatar
    M1EK

    28 mpg. Wow. From what I’m told, Europe is full of diesels that meet or exceed the Prius’ mileage; so does that mean I’ve really been getting 25 mpg all this time?

  • avatar
    Buckshot

    It´s probably like the other Opels: Decent cars but very dull.

  • avatar
    NickR

    such as an optical sign-recognition system that reminds you of speed limits

    Just shoot me.

    Seriously? This is a ‘bonus’ feature?

  • avatar
    fincar1

    “I love Diesels but a chain-driven cam in an oelmotor makes for a noisy machine.”

    Chuck, isn’t that part of the diesel mystique, to make the neighbors think the UPS van is coming?

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    Hello everybody, I missed publication of this since I was in Switzerland for a few days. Sometimes good fortune goes hand in hand with bad timing!

    Chuck: thank you, but a quick search seemed to reveal that lots of contemporary Diesels are chain cam. Like, the Mondeo’s, or many Focus TDCi’s as well. Am I wrong? If you wish, I can look into this and compile a more comprehensive list.

    On my four-star rating: the Insignia is a genuinely good drive. A quality car. The best GM I’ve ever driven. Nobody would have to be ashamed to be seen in it. One can only marvel at automotive progress. Its only real faults lie in its packaging. So I felt it merited four stars. Maybe I was too kind to it; in fact, I would never contemplate buying one. So perhaps three stars would have been more just? Let’s say 3.6, rounded up to 4.

  • avatar
    ZekeToronto

    I think psarhjinian is dead on about GM’s love of coupe profiles and tumblehome. It goes back at least to ‘59, with the big B-body hardtop coupes with the tiny little greenhouses on a massive body.

    One of my favourite examples is the Buick Riviera. It started life as a remarkably clean, crisp and trim coupe in the early 60s, but just ten years later had become that massive flabby machine with the glass boat tail … and not even half the backseat.

  • avatar
    dolorean23

    I had high hopes when the Astra came over with Saturn, as I was set to relive the glory days of my family by turning into my father and actually owning my own Opel. Another let down.

    Threeer, what let you down on the Saturn front? I owned my Saturn Astra XR 5 dr now for a year and have put 23K on it already. Its a terrific little bastard that consistantly makes 31 mpg, town and highway. The 1.8L four isn’t going to beat many cars to 60 mph, but its not really designed for it either (GM took the exceptionally good 2.0L turbo for the sub-par Cobalt). Its interior quality for a sub-compact is far superior to a Korean cracker box as is its styling and reliability. Its very German and loves to be driven like you stole it. If you can still find one, you really should test drive one of the three door XRs. Its too bad GM let another one rot on the vine.

  • avatar
    Martin Schwoerer

    Upon giving it another look and sit at the Frankfurt motor show, I changed my mind about the Insignia. The design is gimmicky and it’s not a pleasure to be inside. Just too darn claustrophobic. There is something strangely undesirable about this car, so I give it an overall three stars and not more.


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