With powerful small capacity engines becoming more popular with manufacturers keen to keep performance high but with less environmental impact, the V6 turbo in the Vauxhall Insignia VXR is something of a guilty pleasure.
The 2.8-litre V6 turbocharged unit produces 320bhp and is less than subtle. It has a traditional brute force approach to power provision that’s refreshingly honest.
Although the exterior styling could easily be less discreet, the five-door hatchback and four-door saloon versions are still likely to get drivers noticed thanks to their flared arches, aggressive body styling and giveaway enormous exhaust pipes. Depending on the company you keep, this could result in the regular requirement to defend the less economical choice of transport.
For drivers keen to avoid this scenario, the Sports Tourer Estate version of the high performance rep-mobile may be the answer. Firstly, it’s easier to justify the need for the extra power when you have the extra load space. Secondly, the Sports Tourer’s bulkier body carries the VXR styling additions with remarkable composure, somehow making it easier on the eye than the other variants.
That probably shouldn’t come as a surprise. In keeping with the title, the Sports Tourer is a sleek and athletic piece of design in standard guise. In VXR form the large alloy wheels, flared arches and additional body details bring out the best in the model’s form.
This sporty design is possible because some of the practicality that might be expected of an estate model has been sacrificed. Less accommodating than some boxier rivals and certainly less voluminous than its cavernous predecessor the Vectra estate, the Insignia Sports Tourer none-the-less offers a decent amount of luggage space and the potential to load to the rafters that’s missing from the saloon and hatchback.
Access to the boot is notably impressive, too, thanks to a tailgate that encompasses the entire rear end – lifting to reveal a portal unfettered by sills or latches.
Of course, this extra load carrying ability is bound to blunt the performance, but thanks to the Insignia VXR’s impressively powerful engine it has a pretty minimal effect. The car will still reach 60mpg in less than six seconds and the top speed has to be electronically limited to 155mph – not bad for a family estate model costing less than £35,000.
Part of the impressive straight line pace is down to the four-wheel drive system, which transmits the engine’s fierce power delivery to road with very little drama. Like the engine, the transmission offers a traditional performance car approach, too. A precise, stocky, substantial gear change is involving and ideally suited to the VXR’s ‘muscle car’ ethos.
It’s fast in more than a straight line, however. The Insignia Sports Tourer VXR uses the same HyperStrut front suspension system as the saloon and hatchback models, meaning the front wheels are always poised for maximum traction and helping to reduce some of the understeer and scrub associated with four-wheel drive performance.
An electronic LSD system mimics the functions of a mechanical version, also aiding traction and cornering. The VXR chassis sits 10mm lower than that of the standard cars, too, all of which means the estate model can really hold it’s own through a demanding sequence of corners.
However, an adjustable chassis means the Insignia Sports Tourer VXR doesn’t have to play the role of brute all of the time. The normal setting proves surprisingly comfortable despite the lowered chassis and standard 19-inch alloy wheels.
Sport sharpens the responses a fraction, offering a trade-off between comfort and handling. To get the full quota of performance, including the sharper throttle response and weightier steering, the VXR button needs to be pushed. Conveniently, the huge Brembo brakes provide tremendous stopping power regardless of chassis setting selection.
Inside there’s a distinctly sporty feel. The front bucket seats are a sure-fire indicator of high-performance and the thick, VXR embossed steering wheel is pretty purposeful, too. But there’s nothing to prevent the model fulfilling everyday estate car duties. The standard well-proportioned Insignia cabin is present and the rear bench is adequate for three adults with very decent head and legroom, and minimal intrusion from the transmission tunnel.
With its muscle car approach and relatively striking looks the Insignia Sports Tourer VXR is not a car for the shy, but it does deliver impressive performance alongside a greater degree of practicality.
FACTS AT A GLANCE
Model: Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer VXR, £33,690 on the road.
Engine: 2.8-litre turbocharged petrol unit developing 320bhp and 321lb/ft of torque.
Transmission: 6-speed manual transmission as standard, driving all four wheels.
Performance: Maximum speed 155ph (electronically limited), 0-60mph 5.9 seconds.
CO2 emissions: 274g/km.
By Richard M Hammond