Is it possible for a volume car manufacturer to develop a truly desirable luxury car? Many have tried over the years, but few have succeeded in convincing brand-sensitive buyers that their latest car is truly a match for the likes of BMW, Audi and Mercedes. Opel thinks it can buck the trend with its new Insignia Grand Sport. Along with its fancy new Grand Sport moniker, the Insignia has a stunning exterior and tech-heavy interior.
There's a lot riding on the new Insignia, and the ramifications of success or failure extend well beyond Opel. Holden, Australian arm of General Motors, is ending production of its Commodore in 2017, and the Insignia Grand Sport will fill its place in the lineup. Like the now-defunct Ford Falcon, the Commodore is part of Australian folklore, and buyers are likely to be skeptical of this new overseas impostor. The Insignia Grand Sport could propel GM Australia into a new era, or undermine a brand already damaged by the loss of local manufacturing.
Buick, largely viewed as a brand for retirees and dentists, will also sell the car in the US. A good Insignia could breathe a bit of life back into the storied nameplate, a bad one will make it hard to shake the also-ran tag. And let's not forget Vauxhall, which will sell the new Insignia in the UK, where it will go head-to-head with the immensely popular Ford Mondeo.
On the surface, Opel has given the Insignia Grand Sport every chance of success. As it did with the Astra, the company has focused on cutting as much weight as possible. The naked body shell is a whopping 60 kg (132 lb) lighter than the one it replaces, contributing to overall weight savings of 175 kg (386 lb). This in spite of a wheelbase 92 mm (3.6 in) longer than the previous model, and even more standard equipment inside.
Shedding weight will help cut fuel economy, but keen drivers will also be pleased to know the lighter new package can be specced with torque-vectoring all-wheel drive. The system is actually the same GKN Twinster package found in the Ford Focus RS, although there's no guarantee Drift Mode will be included when Opel releases a hotter OPC version of the Insignia.
The latest FlexRide adaptive dampers are optional, and allow the car to be changed from a floaty freeway cruiser into a tightly damped warrior at the push of a button. The system also tweaks the steering, throttle and gearbox mapping to match the driver's mood.
Though we're excited about the potential lurking within the new Insignia chassis, many buyers will be more concerned with the way it looks. As is becoming common, the designers have swapped a traditional three-box sedan silhouette for a swoopier coupe-style sloping roof. Both the head and tail lights are finished with the same LED detailing, which almost perfectly matches the lines carved into the car's flanks. It's a serious looker, even compared to established luxury benchmarks like the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E-Class.
Unfortunately, things fall apart a bit inside. There's nothing technically wrong with the cabin, which is loaded with all the latest kit, from Apple CarPlay to heated front and rear seats. Rear seat passengers will also enjoy an extra 32 mm (1.3 in) of room at hip height, along with meaningful increases in head, leg and shoulder room. No, our problem is with the way it looks. The best luxury cars have a touch of flair about them, and the Grand Sport does things by the book. Compared to the exterior, the interior is just a bit plain.
As you'd expect, the Insignia will be available with all the latest semi-autonomous driver assist technology. Adaptive cruise control, rear cross-traffic alert and lane-keeping assist are all available, as is a 360 degree camera for nervous parkers. Intelligent LED lights are optional, with Opel claiming the redesigned units now project 400 meters (1,312 feet) with high beam active.
No details about pricing have been announced, but the new Insignia Grand Sport will make its debut at the 2017 Geneva Motor Show in March.