Sales of what the industry calls D-segment (upper medium) new cars have fallen year-on- year during and since the recession as company car fleets downsize to more affordable and less taxing new models.
In the last 10 years this segment has shrunk by 9.6% but it still remains the third largest sector after the supermini (B) and lower medium (C) sectors.
A couple of years ago both the Vauxhall Insignia and Ford Mondeo were clinging on to membership of the UK’s top ten best selling model ranges. Now neither features in the top ten year to date, although the new Insignia range did jump into eighth place for the month of October when it was launched.
According to the latest UK new car registration figures supplied by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, the fall in D-segment new car sales in the last ten years was the largest drop of any segment. The largest growth is for what the SMMT calls Dual Purpose vehicles, what we know as SUVs or crossovers. They have grown by 4.7% in 10 years with MPV people carriers and superminis being the next best sectors each growing by 2.2%.
The new super-slippery aerodynamic Vauxhall Insignia hit the road in October with higher levels of specification, new and revised engines, lower taxes, lower prices and more comfort and sharper handling thanks to steering and suspension revisions. All elements that will keep it the market leader for sales in this hard pressed sector, at least until the new Ford Mondeo comes along in 2015.
The range of Insignia Sports Tourer, Saloon and Hatchback models will be joined early in 2014 by an all-wheel-drive Country Tourer model.
The range also includes the latest 170mph Insignia VXR with a 321bhp engine for under £30,000 for the Hatch and £31,049 for the Sports Tourer. The new Sports Tourer range starts at £18,629 which is £2,000 under the previous entry-level model and on a like-for-like basis the new comers can work out as much as £4,800 less with the most expensive VXR version.
The realigned prices together with the engineering and equipment enhancements have led Vauxhall to predict selling about 30,000 Insignias in a full year, the same as the previous generation but in a more price sensitive climate today.
The five door Sports Tourer range mirrors that of the five door Hatchback in terms of engine, equipment and trim levels but the smaller selling four door saloon line-up due to less demand has far few model options.
The Sports Tourer is available with new 1.4, 1.6 and 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engines plus the 2.8T VXR unit. Diesel will be the main choice so there is the one core 2.0-litre turbodiesel unit but available with many power outputs from 118 to 139bhp including ecoFlex versions. As far as trim and equipment the choices are comprehensive with Design, energy, SRi, SE, Tech Line, Elite and VXR plus there are additional sub options such as Nav and Limited edition depending on the engine chosen.
With over 80% of Insignia UK sales going to company car drivers and fleet operators there is a combination of engine and spec level to suit most tax requirements. Some versions offer CO2 emission levels as low as 98g/km for the Hatchback and 104g/km for the Sports Tourer with BIK rates of 14 and 15% respectively. Vauxhall claim company car drivers can save around £1,000 in Benefit-in-Kind tax over three years against comparable models in its two main selling competitor ranges, the Ford Mondeo and VW Passat. The new Skoda Octavia Estate is now also a serious contender in this sector on price, low taxes, space and driveability.
I have just had a spell in probably the best selling version of the Insignia Sports Tourer, the SRi 2.0 CDTi 138bhp (140PS) turbodiesel ecoFlex with Start/Stop. Priced at £22,949 on-the-road this is the leanest version as far as fuel economy and CO2 emissions go but its not the meanest as far as the specification it offers.
Cutting to the nitty-gritty this revised turbodiesel engine will officially return 72.4mpg in the Combined Cycle. Needless to say during my test drive week using motorways, A/B roads and some stop/start urban crawl driving the test figure was 49.7mpg and used only in its ECO mode. This figure was not too shabby but it was way down on the official figure. With CO2 emissions of only 104g/km the VED road tax is nil cost for the First Year rate and then only £20 for year two onwards. Company car drivers will be pleased with the small 15% BIK tax for such a big car offering five seats with 540-litres of boot space or by folding down the seats this goes up to 1,530-litres. It’s not only company car drivers who will benefit from the new lower prices and running costs as the Insignia will also appeal to retail buyers, especially those who are happy to buy a nearly new ‘used’ one. The insurance rating appeals as well with a relatively low group 19.
With 258lb of torque available from a low 1,750rpm, the acceleration response should be strong and flexible. Well it is until you want to accelerate using fifth and sixth gears. The high ratios, or it could be a high final drive ratio chosen by the engineers to obtain the best possible official fuel consumption and CO2 emission figures, dulled the puling power on A/B roads so I was constantly changing from sixth to fourth gear to get more response and I found myself driving for longer periods in 4/5th gears instead of sixth. Cruising on main road between 55 and 70mph was the only time sixth gear felt appropriate. The 2.0-litre CDTi unit, although uprated, still sounds course under load and noisy at tickover.
In the handling and ride comfort departments the latest generation Insignia shows much improvement following UK specific changes to the suspension and steering. The ride is more compliant and comfortable and the steering sharper, faster responding with better feedback. There is still some road noise intrusion but with the 17-inch alloy wheels it is generally a much improved package.
The improvements continue inside. The car of course remains roomy, only tall six-footers might find the rear seat headroom a bit on the tight side but the wide opening doors give really easy access. The layout of the instruments and controls have been also been improved, generally simplified and are now less cluttered. The poorly located and labelled buttons have gone and models with sat-nav now have a large touch-screen which provides access to the car information, phone and sound system. It is easy to move between these functions but dragging your finger across the screen to operate some of them can be inaccurate when on the move but there is also voice control to compensate for this. There is also a touch-pad control positioned in the centre console between the front seats but it is so fiddly and out of site to use I found it was useless. Generally though the interior looks and feels smarter and it seems well built, in fact close to premium brand models in this sector such as Audi, BMW and Mercedes. The SRi specification is I think the best level to go for and includes all the most wanted items from electrically operated windows and door mirrors, to air conditioning, DAB radio, cruise control, Bluetooth, on-board computer, sat-nav and touchscreen and 17-inch alloy wheels. Outside the sleek Sports Tourer has received a few mild tweaks to smooth airflow.
Overall the face-lifted Insignias are considerably improved and the lower prices, higher specs and lower running costs will keep it as the market leader in its sector.
MILESTONES. Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer SRi Nav 2.0 CDTi 140 ecoFLEX. Price: £22,949. Engine/transmission: 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder, direct injection turbodiesel, 138bhp, 258lb ft of torque from 1,750rpm, 6-speed manual. Performance: 124mph, 0-62mph 10.9 seconds, 72.4mpg (49.7mpg on test), CO2 104g/km, VED road tax £0 First Year rate then £20 per annum year two onwards, BIK company car tax 15%.Insurance group: 19. Warranty: 1st owner Lifetime/100,000 miles. Dimensions: L 4,913mm, W 1,856mm, H 1,513mmboot/load space 540 to 1,530-litres, braked towing weight 1,600kg. For: Cheaper to buy and cheaper to run than previous generation models, better equipped, simpler controls, smoother ride, sharper steering, feels well built – a grade or so higher than the original models. Against: Actual fuel economy did not come close to the official figure, too high fifth/sixth/final gear ratios spoil engine response from low to mid range speeds, limited rear seat headroom for taller passengers, fiddly and hard to see touchpad, no spare wheel. Miles Better News Agency