ICE DREAMS: Insignia VXR has intelligent all-wheel drive system making it a talent on road or ice
ICE DREAMS: Insignia VXR has intelligent all-wheel drive system making it a talent on road or ice Simon Darby

Holden Insignia VXR road (and ice) test

Holden Insignia VXR: What matters most

What we liked: Alluring and quality design, great Recaro seats and overall high-end dashboard, practical nature, respect-worthy AWD tech.

What we'd like to see: Better fuel economy, a bit more mongrel from the engine, more steering feedback and we'd love the wagon version they get in Europe

Warranty and servicing: Three-year/100,000km warranty. Lifetime capped price servicing, intervals every 15,000km or nine months. Average service cost is $241 for first five services.

 

IT'S very easy to fall in love with a car while holding a delightful four-wheel drift on an expansive snowy playground.

This is New Zealand's Southern Hemisphere Proving Ground, Holden's choice to debut its intelligent all-wheel-drive Insignia VXR, and with my foot planted and opposite lock engaged it all feels rather wonderful.

Sadly, few VXR buyers will get to explore Holden's latest Euro-import's adaptive AWD to such extremes, but there's more to this German-built sedan than icy power-sliding.

We received the VXR in Opel Insignia OPC guise back in 2013 before the brand's hasty exit, but this Holden badged version is the facelifted example, costing an appealing $8000 less than the Opel did.

And considering the kit, technology and performance offered, its $51,990 sticker doesn't look half bad.

Holden big wigs say the VXR is here to bring more aspiration to the brand, and for those who like their Holdens with balls to go with European sophistication this is the new champion.

NEW DAWN: Insignia VXR is part of the Euro invasion for Holden with a refreshed product line already featuring Astra and Cascada.
NEW DAWN: Insignia VXR is part of the Euro invasion for Holden with a refreshed product line already featuring Astra and Cascada. Simon Darby

Comfort

Driver and passenger slide into Recaro leather seats that feel snug and grippy during enthusiastic driving, but also nicely cosseting for daily or long-distance duties.

Their hard backs aren't ideal for long-legged folk sat in the back, but rear passengers get excellent head-room in this mid-size sedan whose dimensions help make it a good family hauler.

A chunky flat-bottomed steering wheel, digital dash display, centre console layout and general ambience all have an air of Euro quality.

The VXR's FlexRide system alters suspension settings for selected VXR, Sport and Standard modes, with the latter turning the car into as bump-absorbing a sporting sedan as you could wish for on highways.

A niggle would be the six-speed auto box as the up shifting gear changes using the paddle shift are a bit fiercer than you'd expect: fine for playtime, but not the serenest when cruising.

FEATURE PACKED: A pair of 8-inch display screens feature while Holden's next gen MyLink arrives.
FEATURE PACKED: A pair of 8-inch display screens feature while Holden's next gen MyLink arrives. Simon Darby

On the road

Science wise, the adaptive all-wheel drive works with an electronic LSD, adapting to conditions to vary torque distribution from zero to 100 per cent between the front and rear axles as well as between the rear wheels.

While your head's hurting from all that, your choice of three settings from the FlexRide changes the suspension, all-wheel-drive, steering throttle response and shift pattern, making the VXR a very smart cookie indeed.

Exploring such smarts was possible at the icy test track, where the VXR proved easier to control - both sideways and in a straight line - than a car has the right to on such a surface.

Above all, it was great fun to throw around with good feel through the steering wheel and a predictable tail-wagging nature.

But it's on the road that matters most to buyers. The Melbourne-built 2.8-litre V6 has a decent note and proper urge, but really only comes alive in the higher rev range with throttle response a bit tardy for a performance car. SS Commodores would smoke this German in a dog fight.

Positively the car feels tractable and solid on the road, the steering weighty but a bit too electronic-feeling to give pure feedback, while ride comfort and road noise is decent for a tightly-sprung car on 20-inch wheels.

AUSSIE HEART: Turbo 2.8-litre V6 engine is Melbourne built and is good for 239kW and 435Nm
AUSSIE HEART: Turbo 2.8-litre V6 engine is Melbourne built and is good for 239kW and 435Nm

What do you get?

A fair whack under the skin and a decent amount within.

