* items include readers letters
13 JULY 2009
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AER LINGUS, continuously lambasted by its rival and shareholder Ryanair, says that it carried just over 1m passengers in June, up 7.5% compared to the same period 12 months ago. The load factor on short haul flights rose to 82%, while capacity rose by 12.2%. However on long haul services it was 80.2%, down 1.9%. Capacity on transatlantic flights fell by 16.3%. Earlier this year the airline made a strategic decision to increase its Gatwick operations from where it now services eight destinations with more planned for the winter season. www.aerlingus.com
BRITISH AIRWAYS could be in for an interesting week with the airline's AGM set for Tuesday, negotiations with its unions progressing with regard to future pay and conditions, and would-be partner Iberia changing its leadership. On the investor front Moodys, the Stock Market monitor, cut its ratings by one notch to Ba3, the third-highest junk rating, from Ba2, citing weakening travel demand and higher fuel prices. The union negotiations continue to run with strike action not ruled out. On a more positive front would-be partner Iberia has changed Chairman, new boss Antonio Vazquez telling Spanish financial daily Cinco Dias that he wants to finalise a merger deal. "I've come to Iberia with the objective of closing a deal with British Airways,” he said. Iberia has confirmed that Vazquez would replace Fernando Conte, who was resigning for personal reasons. Last December Mr Conte, speaking at the London Aviation Club, found himself embarrassed and caught up with a possible BA-Qantas merger, which ultimately failed. www.ba.com
BMI is to offer what it calls 'Chauffeur Drive' to travellers on fully flexible Business Class tickets on key domestic routes linking in to key medium haul international routes out of Heathrow. The service is available to and from Aberdeen, Belfast, Dublin, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Manchester airports. Silver E-Class Mercedes Benz are used for the service within the UK, and equivalent vehicles at the destination. Specially branded parking bays are provided at each of the airports. Customers are met on arrival by a bmi concierge, who collects their bags and transfer them to a premium check-in zone creating a faster route through the airport. Almaty, Amman, Azerbaijan, Beirut, Cairo, Damascus, Kyrgyzstan, Moscow, Saudi Arabia, Tel Aviv and Yerevan can now take advantage of this service to and from the airport at each end. 'Chauffeur Drive' is available in the UK only for those travelling to Tehran and Tbilisi. www.flybmi.com
MARRIOTT has opened a mid-range Courtyard property close by Istanbul Ataturk International Airport and just 25 minutes drive from the city centre. All 228 de luxe and 32 superior rooms and suites are fully equipped with two telephone lines; wireless internet access; a well-lighted over-sized work desk, an in-room safe and refrigerator; a coffee and tea maker, internet via satellite plasma TV, an ironing board and iron. The Oleo Pazzo Restaurant offers Mediterranean cuisine and Turkish specialties and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Additional amenities include a business centre, a ‘Grab & Go’ facility providing snacks and refreshments, including beer and wine, 24 hours a day. There is a full spa including indoor pool, sauna, gym, steam bath and four treatment rooms. For conferences and social events the hotel has a 300sq m ballroom and seven smaller meeting rooms. www.marriott.com
LUTON AIRPORT, which is owned by two Spanish companies, has introduced new parking rules which seem to have gone down very badly with the travelling public. The free concession on a bus service from Luton Parkway station was withdrawn some time back. Under the new arrangements passengers can be dropped off or picked up at the mid-term car park with no charge for the first 60 minutes. Allow 15 minutes for this procedure and for loading/unloading and transport of luggage. The service is every ten minutes. To drop off outside the terminal the charge is UKP1 and this must be completed in ten minutes. Considerable queues were experienced during the first few days of operation although the airport says these have now been eliminated. The airport introduced what it claims is the UK’s first airport car share scheme in early June (see AERBT 15 June 2009). www.london-luton.com
REZIDOR HOTEL GROUP, one of the fastest growing hospitality companies worldwide, has followed the opening of Radisson Blu properties in Bristol and Cardiff with a Park Inn at Manchester and the Hotel Missoni in Edinburgh. The Manchester Park Inn, a new build, is adjacent to the MEN Arena and in close proximity to Manchester Central, the newly named convention centre/GMEX complex. It offers 252 guest rooms in contemporary style, in-room laptop-size safes, and bathrooms with walk-in showers. Leisure facilities include swimming pool, gym, sauna and steam room. In Edinburgh the five-star Hotel Missoni is an entirely new concept with 136 rooms and suites which continue a palette of black and white seen throughout the property. Rezidor plans to role out 30 Hotel Missoni, named after a stylish Italian knitwear producer, in the next few years starting with Kuwait in 2010. www.hotelmissoni.com
STAR1 AIRLINES has introduced flights connecting Stansted to Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania. The services, flown by a 148-seat Boeing 737-700 Next Generation, operate four times per week. On 30 June 2009 Star1 operated its first IT charter flights on behalf of the tour operator Star Holidays, part of the Star Team Group, to Antalya and Bodrum (Turkey). This was followed by charters to Heraklion and Thessaloniki (Greece). Plans are under way to extend the scheduled service pattern to five destinations. www2.star1.aero/index.php/en
The bad news has reached the land of year-on-year lousy interest rates, Japan!
