Brands, eh? Fickle things. Here is Karl-Thomas Neumann, the chief executive of General Motors' European sub-brand Opel, talking recently about his frustrations with the perceptions of his potential customers: 'There was a red elephant standing beside the car that nobody talked about, which says: "You can't buy me because I'm an Opel."We're talking about a wall in the head ... (The) Opel brand in Germany didn't help any more, it was hindering.'
If Herr Neumann thinks that the Opel name has a wall-in-the-head/red-elephant problem, one wonders what he thinks about Vauxhall. Sexy it isn't. 'Vauxhall Conference' doesn't shout top-end desirability (the Royal Vauxhall Tavern is something else altogether).
This is a shame. I've always liked Vauxhalls. To me, the brand said decent, honest, properly engineered, semi-Germanic reliability, even if it originated in Luton. My wife swears that the battered Astra she owned in the 1990s was one of the finest sets of wheels she has ever possessed. I remain keener on estates than many of the ludicrous, butch-looking SUVs that have all the aerodynamic properties of a brick. I'm in a minority here: the sales of station wagons haven't fared well recently.
The Insignia estate, especially in this fancy, rugged 4WD Country Tourer version, is a perfectly acceptable piece of quasi-rural family-guy/girl kit. It's an honest wet-dog-and-welly machine. The styling looks crisp and sleek, reminiscent of the Honda Aerodeck. Less attractive is the noise the diesel makes when you turn it on - a sort of 1970s-style agricultural clatter. This is not a wildly refined car and quite thrummy on motorways.
In the damp winter, I drove the Vauxhall down to Devon to see a friend with the wife and two veg. He'd recently driven his new BMW 3 Series Touring through what looked like a puddle. The Teuton had to be written off, costing his insurance company £36,000.
The moral is to find out the height of the air intake and always travel with a ruler.
The Vauxhall would have been a 10-grand-cheaper mistake. Its 4x4 system works well on bad roads and it feels solid, but its flight panel is fiddly and confusing - Herr Neumann and the guys have a way to go before achieving the calm logic of a BMW dashboard. Overall, I was hardly wowed by the Insignia, but I could see no sign of a red elephant.
Vauxhall Insignia Spourts Tourer