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    Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport 2.0T 4x4

    Can the range-topping new Insignia deliver on the promise of its sleek looks?

    James Bond drives an Aston Martin, Tony ‘Iron Man’ Stark drives an Audi R8, David Brent drives a Vauxhall Insignia. Life’s cruel. It’s fair to say Vauxhall’s stalwart family hatchback/repmobile has always struggled to slip the surly bonds of mundaneness and touch the face of good. But, for a few years after its 2008 launch, that didn’t matter. The Insignia was a particularly comfortable market fit – a sprawling model-range that understood every angle of average, catering for fleet and company car audiences that cared more about putting miles under wheels as painlessly as possible than dynamic flair, classy fittings, cutting-edge tech or straightforward, must-have desirability. Things were simpler then.

    But now ‘premium’ is the new mainstream. Vauxhall’s answer is the new, larger, sleeker, classier, kit-dense and cheekily named Insignia Grand Sport. The £27,710 2-litre, 257bhp Elite Nav 4x4, which comes with an eight-speed auto and full-time four-wheel drive, tops out the range. Well, it’s as Grand Sporty as it gets for now.

    The Insignia Grand Sport is longer, wider and sleeker than the car it replaces but weighs up to 175kg less model-for-model, 60kg of which is down to the body alone. Impressive, too, is the slippery 0.26 drag factor, won partly by the coupe-like profile. Boot volume has suffered a bit, but there’s bags of interior space with Skoda Superb-rivalling rear legroom. Aesthetic appeal, if not potential ride quality, is certainly enhanced by the standard 20in alloys, but then the deal with this flagship model seems to be to leave no box unticked this side of the kitchen sink – not exactly an original tactic in the bid to blur the allure of more sparsely equipped Mercs, BMWs and Audis, but you can’t blame Vauxhall for going for broke this time, or for the appealingly techy bias. As well as an 8in touchscreen, there’s a head-up display, Apple CarPlay, adaptive cruise, on-board Wi-Fi, 32-element ‘IntelliLux’ LED headlights, intelligent satnav, dual-zone climate control and a powerful Bose hi-fi.

    For the most part, the Grand Sport is a pleasant steer. Sporty in a grand way? Not even in a minor way. This isn’t to say it doesn’t cover the ground swiftly. You might even call it effortless. Engine and transmission work together seamlessly with commendable hush and an always adequate amount of rush following the merest hint of turbo-lag. Nothing to get the pulse racing, though.

    Certainly not enough to overwork the well-shod all-drive chassis, which majors on grip and stability rather than finesse and involvement. The compact four-wheel-drive system incorporates a novel method of torque vectoring (speeding up the outside wheel rather than braking the inner one to quell understeer). If the electric steering isn’t overly light, neither is it over-endowed with feel, though it is quite direct and the nose turns in keenly without the torque vectoring being in any way obvious.

    Basic body control is pretty good with the adaptive suspension in Normal but the ride becomes fidgety over broken surfaces, more so if you switch to Sport, though this is definitely the preferred setting for smooth roads if you want to press on. And there can be no doubting the beefiness of a 2-litre turbo four with 257bhp and 295lb ft of torque.

    Vauxhall claims 0-62mph in 6.9sec and a top speed limited to 155mph. Seats, driving position, visibility, control layout and overall build and finish are really good, just lacking that touch of class that separates the true premium products from the wannabes. If space, comfort, refinement and kit mean more to you than powertrain personality and dynamic acuity, there’s a lot to like. But if you want genuine engagement you don’t even have to look as far as the usual German suspects. A Mazda 6 will give you that. The new Insignia gives you more than ever before, but it’s caught between just as many stools.