Origami Bank has folded.
Sumo Bank has gone belly up.
Bonsai Bank plans to cut some of its branches.
Karaoke Bank is to close and is going for a song.
Kamikaze Bank's shares have nosedived.
Samurai Bank is suffering cut-backs.
Many staff at Karate Bank have got the chop.
And finally analysts report that there is something fishy going on at Sushi Bank where it is feared that staff will get a raw deal.
By Harry Carry – a broke broker.
British citizens are about to be saddled with a nearly 8% rise in passport issue charges, yet another stealth tax increase announced last week. This is the third major duty rise to hit the travel industry in less than one year as the government seemingly tries to destroy one of the UK's vital industries. As unemployment rises, inflation hits a new low and investors’ income from loans to banks impinge on the incredulous it seems that the Chancellor, a previous and likeable Minister for Transport when times were good, is biting back, forgetting that the air transport industry is crucial to the well-being of the nation.
The increase in passport charges over the next 18 months will be followed by the most massive hike in APD (Air Passenger Duty) ever thought up by civil servants seemingly clueless regarding the workings of air transport. Naturally HM Revenue and Customs have issued a document (HMRC Reference:Notice 550) but it would take a long haul flight to have the time to read it and for the details to sink in. How the department will police the regulations is very questionable.
The APD increase will hit everyone. Those who depart, those who arrive, and even some of those who want to pass through. Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Paris cannot believe their luck.
As for visas, South Africans wanting to visit the UK on holiday now have to pay, joining an ever-growing list of countries whose citizens are seemingly made less than welcome. The Foreign Office does have an argument regarding the monitoring of our borders but a felon is just as likely to have a visa.
It was not by magic that Heathrow grew to be the hub of the world’s airline industry. It was by the foresight of a few. And we are losing one of those – Sir Michael Bishop – who last week stepped down as Chairman from an airline he created, bmi, the one-time British Midland Airways. Sir Michael fought and mostly won his battles including “Open Skies”.
Presumably with time on his hands Sir Michael could fight the stealth tax war, and win. We need a leader who represents a nation that flies and is not seen to represent any one faction. Please have a think about it Sir Michael.
The passport increase will take effect from 3 September. Busy travellers who want a same day service and the large 48-page edition will have to pay £138.50. Do make sure that the required photograph is taken without glasses on. If you are personally attending a passport office ensure you have the proper paperwork. Another booking has to be made which can be days away. It can be very frustrating.
The Home Office notes in a press release that the decision to increase fees follows “a decline in passport applications experienced during these difficult economic times,” more or less saying that it is a commercial organisation and not a government department. It adds that the rise would ensure the Identity and Passport Service (IPS – yet another costly rebranding of a government department that has existed since the First World War) is able to continue to deliver “the service its customers have come to expect,” and “the security enhancements to passports to which it is committed.” Pure waffle. Someone has not read the master book on economic theories.
There is some good news if you were born on or before 2 September 1929. Your new passport (or renewal) is free. Even here the government is being less than generous. Why not allow everyone over 80 to travel abroad courtesy of the government. It might bring in a few votes.
Britain is a business. Air travel is part of this business. Everyone is cutting their cloth to fit the harsh economic times. The passport cost hike should be postponed and the visa situation reviewed. As for APD it was always a stealth tax explained away in pure spin.
Lord Adonis, the latest Minister for Transport, appears before the industry at London’s Aviation Club in September. He is likely to be in for a hot time. And the retort “more tax is nothing to do with me, it is the Chancellor,” will not do. They are both members of the Cabinet.
