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Vauxhall Insignia ecoFlex review

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Although BMW has just introduced its new 3 Series 320d EfficientDynamics saloon with low CO2 emissions of 109g/km, low BIK tax rates of 13 per cent and 68.9mpg performance there is no extra cost or loss of performance over the standard 320d Saloon.

SEAT have just announced savings until the end of June of £1,250 to £2,000 on their Ibiza, Leon and Altea Eco-nomics models, but other manufacturers are still charging a price premium for their lower CO2 ECO versions.

By EU directive all manufacturers have to lower the CO2 emissions of all models in their range. That cleans up the air and makes better use of more and more costly fuel. For the customer that lowers road tax charges and for company car drivers reduces the Benefit in Kind tax penalty.

There really isn't a justifiable reason to charge more for ECO models over standard ones. Some manufacturers claim that ECO versions have enhanced specification over standard models and technology to lower CO2 emissions costs them more money, so the customers pay.

Given the state of the recession hit new car market it is good to see that BMW, SEAT and just a few others have taken a reality pill and have priced their ECO versions in line with standard models. This allows customers to reap the cost saving benefits without having to initially pay more for the vehicle.

Insignia ecoFlex running costs

As an example I have just tried the Vauxhall Insignia 2.0 CDTi 160PS ecoFlex 5-Door Hatch with Exclusiv Nav specification. The price of this model is £22,205. The same model, 2.0 CDTi 160PS with Exclusiv Nav trim, but NOT ecoFlex costs £21,710, a saving of £495. Not as much as some other manufacturers charge over standard versions, but it is still a higher price to pay in a declining market.

There are of course some significant savings to be had if customers, especially company car users, do choose the ecoFlex version. Over the non ecoFlex 160PS model the CO2 emissions are lower at 136g/km meaning a road tax bill of £110 instead of £155. Benefit-in-Kind company car tax for the driver is 19 per cent instead of 22 per cent and the official average fuel consumption is 54.7mpg instead of 48.7mpg.

But the retained value over 3-years/36k miles according to What Car? Magazine is lower at 33 per cent instead of 34 per cent which could mean there is less demand as a used car for the ecoFlex versions. This could mean higher leasing charges for business users.

But for me the most significant reason, other than the inflated price, not to buy this ecoFlex Insignia over the standard version is all about its real-life driving performance. To obtain these good-on-paper CO2 and lower mpg figures the fifth and sixth gearing is so high that it is not a rewarding car to drive on any roads other than traffic free motorways.

The real life MPG figure returned for my week of driving the Insignia 2.0 ecoFlex Hatch over all types of roads was just 45.4mpg and the driving experience was frustrating and certainly not rewarding, either for cost saving or for useable performance.

Insignia ecoFlex driving

The only time the high gearing of the Insignia ecoFlex works is on traffic free motorways. The gearing is so high that at 70mph top gear is on the verge of labouring and I had to change down every time the traffic slowed just a little.

On 'A' roads travelling in the usual 50-60mph convoy fourth gear was needed, fifth and sixth gears are just too high. When overtaking be prepared to drop several gears. At low in- town walking pace speeds driving in second gear caused the engine to shudder and nearly stall.

A modern turbodiesel with its high torque output, 350Nm in this case, should easily cope with these conditions but not if the final drive and other gear ratios are too high.

Insignia ecoFlex market

The Insignia is available in Saloon, five door Hatch and Sports Tourer (estate) with ecoFlex specification all based on using the 2.0-litre CDTi turbodiesel 160PS engine. In fact this is the engine of choice throughout the Insignia's range but definitely not with ecoFlex specification.

The Insignia, the replacement for the Vectra, you might remember was the 2009 International Car of the Year and last year it outsold its main rival the Ford Mondeo with 36,000 UK sales giving it a ninth position in the top ten sales chart. This year the Insignia and its rivals have dropped out of the sales charts being overshadowed by smaller cars due in part to the Scrappage Scheme.

The Insignia as an upper medium family or business car is generally very good. It is a much better product than the old Vectra. The styling is very smart, the build quality is much better and the specification improved. There are a wide range of engines, transmission options and even 4x4 versions.

The interior is relatively roomy although the coupe style of the Hatchback does limit rear passenger headroom, boot space and rear visibility but the front twin cockpit design is first class.

Insignia Hatchback prices range from £17,120 up to £27,860. The 'best buy' version in my opinion is the 2.0-litre CDTi 160PS with Exclusiv trim and equipment priced at £20,875. The ride is better, engine responsiveness is better, it costs less to buy and a lighter right foot will return good fuel economy.

Vauxhall Insignia ecoFlex MILESTONES

Vauxhall Insignia 2.0 CDTi ecoFlex Exclusiv Nav 5-Door Hatchback

Price: £22,205

Engine/transmission: 2.0-litre, four cylinder, turbodiesel, 160PS (158bhp), 350Nm (258lb ft) from 1,750rpm, 6-speed manual with overdrive 5/6 gear ratios

Performance: 137mph, 0-62mph 9.0 seconds, 54.7mpg (45.4mpg actual), CO2 136g/km, VED £110, BIK company car tax 19%

Insurance group: 21

For: A stylish, well built and well equipped upper medium sector car, wide range of engines and equipment levels, most models offer a comfortable ride

Against: EcoFlex models cost more than the conventional versions, ride is firmer due to less flexing low friction tyres and lower ride height, gearing is too high so it offers a compromised driving experience