    ‘The all-drive chassis majors on grip and stability rather than finesse’

    TECHNICAL DATA FILE SPECIFICATION #2017-Vauxhall-Insignia-Grand-Sport-2.0T-4x4 / #Vauxhall-Insignia-Grand-Sport-2.0T-4x4 / #Vauxhall-Insignia / #Vauxhall / #Opel / #Vauxhall-Insignia-B / #Opel-Insignia / #Opel-Insignia-B / #Opel-Insignia-MkII / #Vauxhall-Insignia-MkII / #Vauxhall-Insignia-Grand-Sport / #2017 / #GM /

    Engine In-line 4-cyl, 1998cc, turbo
    Power 257bhp @ 5300rpm DIN
    Torque 295lb ft @ 2500-4000rpm DIN
    0-62mph 6.9sec (claimed)
    Top speed 155mph (limited)
    Weight 1649kg (158bhp/ton)
    Basic price £27,710

    + A more spacious and stylish Insignia
    - Still lacking the performance gene
    Rating 3
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    David Vivian

    Vauxhall / Opel Insignia B / MkII Open Group

    Vauxhall / Opel Insignia B / MkII 2017

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    2017 Aston Martin Vanquish S ‘The Vanquish S sounds sensational: suitably violent and very, very V12’

    Clockwise from above: tweaks to V12 release 595bhp; lots of aero work improves high-speed stability; cabin rich and cossetting; chassis is tauter yet a good ride is retained.

    Aston Martin isn’t done with its naturally aspirated V12 just yet, as this 595bhp vanquish shows.

    With over 3000 orders already taken and more or less unwavering critical acclaim, the DB11 is proving every inch the game-changer Aston Martin hoped it would be. And every inch a rod for its own back. A good question to ask would be this: why would I want to buy a £192,995, 568bhp old-school Aston vanquish when I could have a £154,900, 600bhp Aston Martin DB11, arguably the best GT currently on sale? A certain emotional pull and a last hurrah for that naturally aspirated 6-litre #Aston-Martin-V12 can’t be ruled out but, against its new sibling, the vanquish… well, it doesn’t.

    Little surprise, then, that Aston has wasted no time distancing its old best #GT from its new one and, adopting the idea that attack is the best form of defence, the elevation of the vanquish to vanquish s presses home the point that it’s a ‘super GT’. That is, at least one better than a regular GT (read DB11) if you’re into the best part of £200k for the thrill of driving.

    The new vanquish s costs £199,950. that’s for the coupe you see here. You’ll have to spend a little longer at the cashpoint if you want the drop-top Volante as it’s £211,950. either way, wringing the last drop of dynamic goodness from the vanquish to earn the s badge has proved a comprehensive exercise in subtle and not-so-subtle alterations for Aston chief engineer #VAE (Vehicle Attribute Engineering) Matt Becker, previously of Lotus. We’ll come to those.

    Thanks chiefly to a redesigned and larger intake manifold, peak power is up from 568bhp to 595bhp at 7000rpm, and although there’s the same 465lb ft of torque at the same 5500rpm, more of it is available at lower revs, engineering a little more life into the throttle response at medium revs to complement the harder punch higher up. In addition, revisions to the Touchtronic III eight-speed auto make it shift faster while being smoother around town. With the launch control engaged, the 0-62mph time of 3.5sec is three-tenths quicker than the regular Vanquish’s and opens up a small but psychologically necessary gap to the 3.9sec of the twin-turbo V12 DB11. Top speed is unchanged at 201mph, again one better than the DB11’s.

    The s gets its own sexed-up sonic signature, too. The technical explanation breaks down to a little louder, more high-frequency content and an extra helping of throatiness – measures once more designed to feed excitement and distinguish the sound of the vanquish s from the classy but comparatively muted V12 exertions of the turbocharged DB11.

    Aero plays an important part in the new model’s dynamic make-up, the aim being to increase grip at the front while maintaining stability at the rear, so improving handling balance without compromising high-speed stability. A redesigned splitter reduces front lift from 66kg to 18kg at 150mph, Becker explaining that the underside profile is shaped like the leading edge of a wing to accelerate the flow passing beneath the car, while the small ‘winglets’ at the splitter’s corners not only increase downward pressure on the upper surface but guide the airflow past the front wheels, reducing turbulence and drag, resulting in a drop in Cd from 0.372 to 0.369.

    Spring rates are increased by a modest ten per cent front and rear and the dampers re-valved. The rear anti-roll bar is also three per cent stiffer. Tweaked geometry and revised damping software are the only other changes. Becker is adamant that you can have extra response, grip and agility and retain a comfortable ride; the two things aren’t incompatible.

