Opel's big Insignia sedan is now available with a surprisingly spritely 1.5-litre engine
Opel's 1.5-litre Insignia is big on performance Opel's 1.5-litre Insignia offers a breezy drive and is a spacious car with head-up display, 8-inch infotainment touchscreen and a host of the latest safety features. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

By now, the idea of a large vehicle powered by a puny engine should have lost some of its novelty. But Opel's 1.5-litre Insignia - a car nearly as big as a BMW 5-series - still manages to surprise with its fluidity and poise.

Putting out 165hp and 250Nm, the 1.5-litre turbocharged petrol unit is anaemic when compared to its 260hp/400Nm 2-litre counterpart. But on the road, the smaller power plant puts on a creditable display, arriving at 100kmh in 9.4 seconds and peaking at 218kmh.

While not as impressive as the 2-litre's 7.3-second sprint and 250kmh top speed, it is breezy enough to make you forget its meagre size most of the time.

The Insignia's six-speed autobox works well with the smaller engine, keeping in gear until enough revs build up each time, so you never quite feel the displacement deficit at the wheel.

The pair work with barely any harshness, hesitance or vibration, which is another pleasant surprise.

The 2-litre Insignia with its eight-speed autobox and all-wheel-drive is definitely the beefier performer, but the 1.5-litre front-wheel-drive charms with its light-footedness.

Even with five onboard, the small-engined big car delivers a decent level of driveability.

Overtaking is not especially brisk, but is far from sluggish. And you never feel the least nervous when switching lanes. The engine's propensity for high revs certainly helps.

Turbo lag, however, is discernible at lower engine speeds. Once the turbine spools up and the tachometer goes past 2,500rpm, acceleration becomes more linear.

The car's diminutive engine becomes obvious only when hard acceleration is called for. It won't win any drag races, for sure, but for most other occasions, it is more than adequate.

And certainly for a car its size, the 1.5-litre unit's performance is nothing short of impressive.

Big cars with small engines are always popular in Singapore because of the taxation system. The 1.5-litre still falls under Category B COE because it exceeds the 130bhp cut-off for Category A.

But currently there is hardly any price difference between the two categories.

The 1.5 attracts a lower road tax and consumes less fuel, which means lower ownership cost.

The Insignia is an extraordinarily spacious car. Hip room in the second row is well above average, which means it can accommodate three adults comfortably.

The car is not as well equipped as the 2-litre, but still contains more premium features than most competitors in the same price bracket. These include head-up display, 8-inch infotainment touchscreen with phone pairing, cruise control, paddle shift, parking assist, LED matrix lights and a host of the latest safety features.

Most relevant to buyers, though, would be its pricing. The 1.5 is more than $40,000 cheaper than the 2-litre. At just below $140,000, it has a fighting chance against its closest rival, the more established Volkswagen Passat.