From German to Saturn, With Turbos, Diesel and AWD By Matt Davis, Contributor Email Date posted: 11-06-2008 Turbocharged 2.8-liter V6 - 256 hp; 258 lb-ft of torque - Six-speed automatic transmission - All-wheel drive GM Europe's Opel brand in Rüsselsheim, Germany, is the current source of most of what we like about Saturn these days. Though a weak U.S. dollar has forced GM to ask for more money for the European-built Saturn Astra than the company (or buyers) would like, the situation may be changing right now as the dollar regains some of its strength. The time could soon be right, therefore, for sending over to us this new 2009 Opel Insignia. When we think back to the glory days of the no-dicker Saturn division in Spring Hill, Tennessee, and recall how absolutely unremarkable those early cars actually were, we're really pulling hard for these much better imported cars to catch on in the American market. They deserve an audience as passionate as that enjoyed by those dopey, early Saturns. We've spent a day in the 2009 Opel Insignia and discovered that the styling presentation and driving dynamics go well beyond whatever any of us might expect of a Saturn — which is just what Saturn needs. Opel: GM's Audi Something we like to do once we're tucked into the driver seat of any new car is bang things. Hands open flat, we pound the front shelf above the dash to see just how chintzy and hollow-sounding the forward plastic structure is. Then we grab the center console and see how loose and cheap that plastic might be. An Opel typically does well on this pop quiz, particularly when compared to the general quality of cars among utilitarian brands like this. Both Ford of Europe and GM's Opel/Vauxhall division have gone a long way toward getting close to what you'd expect from German premium brands, and they've done so even while containing costs. As one Opel spokesperson told us, "Back during the planning stages, when the economy hadn't yet imploded, attracting true premium customers was near the middle of the wish list." Then he confided with a large grin, "Now this wish has moved closer to the top of the list for the Insignia." We believe it, too. For considerably less money, the 2009 Opel Insignia gives a commuting executive the kind of driving experience that is not far from what an Audi A6 or BMW 5 Series can provide. Both the interior look and feel and the exterior presence are top-notch. (We could slight the pinched look of the tail end as we stare at it from directly behind, but this form is instrumental in the Insignia's slippery 0.27 drag coefficient.) The only dull bit worth mentioning is the set of analog dials we stared at throughout the drive — BO-ring. It Actually Wafts So we arrived in the Südtirol portion of Austria at night and we were bleary, to say the least. Our initial ride proved to be an Insignia sedan equipped with Opel's fantastic, turbocharged, direct-injected 217-horsepower 2.0-liter inline-4 engine, a multimode six-speed automatic, Opel's FlexRide adaptive chassis setup and the company's new adaptive forward lighting (AFL+). We were really here to try the top-of-the-line, turbocharged, 256-hp 2.8-liter V6 matched with the latest Haldex AWD differential (as recently seen in the 2009 Saab 9-3 Turbo X, but this front-wheel-drive car with the 2.0T engine was practically perfect. First, the lighter, new-generation, turbocharged Ecotec inline-4 has the same 258 pound-feet of torque ready at the draw as the Holden-built, turbocharged 2.8-liter V6. Though the V6 allows short spurts of overboost to 295 lb-ft to ease overtaking or conquer steep grades, the difference in benefits between the turbo four and the turbo V6 is so slight — and the V6 so much heavier and thirstier — that we don't much see the point of going for this current V6. But this midsize style of car still requires a V6 to be offered, if only for image purposes and to fill a spot in the product portfolio. Whether we drive the Insignia equipped with either the turbo inline-4 or the turbo V6, both work very well when matched with this much upgraded version of GM's Epsilon architecture. The FlexRide chassis (as it is called in either front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive form) is the chief reason we see the 2009 Opel Insignia as a potential competitor with the German premium brands. In comparison, the Opel Omega and Vectra cars it effectively replaces seem like yesterday's Czech-built Škodas. Some Good Tech The adaptive FlexRide chassis is at the heart of all the improvement in this platform, which will soon occupy the top of the product pyramid at Opel (and hopefully Saturn). FlexRide's electronic logic recognizes 11 different types of driving dynamics, and the console button offers a choice between Sport, Standard and Tour modes that, in turn, affect the suspension damping calibration, steering assistance, threshold of stability control intervention and throttle response. The demarcation between the three different modes for the electronics is clear enough for a car of this price point, as the Insignia starts at around $23,500 for a front-driver with 1.6-liter inline-4 and tops out at a base price of around $37,000 for the 2.8T AWD. The latest-generation Haldex all-wheel-drive electrohydraulic differential on the rear axle comes standard on the 2.8T, and the car we drove also benefited from an optional electronic limited-slip differential. The newest Haldex transfers torque between front and rear in a verifiably instantaneous manner and also shifts power across the rear wheels, and it's successful to the point that we never felt the chassis thinking or necessarily sapping the fun from the drive. And the ability of the 2.8T to accelerate to 100 km/h (62 mph) in 6.9 seconds is not half bad. Unfortunately, Opel didn't have any examples of the 2.8T with the six-speed automatic for us to drive, and the six-speed manual transmission in this car produced a lot of mechanical whine from the transmission tunnel, though the car itself was functionally fine. Once we tried the automatic in a car with the turbo inline-4, the Insignia proved to be smoothness itself and quick enough under pressure. The presence of all-wheel drive, the limited-slip diff and optional 19-inch Goodyear Eagles (18-inchers are standard) created an honestly top-in-class dynamics cocktail. It reminds us of the latest Chevy Malibu at its best and equals the experience provided by the Ford Mondeo, the Insignia's direct European rival. During a nighttime foray, we experienced the very pleasing adaptive forward lighting at work. This AFL+ system is rivaled on the market only by BMW's adaptive lighting technology, and we were suitably impressed while driving along pitch-black two-lane roads in the Austrian Alps. Again, this is not a price point where we would ever expect to see and feel all of what we saw and felt while driving the Opel Insignia. Bring It! The bulbous four-door hatchback Insignia concept that was first shown at the 2003 Frankfurt Auto Show has evolved into a serious world car that just happens to be hitting a confused market at a fortuitous time. Europe gets this sedan along with a four-door hatch and the good-looking Sports Tourer wagon seen recently at the Paris show. Deliveries start in most of Western Europe by the end of November. We heartily recommend that bleeding and scrambling GM in Detroit get the 2009 Opel Insignia into the humble Saturn lineup as soon as practicable. Lose the Holden V6 turbo, though, and use a better V6, and do not underestimate the desirability of the 2.0T four-cylinder to the cash-poor American public. First Impressions: The Opel insignia is as good as the cars from the German premium brands; it would be great as a 2010 Saturn.