Sizeable Brembo brakes bring serious bite to the intelligent chassis, while there's sat nav, dual zone climate, 20-inch alloys, heated seats, Holden's feature-packed MyLink Infotainment with eight inch touchscreen, and another eight-inch digital colour cluster display (which includes a lap timer) behind the steering wheel.

Safety-wise there's auto emergency braking, lane change alert and adaptive cruise (all Holden firsts) plus front camera with lane departure warning, rear camera and a number of collision alerts.

Running costs

Heavy all-wheel-drive, a 2.8-litre turbo and not much in the way of the latest fuel-saving tech makes the VXR a thirsty beast.

It shows its Euro roots by demanding Premium 98 juice too: not ideal when it drinks 11.3-litres of the stuff every 100km. Merc manages the same return from its 6.0-litre V12 S 600, while Holden's own 270kW Commodore SS-V 6.0-litre V8 has only a slightly worse drinking problem.

THIRSTY WORK: Not great fuel economy at 11.3-litres/100km thanks to Insignia VXR's performance and heavy AWD underpinnings.
THIRSTY WORK: Not great fuel economy at 11.3-litres/100km thanks to Insignia VXR's performance and heavy AWD underpinnings. Simon Darby

Practicality

Impressive head room in the rear and reasonable leg room make the Insignia a true sporting family hauler.

Boot space at 500-litres is more than the current Commodore, and with split fold rear seats folded that's upped to a handy 1015-litres.

Other options

Holden identified the Subaru Liberty 3.6R ($41,990) and Volkswagen CC 3.6 FSI 4Motion ($66,990) as VXR rivals, while performance AWD sedan shoppers may also look at the smaller Subaru Impreza WRX STI ($49,990), while the forthcoming AWD VW Golf R Wagon will be a lot quicker and shouldn't cost too much more than the VXR.

And let's not forget Holden buyers may still be swayed by the rear drive V8 excellence currently available in a Commodore SS V-Series ($46,490).

Funky factor

The VXR has the exterior muscles to match its performance, and does so with a dash of Euro elegance.

Squat and purposeful on 20-inch wheels it has an uncompromised driver-focused feel, backed up with large Brembo brakes and quality Recaro seats inside.

ICE DRIFTER: New Zealand's Southern Hemisphere Proving Ground helped show off intelligent all-wheel drive in action
ICE DRIFTER: New Zealand's Southern Hemisphere Proving Ground helped show off intelligent all-wheel drive in action Simon Darby

The lowdown

More about brand building than market share, Holden doesn't expect the good-looking and high-specced Insignia VXR to sell in big numbers.

It is a grown-up feeling, highly intelligent all-rounder that deserves to do well however, even if it doesn't have the brute performance you may expect.

If the model name establishes itself well, the next generation Insignia with smarter and more fuel-efficient performance engines will be even more eagerly awaited.

 

Vital statistics

Model: Holden Insignia VXR.

Details: Four-door all-wheel drive mid-size sedan.

Engine: 2.8-litre V6 with twin-scroll turbocharger generating maximum power of 239kW@5250rpm and peak torque of 435Nm@5250rpm.

Transmission: Six-speed Active Select automatic with paddle shifters.

Consumption: 11.3-litres/100km.

CO2: 264g/km.

Performance: 0-100kmh in 6.5-seconds.

Bottom line (before on-roads): $51,990.

SUPER CAR? Race ace James Courtney is VXR ambassador and proved at home on ice as he does the race track
SUPER CAR? Race ace James Courtney is VXR ambassador and proved at home on ice as he does the race track Simon Darby

The verdict

Driving experience................... 14/20

Features and equipment............ 16/20

Functionality and comfort........ 16/20

Value for money...................... 17/20

Style and design....................... 16/20

Total......................................... 79/100

 

What matters most

What we liked: Alluring and quality design, great Recaro seats and overall high-end dashboard, practical nature, respect-worthy AWD tech.

What we'd like to see: Better fuel economy, a bit more mongrel from the engine, more steering feedback and we'd love the wagon version they get in Europe

Warranty and servicing: Three-year/100,000km warranty. Lifetime capped price servicing, intervals every 15,000km or nine months. Average service cost is $241 for first five services.

ASPIRATIONAL: Holden wants the Insignia VXR to be part of a halo range: it will be the only Insignia model in Australia for now.
ASPIRATIONAL: Holden wants the Insignia VXR to be part of a halo range: it will be the only Insignia model in Australia for now. Simon Darby

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