May 23, 2015

Horse 1905 - Insignia - A Bolt From The Blue

One of the odd consequences of being interested in cars and speaking to clients who also have interesting cars, is that sometimes if you're bold enough, you get to drive other people's interesting cars. Someone mentioned that they have an Opel Insignia OPC and after a brief discussion, I was able to blog my way into having a go of it.

The first thing that you notice about the Insignia is that everything is perfectly placed, everything comes to hand well, the seating position is excellent, all the knobs, dials and buttons feel lovely to touch, the steering wheel is the right size; everything to hand in your tiny domain has been arranged in such a way that it all makes sense. Think of it like being Captain Kirk on the bridge of the USS Enterprise. Kirk has no idea of how any of the systems work and yet if he gives an order, they just do and his crew report back to him.
This is common to a lot of Opel/Vauxhall products dating back for the best part of forty years. We probably got our first taste of this in 1978 with then VB Commodore but Opel has been pulling this trick again and again over several generations of Nova and Corsa, Astra, Vectra and now Insignia. Not even Chevrolet who tried their best at beating the Vectra and Astra with the ugly stick and then applying a build quality which barely passed QA testing could undo the good sense that Opel put into their cars. Sure, Chevy Cobalts and Malibus have been known to suffer from ignition switch issues which have caused the deaths of several people and been the subject of an expensive recall but the Malibu which I drove in 2007 still couldn't hide the Holden and Opel badges in the engine bay and the car drove excellently.
My only complaint with the Insignia is common to a lot of modern cars in that whilst the seating position is ergonomically fantastic, modern car manufacturers obviously think that people have 28 inch necks, for you need to be a giraffe to see over the window line.

Because we dived into lunchtime traffic, the first part of the journey was full of stops and starts. The gearbox, which disappointingly was an automatic, was totally silent and smooth. I left the car in D and I honestly had no idea of how many gears were in there; nor when it was changing through them either. At speeds below 50km/h, the Insignia may as well have been powered by clouds and fluffy bunny rabbits for all I knew. The only real indication that the engine was there at all, was the tachometer's needle waving slowly. Sound doesn't travel in space but even if the Insignia were in space it wouldn't matter because there are no sounds to be heard.

Turning right onto the expressway though and it was a totally different story. The OPC variant has a 2.8L Turbo V6 under the bonnet and once you put your foot down, the clouds are all vaporised, the bunnies all run away scared and the speedo tries to play catch up with the tacho. 80km/h was more of a serving suggestion than a speed limit, for by the time we hit the end of the on-ramp, we were already on the wrong side of triple digits. You very quickly get the impression that the OPC Insignia was built for a specific function - burning across Germany at more than 200km/h for hours, whilst doing it as with as little announcement as possible. Having said that, if it wasn't for the effortless four wheel drive system doing many millions of calculations a second, if it had been front wheel drive only, on a damp road we'd have torque steered into a retaining wall.
The leather is there to remind you that you're in Opel's flagship car and the audio system with its speakers that could either blast you with Teutonic Heavy Metal or a Wagnerian Opera are there to distract you from the fact that the car could probably achieve warp 3 before you even noticed. Kirk gives the orders and Sulu pushes the lever forwards and suddenly whooshka. You don't get "suddenly whooshka" in a lot of cars but as you settle back upon the cowhide, you're passing traffic as though they were boring wandering rocks in space.
I suspect that the OPC Insignia would outperform the equivalent offerings from Mercedes, Audi and BMW but that the people who but those cars would think that something with a lightning bolt on the front would be beneath them. No doubt that if you took it to a track day, that people with M series and S-Lines would blink twice when passed by an Opel. Off the line, I expect that only a quattro Audi would be able to take off as spritely as the Insignia.

When Holden does finally have its Australian manufacturing operations ripped out from under it and disposed of like yesterday's newspapers, I hope that they get to choose the Insignia and OPC as their Commodore and HSV replacements. The alternatives of the Chevrolet Impala and Camaro I'm sure will be full of sound and fury; signifying nothing, but the Insignia is neither full of sound or fury and it still says nothing. It doesn't need to. The Insignia is like a hired assassin: it does the job quietly and efficiently and with the warp speed of the starship Enterprise. This is a car which you don't see coming and you don't really notice that when it has gone, except for a pair of red taillights fading into in the distance.

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