Editor in Chief
AIR FRANCE first Airbus A380 has just been rolled out at Hamburg painted with the airline’s new livery. The ‘plane will start operating a daily Paris-Charles de Gaulle – New York-JFK route in November 2009. Air France is the first European operator of the A380 and the first to put it into service on the North Atlantic. The Air France A380 fleet offers three cabin classes. On the upper deck the business class Affaires cabin has 80 seats, whilst at the rear there are 106 in economy Voyageur. The main deck has nine first class Première seats and 343 in Voyageur giving a total of 538 passengers. With a total of 538 seats the AF Super Jumbo will operate at the highest density of any airline yet (more than the now disposed of ANA 505-seat 747). Emirates offers 489 seats, Qantas 450 and Singapore Airlines 471. Air France has 12 Airbus A380s on order, four of which will start operating in winter 2009 and spring 2010. www.airfrance.com
BAA LTD, owned by Ferrovial, had a poor June with passenger numbers down by 5.9% to 12.7m. Heathrow suffered, although not as bad as Frankfurt and Paris, with a drop of 3.1% (5.7m), Stansted dropped 11.5% (1.8m). From Scotland there was both good and bad news. Edinburgh bucked the trend with 1.4% growth for the month although it is 1.9% down for the year. The biggest losers are Aberdeen and Glasgow with sharp falls of 9.8% and 10.9% respectively. Edinburgh now handles ten times the cargo tonnage of Glasgow. In general freight continues to suffer although the pace of fall was slowing. The year-on-year decline was 22% in April, but the drop was only at 6.3% in June. www.baa.com
CONTINENTAL AIRLINES has finally won US DOT (Department of Transportation) approval for antitrust immunity, paving the way for full membership of the Star Alliance. Strong rumours were circulating in Washington last week that the American Justice Department was raising objections (see AERBT 6 July 2009). The antitrust immunity also covers United Airlines and eight further members of the Star Alliance – Air Canada, Austrian, bmi, Lufthansa, LOT Polish Airlines, Scandinavian Airlines (SAS), SWISS and TAP Air Portugal. This year Continental will celebrate its 75th anniversary. www.continental.com
LONDON CITY AIRPORT’S application to the local planning authority, Newham, for a 50% increase in aircraft movements has been approved. Last year the airport moved 3.2m passengers on its single runway although presently operating at around 20% less. The approval allows plenty of time for any infrastructure improvements to be made in time for the 2012 Olympics. The main Stratford Olympic Park is just four miles away by road and next year will be connected by a direct DLR rail service. Currently the airport serves 30 destinations which is expected to increase with the flexibility that the expansion allows for. Later this year BA will introduce a controversial twice daily service to New York which will not actually increase passenger numbers significantly but will raise London City’s profile in New York and for connecting traffic to many European airports not served directly from the USA. www.londoncityairport.com
NEWQUAY AIRPORT, the only scheduled airport in Cornwall, has received a UKP24.6m boost funded from the EU. This new approval extends the scope of the permitted aid by an additional UKP24.3m over the previously approved UKP44.2m package of aid it was awarded in 2007, much of it spent on the works required for the transition from a military base (RAF St Mawgan) to a CAA-licensed commercial airport. The grant will allow the airport to push ahead with a major improvement programme involving use of former Ministry of Defence land. Currently the airport is served by Air Southwest, bmibaby, Flybe, Jet 2, Lufthansa, Ryanair and Skybus to 19 destinations, some of these summer only, and including three London airports, London City, Gatwick and Stansted. In 2008 the airport moved 466,000 passengers, a 15% increase over the previous year. www.newquay-airport.co.uk
RYANAIR, with one of its seemingly increasingly desperate press releases, is to ask passengers if they would like to ‘stand’ on short flights if it meant they could travel for free, or pay 50% less than seated passengers. No doubt a preposterous statement will be issued, the truth of which will be impossible to verify. Media reports are suggesting that the airline has spoken to Boeing about the possibility of 'vertical seating' on its aircraft. In fact it is the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) that would have to legalise such a scheme which is full of impracticalities. What with Ryanair CEO Michael O’Leary wanting passengers to drag their own luggage to the aircraft hold, pay for the use of the loo, and now stand, it would probably be a physical wreck who would arrive at the other end, only to be turned away by the authorities on medical grounds. A Chinese airline called Spring is considering a similar plan, citing the national train services where many people do stand. www.china-sss.com www.ryanair.com
As a base for a weekend break, or longer, the Cotswolds and Gloucester could not be bettered. That is if you like glorious rolling countryside, narrow lanes with stone walls, and one ancient village after another, each with at least one hostelry. For the most part the minor roads are quiet and the food and beer normally excellent. The whole area is a little more than 100 miles from London and easily accessible down the M6 from the north.
AERBT took up National Trust membership (UKP47.50 for 12 months – it pays for itself after five visits) and made use of a free English Heritage guide. Your Editor based himself at Thornbury Castle, part of the Von Essen Group, now the owners of 26 classic boutique hotels in England, plus one in Scotland (Dalhousie Castle – Edinburgh) and Chateau de Bagnois near Lyon, France. On this trip we have kept away from Bath, Bristol and Gloucester, each of which is worthy of a visit of several days.