    And out in the Shropshire hills on the Welsh border, that proves to be largely the case. But it isn’t the first thing that nails my attention. The Vanquish S sounds sensational: sophisticated and multi-layered but, more importantly, suitably violent and very, very V12. The DB11 seems positively couth by comparison and doesn’t come close to matching this level of drama or intensity. The chassis is equally rewarding, supplementing huge grip with fast responses and acutely executed changes of direction. The steering is well-weighted with fine precision about the straight ahead and reassuring feel on lock, while body control is exemplary, finessed by damping that’s taut yet supple.

    The Vanquish S makes no attempt to steamroller rucked and rutted road surfaces into submission but, rather, it tracks the undulations with no wasted body movement and uses its damping to desensitise their impact. It would be a great car in which to attack a big distance, and if it didn’t do it with quite the effortless energy and cosseting charm of the DB11, it would be acceptably comfortable, easy on the nerves and constantly engaging. When the road straightens, the collision of bellowing V12 music and sustained surge is as glorious as it is addictive. And when the straight runs out, the rapidly accumulated speed is wiped away by the monster brakes like raindrops from a windscreen.

    Old-school Aston? Absolutely. The DB11 may be the better, more rounded, more modern proposition, but the Vanquish S, as Aston intended, is the bigger rush.

    Technical Data Specification #2017-Aston-Martin-Vanquish-S / #Aston-Martin-Vanquish-S / #Aston-Martin-Vanquish / #Aston-Martin / #2017 / #V12

    Engine V12, 5935cc
    CO2 302g/km
    Power 595bhp @ 7000rpm DIN
    Torque 465lb ft @ 5500rpm DIN
    0-62mph 3.5sec (claimed)
    Top speed 201mph (limited)
    Weight 1739kg (348bhp/ton)
    Basic price £199,950

    + Noise, poise, drama and Specification charm - Not as rounded as the DB11
    Rating 4.3
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    Aston Martin Vanquish second generation Open Group

    Aston Martin Vanquish 2012 - 2017 VH-platform

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    Test location: Royston, Hertfordshire
    GPS: 52.04810, 0.02416
    Alfaworks GT4C

    Specialist addresses the many flaws of Alfa’s 4C, bringing it closer to the baby supercar we all want it to be.

    Problems. The first hint that all might not be well with Alfa’s 4C came when Richard Meaden attended the car’s 2013 launch, based largely at Alfa’s flattering Balocco proving ground in northern Italy.

    Doubts crystallised a month later on the Route Napoleon in the south of France. A full sport-spec 4C had been parachuted in to that year’s eCoty as a wild-card entry on the strength of its lightweight, carboncored build, Elise-eclipsing spec and knee-weakening looks, yet it came more ‘last’ than any other car in the history of the event. It flat-lined on every judge’s scorecard save for a faint blip of sympathy from one, maybe reflecting the consensus that what, on paper, should be a perfectly formed junior exotic sports car was the victim of imperfect execution. In all likelihood, it could be fixed.

    By the time the 4C Spider was unveiled in the late spring of 2015, Alfa claimed to have made the necessary corrections. From what I recalled of the 4C coupe, this wouldn’t have been a small undertaking. Demonstrable point-to-point pace through lightness and lots of mechanical grip the car already had. Seeing to the jarring ride, old-fashioned turbo lag, hard-to- modulate throttle response on boost, a booming but characterless exhaust note, weirdly inconsistent steering weight and tiresome camber sensitivity possibly required more time than that which had elapsed.

    I went to the Spider’s launch, again based at and around Balocco. Changes to the steering’s geometry and the suspension’s damping seemed more tweak-level than genuinely telling, suspicions confirmed when we got to drive the car back in Blighty and found the fleeting moments of brilliance overshadowed by more frequent bouts of attention deficit disorder edginess. Something a little more radical was needed.

    Following the unfolding saga on an industrial estate in Royston, Herts – and only too aware of the growing dissatisfaction among its new 4C-owning customers – longestablished Alfa Romeo specialists Alfaworks had clearly come to the same conclusion. With consultative help from Simon Scleater (ex-Lotus and RML) it enterprisingly drew up plans for more invasive surgery to first effect a ‘cure’ and then establish a platform on which to develop an altogether faster and more fabulous 4C. In its most extreme, 400bhp form, this would become the true baby supercar Alfa fancifully believes the standard 4C already is. That the work was to be carried out on Alfaworks boss Jamie Porter’s own 4C would clearly keep the project stoked. And, oh… it’d be great if evo could lend a hand in the on-road development by supplying some feedback.

