Blairwitch, rain, darkness and new Insignia

Vauxhall could have chosen anywhere in the world to hold the press launch of its “must succeed” model, the Vectra replacement, Insignia. So, where did they hold the glamourous event? South of France? Morocco? Portugal? Somewhere lovely and warm in Italy; like Tuscany?. Oh no; Vauxhall chose Scotland. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m the first to proudly fly the Saltire but as we all know, when the weather goes wrong in Scotland, it’s miserable.

Initially things weren’t too bad. I picked the new 2.0T saloon up from the darkness of a closed-off aircraft hangar (more of which later — suffice to say, it was part of a theme!) at Edinburgh Airport. The Insignia, I have to say, looks mightily impressive. Like so many modern cars it’s an amalgamation of other models and manufacturers in the market and, depending on which angle you look at the car, the Insignia has lines of the Jaguar XF, BMW 5-Series, Audi A4 and VW Passat. And amazingly the combination works.

Insignia image

Anyway, out we came from the darkness into watery sunlight. Worth noting here that normally on a test drive you’d expect to begin driving around 8.30am. Nine o’clock at the latest. Vauxhall, of course, wanted to be different (again, this theme thing) and we didn’t leave the airport till 4.15pm. And yes, you could guess where we were heading first: over the Forth Road Bridge!

Suffice to say it was well after 5.15 before we finally entered Fife. Then, unbeknown to me, the press route (yes, we journos are always given a specific route to follow on these launches) took us of at the Kelty junction and before we knew it we were hurtling past Knockhill. Even more bizarrely, just before we went past the entrance we were caught by a flying black BMW X5 in the hands of Jillian Shedden (Butcher)! The circuit’s managing director then sat behind us admiring her new hairdo rather than acknowledge my frantic waving.

Insignia Image

Afterwards she did admit: “I did wonder who the flash git was in the Vauxhall in front of me. I thought he must be a real Vauxhall nut because the reg was VXL.”

Of course, by now not only had the winter darkness settled in, but it was raining steadily. The route took us on up Glendevon before heading west towards Stirling. Now take a deep breath. Vauxhall’s route then took us back across country to Comrie and St Fillans before heading along the north shore of Loch Earn before turning south again through Ballquidder and on to Doune.

Pitch black now; rain chucking it down … and we weren’t finished yet. Then we headed right across country to Balloch before reaching our ultimate destination, Cameron House on the shores of Loch Lomond. But even that wasn’t straightforward. Before reaching Balloch we turned off through Drymen and heading up a narrow single-track road to somewhere on the east shore of Loch Lomond! This was where we were due to get the “secret presentation!”

Now, I have to tell you I, along with my driving compatriot, were the first of the 14 Insignias to arrive at the ‘secret’ destination. As we were greeted by threatening-looking personnel dressed in all-black waterproof gear waving light-sticks like demented aircraft control staff, we were allowed through gate and shown where to park.

I asked how long we were going to be held here, and was told: “Well we can’t do the presentation until everyone’s here.” Everyone? God; I knew we’d be stuck here for an hour. Sure enough, the rain continued to pelt; we sat stationary in our Insignia, and it was 7.35pm before the ‘presentation’ started.

Now I have to tell you, it was a  complete load of tosh. Talk about a manufacturer having a budget and not knowing how to spend it, but knowing they HAD to spend it?

Perched about 10ft above a mock American-style caravan was a huge flatscreen TV; thankfully — well, I say thankfully, but that’s open to discussion — the sound was fed in through the Insignia’s radio speakers. What followed was a nine-ninute — yes, nine-minute — mock feature film shot in what is now a hackneyed Blairwitch hand-held camera style. 

The first half of the ‘movie’ was guys running through a forest at night, speaking into their hand-held camera. The second half was a woman — who turned out to be the Insignia product manager — answering questions from her interrogators as she was held in some mysterious log cabin in the middle of nowhere.

To be honest, I’d switched off. Only half way though her ‘answers’ did I realise she was actually delivering product information on the Insignia! Talk about missing the point. I’m sure someone at Vauxhall must have thought it was all such a clever idea; but the reality of the situation was nothing short of frustration and a feeling of time being wasted. 

Sitting static in a car, with driving rain battering the windscreen on the shores of Loch Lomond in the pitch darkness at the end of October is not my idea of a car launch.

And all that was such a pity, because the Insignia is terrific. Forget the Vectra; Insignia is a quantum leap on anything Vauxhall has done before. And not only from the stylish looks angle; it’s got a very high build quality and the fascia is one of the best-designed in the business. It certainly leaves the latest Mondeo in its wake.

And on the road it feels hugely pliant, yet well planted. And let’s be honest, we weren’t exactly hanging around despite the atrocious conditions. 

The test car’s  2.0-litre 16-valve petrol turbo four, featuring twin balancer shafts and variable value timing, produced a healthy 217bhp at 5300 rpm and an even more impressive 258lb ft between 2000 and 4000 rpm. It’s is a true 150mph car, with a 0-60mph sprint time of 7.2 seconds thrown in. Pinpoint handling and crisp steering ensure the new Insignia remained composed, quiet and comfortable over difficult surfaces, including some which were seriously pitted and potholed.

Insignia is a stunner and, believe me, it’s fit to go head-to-head with models from some of the more prestige manufacturers such as BMW, Audi and Mercedes. And at £20,635, the 2.0T is certainly worth a look.


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