The growth in UK sales of 4×4 SUVs was significant in 2013 and in addition more manufacturers are adding all wheel drive versions of their conventional saloons and estates.
Audi are well known for their quattro models, 48 versions at the last count, BMW have also seen big increases in demand for their xDrive cars in addition to the X model SUVs, VW have their Passat Alltrack, Subaru have their Legacy and Outback 4×4 estates and Volvo also have their Cross Country models as well.
Now Vauxhall, the leader of the D-segment company car pack, have added the Country Tourer 4×4 to their best selling Insignia estate range priced from £25,349 to £30,859. These prices say Vauxhall undercuts key segment crossover rivals by over £5,000 against the Audi A4 Allroad and £2,400 lower than the Passat Alltrack.
From Vauxhall there are two levels of specification – the Insignia Country Tourer and Country Tourer Nav and there are two 2.0-litre CDTi turbodiesel engine options, the 161bhp unit available with manual and automatic gearboxes and a twin turbo 193bhp version only with automatic transmission.
Vauxhall anticipates that there will be an equal split in UK sales between private and business customers, 90% of customers will choose the 161bhp engine and the new 4×4 crossover versions are likely to account for around a minimum of 5% (900 units) of UK Insignia Tourer sales but it is a growing market sector. The increasing demand for such vehicles Vauxhall quite rightly says is due to the worsening British Winters and road surfaces so some customers now feel the need for cars which offer the robustness and ground clearance of an SUV but with the convenience and less SUV bulk offered by an estate body style.
I have just had a Wintery driving spell in the Insignia Country Tourer Nav 2.0-litre CDTi with the 163PS engine which has Start/Stop and is priced at an attractive £26,499. To go with its 4×4 traction, 20mm higher ground clearance and 18-inch alloy wheels styling changes include the addition of front and rear underbody protective panels front and rear, protective cladding on the side sills and lower body sections and around the wheelarches which gives a more pronounced flared look and they all cumulate to give the vehicle a rugged muscular and tough image.
As for specification the Country Tourer models gets all the recent styling and trim updates afforded to the latest Insignia range at the end of last year. The Country Tourer’s standard specification is generous including bi-xenon adaptive front lighting, power tailgate and front and rear parking sensors. The top version, Country Tourer Nav, gets Navi 900 IntelliLink sat nav with 8-inch colour touch screen, multi-function touch-pad controller and an 8-inch digital instrument cluster as standard. Other fixtures included are cruise control, trip computer electrically operated windows and door mirrors, DAB radio, Bluetooth, heated steering wheel and front seats, Flexride, climate control and unfortunately an electric parking brake. Just as with the latest front wheel drive Insignias the layout of controls on the twin cockpit styled dashboard and centre console is much improved but the laptop styled ‘touchpad’ in the centre console which doubles up on the functions of the fascia touchscreen is very fiddly and almost useless when it comes to being used whilst driving, it’s too sensitive and out of the driver’s line of site.
In all other respects the Insignia Country Tourer is a roomy five seater although three adults using the rear seats are a bit cosy for shoulder room. The over the shoulder rear visibility is not that good either so the rear parking sensors are useful but a rear view camera would be better still. The rear seats fold down very easily to reveal a flat load floor and the boot space is then increased from 540 to 1,530-litres which are not the largest in its sector given the sports style tailgate and low roofline at the rear.
At the heart of the Country Tourer is the 4×4 drivetrain. This is an electronically controlled system which incorporates a heavy-duty clutch and an electronic limited-slip differential. It constantly adapts on tarmac and unpaved surfaces to the prevailing traction conditions and can vary torque distribution seamlessly between the front and rear axles, as well as between the rear wheels.
The 4×4 system’s sensors constantly feeds information to the ‘brain’ on yaw rate, acceleration, steering angle, wheel speed, throttle pedal position, engine speed and torque. The front/rear power distribution is constantly adapted to the driving situation based on this information.
Under normal conditions with Flexride set in Default or Tour modes, 95% of torque is sent to the front wheels to reduce the frictional losses and save fuel. But where necessary, the clutch controlling drive distribution can send up to 95% of the torque to the rear axle. In Sport mode, the default torque split is 70/30, front/rear, adapting to up to 40/60 depending on driving speed and prevailing road conditions.
The electronic limited slip differential controls the distribution of torque between the rear wheels, transferring drive torque to the wheel that has the most grip. It can even provide propulsion when three wheels are on loose or slippery ground and only one rear wheel has traction.
The 2.0-litre, 161bhp four cylinder turbodiesel engine is a strong and responsive unit but it is noisy and ‘course’ at times. The 258lb ft of torque is delivered from 1,750rpm which makes driving easy with the six-speed manual gearbox with the minimum of gearchanges required and ‘block-changes’ were easy and comfortable for the drivetrain. Top speed is 127mph and zero to 62mph takes 10.9 seconds. Officially the Combined Cycle fuel consumption is 50.4 mpg and my week long test drive covering all types of roads resulted in 41.9mpg. With CO2 emissions of 147g/km, VED road tax is currently £140 for every year and company car drivers will pay 24% in Benefit-in-Kind tax until April when it goes up to 25%.
Under hard acceleration the engine does send vibrations through the drivetrain and steering into the car. They were not noticed by my passengers but only by me and I’m not the only motoring writer to comment on this issue. There is also considerable road noise transmitted into the car from the large wheels and tyres during motorway driving but on A/B roads and country lanes the ride was quieter and more compliant. The Sport setting firms up the ride but not uncomfortably so in the case of the Country Tourer as the big tyres with deep sidewalls absorb most of the bumps. The Sport setting also sharpens up the steering and engine responses. The Tour mode offers a more laid-back response but in the case of the Country Tourer I preferred the sharper handling offered in the Sport setting. Despite its extra 20mm ground clearance and larger wheels there was very little cornering body roll
Despite its ‘beefed-up’ looks the Country Tourer is still a stylish version of the Insignia family. The added 4×4 ability will appeal to those customers currently considering a large crossover or SUV to combat the weather/roads but do not want to pay huge purchase prices or high running costs. It may say Country in its title but the latest Insignia model will be equally at home in the urban jungle and for that matter in other seasons – not just Winter.
MILESTONES. Vauxhall Insignia Country Tourer Nav 2.0 CDTi 163PS 4×4. Price: £26,499.
Engine/transmission: 2.0-litre, 4-cylinder, turbodiesel with start/stop, 161bhp, 258lb ft of torque from 1,750rpm, 6-speed manual with on demand 4×4 traction. Performance: 127mph, 0-62mph 10.9 seconds, 50.4mpg (41.9mpg on test), CO2 147g/km, VED road tax £140, BIK company car tax 24%. Insurance group: 20E. Boot/load space: 540 to 1,530-litres. Braked towing weight: 2,100kg. For: Stylish, useful extra 4×4 traction, well equipped and practical, competitive pricing, low-ish running costs, responsive engine, compliant ride. Against: Noisy engine under load, some transmission vibrations, low height load space, restricted rear/rear quarter visibility. Miles Better News Agency