    The modifications looked tempting: a proper root and branch revision of the suspension geometry and damping, lighter wheels, new aero comprising splitter, diffuser and rear wing (all in CNC-machined carbon/graphene composite), an extra 40bhp (to begin with) and a new, sonically sussed exhaust system sans annoying drone.

    One thing shone out about the 4C while experimenting with different setups. Its super-stiff carbon chassis is extremely reactive to small changes and to different wheel/tyre combos. Nailing the basics wasn’t hard. Widening the front track and increasing the caster angle with the fitment of CNC-machined aluminium blocks, for instance, transformed the steering at a stroke, massively improving on-centre feel, precision and weighting consistency.

    For Alfaworks’ 4C customers, it has become the one-stop ‘fix’ for the car’s schizophrenic front end. But, by the time I get to drive it, work on Jamie’s car has already progressed beyond this point. The self-steer characteristics Alfa dialled into the 4C’s rear wishbones have been dialled out again, and with the fitment of Öhlins Road & Track dampers there’s adjustment for compression and rebound as well as ride height. An impressive 11kg unsprung weight saving is achieved by the bespoke OZ Alleggerita HLT rims (7.5 x 17 front, 8.5 x 18 rear) wearing Toyo Proxes R888R tyres. The ECU remap has reprofiled the turbo’s boost curve, raising peak power to 280bhp with 310lb ft of torque (up from 237bhp and 258lb ft) and improved throttle response, while the Quicksilver stainless steel exhaust with Helmholtz resonator (to kill the exhaust drone) has a far more sonorous singing voice and carbonfibre pipe tips.

    With the adjustable bits fitted, it’s possible to fine-tune the set to an almost ridiculous degree. I find my personal sweet spot with a spec (outlined in hardware terms above) to be sold as a complete package called the Alfaworks GT4C. It’s still a car that places more demands on nerve and reflexes than an Elise would, but the harder I concentrate, the better it behaves and the stronger the impression I’m experiencing the 4C’s true dynamic nature. The GT4C’s about-centre steering response is exceptional and gives clear feedback rich with detail. There’s also the kind of turn-in crispness the standard car sorely lacks and a much more intuitive feel if you need to apply some corrective lock post apex. Yes, the car is still camber sensitive and the steering wheel moves about in your hands like an early 911’s, but the Öhlins dampers have introduced layers of supple control that not only make the 4C more comfortable but also far easier to relax with, boosting its longhaul appeal. The engine remap is a corker, too. One up, it feels like a sub-four- second-to-sixty machine. But you can also lean on the torque and short shift and still go very quickly.

    So good news, the 4C can be reformed and, who knows, maybe it really does have supercar potential. With power upgrades in the pipeline, Alfaworks intends to find out.

    ‘The GT4C has the kind of turn‑in crispness the standard 4C sorely lacks’

    Top right: bespoke wheels contribute to reduction in unsprung weight. Right: Öhlins dampers can be manually adjusted.

    + The 4C transformed into a true driving weapon
    - Still needs care Specification and commitment behind the wheel

    Specification #2016 / #Alfaworks-GT4C / #Alfa-Romeo-4C / #Alfa-Romeo / #Alfa-Romeo-4C-Type-960 / #Alfa-Romeo-Type-960 / #Alfa-Romeo-4C-Alfaworks-GT4C / #Alfaworks / #Alfa-Romeo-4C-Alfaworks

    Engine In-line 4-cyl, 1742cc, turbo CO2 n/a
    Power 280bhp @ 6000rpm
    Torque 310lb ft @ 2200-4250rpm
    0-62mph 4.0sec (est)
    Top speed 165mph (est)
    Weight 870kg (327bhp/ton)
    Upgrade price £20,000

    Above and left: GT4C package includes aero upgrades in the form of a splitter, diffuser and rear wing in carbon/ grapheme.

    ‘There’s a proper root and branch revision of the suspension geometry and damping’
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