Holden Insignia VXR

Not so much about a car as brand rebuilding

BYRON MATHIOUDAKIS

FIRST AUSSIE DRIVE

THE last mid-size Holden that was this overtly sporty-looking was the 1989 Camira SLi2000.

After enduring generations of mediocre successors – can anyone even remember the Apollo, Epica and Malibu? – the handsome and muscular Insignia VXR, Holden’s first turbo AWD performance model since the Calibra in 1997, should be celebrated as the anti-Camry. It’s like Michael Fassbender in a world full of Mort Goldmans from Family Guy.

However, we need to make two things clear.

First, being the Series II facelift, this Insignia differs from the Opel Insignia OPC sold here in 2013, with a fresh nose and tail, updated dashboard and instruments, lots more driver-aid tech and standard 20-inch alloys.

Second, some expectation management is essential here.

Weighing in at 1836kg and fitted with a ho-hum six-speed auto (with paddle shifters), the VXR is happier as a mile-munching grand tourer than stringing corners together like an upsized WRX STi.

Lumbered with oddly remote and springy steering responses, even in ‘hardcore’ VXR mode, the Insignia struggles to really connect with its driver. With too much body roll through tighter turns, alacrity and poise simply dissipate. At least there’s plenty of reassuring all-weather grip; aided by brilliant Brembo brakes, it’s hard to come unstuck.

Equally disappointing is the Insignia’s performance, which feels lazy despite a (Holden-made) 239kW/435Nm 2.8-litre turbocharged V6 that burbles beneath the bonnet.

The VXR is still reasonably fast, with a 6.3sec 0-100km/h claim and a 249km/h top speed, but it’s hardly furious. Plus, the alluring engine note is neutered by excessive tyre drone from the sticky Pirelli P Zero 255/35ZR20s.

So you can forget about notions of this being an Aldi-priced Audi S6.

On the other hand, no Holden has ever boasted such high-tech goodness for $51,990, including autonomous emergency braking, adaptive lighting (auto on/off high-beams), lane change and departure alerts, and rear crosstraffic alert.

The cabin is solidly built, featuring an effective MyLink touchscreen interface along with a reversing camera, sat-nav, Bluetooth with audio streaming, heated leather Recaro front buckets, and even G-force/laptimer telemetry.

So, while the Insignia VXR is a lukewarm sports sedan, it enhances the brand as a charming, comfortable, featureladen GT.

And we haven’t been able to say that about a medium-size Holden for far too many generations.

Model Engine Max power Max torque Transmission Kerb weight 0-100km/h Economy Price On sale Holden Insignia VXR 2792cc V6 (60°), dohc, 24v, turbo 239kW @ 5250rpm 435Nm @ 1900-4000rpm 6-speed automatic 1836kg 6.3sec (claimed) 11.3L/100km $51,990 Now

PLUS & MINUS

Effect of weight on performance, agility; remote steering; road noise Styling; upgraded cabin; generous spec; AWD grip; improved value

Muscle flex

A HALDEX all-wheel-drive system channels between zero and 100 percent of torque to the multi-link rear end for improved traction, aided by the VXR’s HiPer Strut front end, which features a kingpin inclination reduced by nine degrees. Meanwhile, the FlexRide adaptive chassis system ups the steering, throttle and gearshift responses via a ‘VXR’ dash switch.