Medium sized family cars have never been the sexiest market sector and while fleet favourites the Vauxhall Cavalier and Vectra were successful enough in their day, the format was already pretty tired by the time their replacement the Insignia came along in 2008.
While it was asking a bit much of this one car to revitalise an entire auto class, the Insignia is a pretty competent prospect, easily satisfying requirements of space, size and passenger comfort. It came originally as a saloon or hatchback with 1.8 litre, 2.0 litre turbo or 2.8 litre turbo V6 petrol engines or a couple of 2.0 litre CDTi turbo diesels in 128bhp and 158bhp formats. Trim levels followed Vauxhall's standard line up with S, Exclusiv, SE, SRi and Elite.
Early 2009 saw the arrival of a 'Sports Tourer' estate and two new engines: a 178bhp 1.6 litre turbo petrol and a further variant of the 2.0 litre diesel with 187bhp and twin turbochargers. Later that year Vauxhall introduced a high-performance model VXR, with an interesting 321bhp from the tuned 2.8 V6.
Bang for your buck
In an attempt to dispel the rather boring image of its predecessors, Vauxhall gave the Insignia a bolder look, with a rather dramatic sloping roofline and a couple of avant-garde, sharply moulded 'blades' sweeping along the skirts, while the smooth, hawkish front end is both handsome and aerodynamically effective.
The cabin displays similar dash, with a curvy, enveloping fascia, adaptive ambient lighting and specially designed ergonomic seating. Passengers will find the Insignia more spacious than the Vectra, due to its larger dimensions both in and outside.
Used Insignia buyers would do well to ignore the entry-level S trim models, aimed strictly at fleet car drivers, as higher trim levels are worth the extra cash. From Exclusiv trim you can expect ABS, ESP stability control, automatic headlights, electrically adjustable height and lumbar support for the driver's seat, cruise control, single-zone climate control air conditioning and front, side and curtain airbags. The V6 came with four-wheel drive as standard and you may also find it on some 2.0 litre variants as an option.
What you'll pay
The Insignia for sale was a victim of depreciation to bring tears to the eyes of new buyers but that happily works in favour of those looking for a used model. 2008 models start at about £7,500 and remain fairly stable for the next couple of years. For 2010 models you'll need another £1,000 and by 2012 the price goes up to about £12,000. Nearly new models can be had for about £15,500.
What to check
As a fairly new car the Insignia is relatively trouble-free. There have been intermittent reports of dodgy power steering so check that and electrical systems carefully. As a popular fleet car you'll find quite a few high-mileage examples but this in itself shouldn't raise a red flag as the sort of driving involved isn't heavy on the gearbox or clutch, plus the servicing and maintenance should be complete.
The Vauxhall Insignia isn't expensive to maintain, with air filters costing around £11, fuel filters £25, oil filters £10 and spark plugs £5. A new cam belt will set you back about £70.
How it drives
The used Vauxhall Insignia market is heavily populated with diesels, which lack refinement but benefit from a very good ride. It hits the right balance between firmness and softness to satisfy both performance and comfort quotients and handles corners with style.
However for real driving pleasure you need to look at the 2.8 litre V6 models, with a Saab-inspired intelligent adaptive all-wheel drive system, that automatically adjusts torque distribution for optimum grip and handling. The range-topper also benefits from a selectable 'FlexRide' system with standard, tour or sport chassis settings to suit driving style and road conditions. The sporty setting is fun, changing the instrument panel's usual white backlights to red and tightening up steering, throttle response and damping, plus raising the rpm shift ratio of the automatic gearbox and giving a bit more power to the rear wheels.
The approved used Vauxhall Insignia isn't likely to be the car of many buyers' dreams, but it is a practical and sensible used choice for a family car. It won't win any points for fuel economy against cheaper rivals but is impressively spacious and comfortable and offers a more enjoyable driving experience than most of those same rivals.