What’s the most outdated piece of equipment in a modern car? I won’t be asking for answers on a postcard or on one side of a sealed down envelope as that’s apparently a thing of the past too.
Is it the cigar lighter, which itself has largely disappeared to be replaced by the much more useful power outlet in this anti-smoking society? What about the windscreen wipers which with only a few tweaks over the decades still perform the same established routine they’ve always done, simply because nothing better has been developed?
No, it’s neither of these. The answer lies inside the glovebox where the often unopened and unused handbook rests pristine in repose until it’s suddenly called upon to come up with some answers about a mysterious warning light or how late an overdue service might be. The handbook is a tradition but only the seriously disturbed would actually remove it from its resting place to give the sheaves of pages a good read at bedtime. It’s probably because it plays so little part in our everyday lives that manufacturers have adopted an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” approach to it.
The handbook has been churned out with little modification for many years. But Vauxhall has come up with a way of using technology to bring about a fresh approach to the handbook, and the first car to introduce it will be the latest version of their highly successful Insignia mid-size model. In advance of the full launch of their “My Vauxhall” digital programme next spring, which will bring together all of your car’s identity, history, servicing schedules and the like, from November Vauxhall are offering an app which can be accessed through any smart phone, simply by entering your car’s VIN number.
Once it’s downloaded, it will contain everything you need to know about your specific car including all the information that’s currently held in the countless pages of the handbook. If you want to know what a warning light is for, or what that mysterious component under the bonnet does, you simply point your phone at it, highlight it, and the answers will pop up. If you don’t have a smart phone – and most of us do, including business users who’ll form the majority of Insignia drivers – there will still be an abbreviated version of the handbook and all the information will be on Vauxhall’s website.
That’s just one of the new ideas which are running through Vauxhall – and fellow European group Opel – just now. I heard a whisper that the engineers are looking at developing an exhaust system which emerges at the side of the car behind the front wheel rather than running the full length and out the back. Emissions are now so clean that the old idea of taking the used gases to the back is outdated and there are huge savings in cost and weight to be had from a shorter side-exit system.
The new Insignia is an interesting car, building on the success of the earlier model which has always outsold Ford’s Mondeo. It looks pretty much the same but the designers have done some clever re-drawing of the lines to make it look sharper and wider with a lower and extended front grille. That now incorporates a shutter which automatically closes for improved aerodynamics and a faster engine warm-up in cold starts to improve economy and reduce emissions. It opens again automatically when the engine needs extra cooling.
The lights front and back have been redesigned, and inside there’s a new fascia and controls. There’s a simplified trim range and four fine new engine choices, but the most significant is the 2.0 litre CDTi with a remarkable class-leading CO2 level of just 99 g/km. This was in the test car I drove and yet, with 140PS, there was no shortage of response and performance.
Prices start at just over £16,000 and are around £2,000 less for the equivalent outgoing model. The high performance VXR version is the fastest car available in the UK for under £30,000 and, in SE Elite spec, is up to £4,800 less than the current version. There’s a comprehensive list of standard equipment. I liked the look and feel of the new car and it’s bound to go down well with business users who’ll get great tax benefits.
Private customers will appreciate the high specification, the attractive purchase price and low running costs. The five-door hatchback will form the majority of sales, but available from the start of next year will be the all-wheel-drive Country Tourer estate version, which undercuts Audi’s A4 Allroad and VW’s Passat Alltrack by up to £5,000 and combines 4x4 security with stacks of equipment. And if you’ve got a smartphone you won’t have to trawl through the pages of the handbook to try to find out what everything does.
CAR Vauxhall Insignia 2.0 CDTi 140PS ecoFlex Design
PERFORMANCE Max speed 127mph; 0-62mph 10.5 secs
MPG (combined) 76mpg
CO2 EMISSIONS 99g/km