Thornbury Castle is quite unique, the only fortress in the UK that has been converted into a hotel. It sits on the edge of the little market town of the same name ten miles north of Bristol. Much of the structure dates back 500 years, but some of it, including several bedrooms, are in fact of very recent construction, only the outer shell going back into history. You would never know. No two rooms are alike, all with the heavy fabrics of the 16th century, far removed from the simplistic style now very popular. That does not mean that it is old fashioned. Several of the ground floor rooms have what can only be described as ‘walk through’ showers, with no doors at either end. These rooms are ideal for the less mobile and even has under cover parking attached. If you are very tall ask for accommodation with an adequate door height. In times gone by people were generally shorter. There is a decanter of sherry in every room plus home made biscuits. www.thornburycastle.co.uk
Berkeley Castle lies midway between Bristol and Gloucester just off the A38 (M5 J13 or 14). It is the oldest castle to be lived in by the same family for 900 years and it was here that Edward II was murdered. Berkeley Square in London takes its name from the family as does Berkeley University in America. The castle is a fascinating tour and includes dungeons, Great Hall, State Apartments and medieval kitchens. The extensive gardens make for a fine after lunch walk and the adjoining butterfly house and plant centre make for an unusual visit. Close by the castle is the 18th century Queen Anne style home of the medical researcher Dr Edward Jenner, who discovered the smallpox vaccine. www.berkeley-castle.com
Just south of M4 J18 on the A46 eight miles north of Bath is Dyrham Park (National Trust). It is set in 274 acres of rolling parkland and beautifully kept ornamental gardens. The current house dates from the time of William Blathwayt a civil servant who administered the North American colonies and established the government war office in the late 17th century. Both house and gardens were heavily influenced by Dutch styling, and much of the internal decor and furnishings were also of Dutch origin. Another Blathwayt 100 years later spent must of his personal fortune rebuilding the property. What you see today is a genuine large country house of the 1850s complete with a downstairs kitchen area in the middle of the 19th century. In the 1960s the steep hill leading up from the house was a venue for the RAC hill climb championship. There is a regular courtesy bus from the large car park to the main property but it is easily walkable although one has to be careful of the deer and cattle which are free to roam anywhere. www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-dyrhampark
Another National Trust property is Newark Park, featured in ‘Tess of the D’Urbevilles’, a Thomas Hardy period piece made for BBC TV. Perched on a 40ft cliff Newark was built as a hunting lodge and completed around 1550. In the 18th century the architect James Wyatt made it into a four-square house. It sits in 700 acres of unspoiled countryside with far-reaching views to the southwest and today is actually the real home of photographer Michael Claydon, one time beau of Joanna Lumley and father of her son. The interior of Newark is a fascinating mix of period furniture, modern art, and an eccentric jumble of collected artefacts from across the globe. This is very much a 'lived in' house; here you get none of the sterile feeling that sometimes occurs in stately homes. The lanes leading to the house are narrow. www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-newarkpark
Tetbury is a typical Cotswolds, retaining its authenticity over the years. It probably is better known than similar equally delightful settlements due to one particular part-time resident, Prince Charles, whose country retreat at Highgrove lies on the outskirts. The new Highgrove shop in Long Street, the main thoroughfare, offers a unique collection of organic foods and lifestyle products for the home and garden. HRH long time interest in nature sets the theme. However even without the Royal connection Tetbury is a delightful town dominated by the splendid pillared Market House built in 1655. There are some 25 antique shops, a whole variety of eating places and 19 hotels mostly dating from times before central heating. The town is without doubt an 'architectural gem' with many of the former wool merchants houses still looking as they did 300 years ago. www.visittetbury.co.uk
Both mining and woollen goods production were important industries in the past leaving such reminders as the Coalpit Heath (closed 1949) near Yate and the Dramway coal mining route to the Avon. Whilst the wool industry for the most has gone, sheep are still in abundance on the grassy slopes. The villages and towns that abound have romantic names that live up to the expectations. Wotton-under-Edge, Chipping Sodbury and Nailsworth conjure up England of the past, timbered houses and stone cottages with streams often running through the middle.
If you are into nature, and particulary if young children are in your party, there are a number of very well recommended sites within the Vale of Severn. Slimbridge Wetland Centre lies just to the north of Berkeley and was founded by the late Sir Peter Scott, environmental expert. His father was Captain Robert Scott, of the Antartic. The world famous site is set in 120 acres, superbly laid out and an education on birdlife. www.wwt.org.uk
One word of warning. Most National Trust properties are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays and do not open until 11:00. Check the site you want to visit before setting out. It can be frustrating after driving up a long and narrow country lane to then find the venue closed. And try to use a map rather than GPS. Satellite navigation has yet to bring in a system that tells you someone is coming the other way. www.southglos.gov.uk www.nationaltrust.org.uk
BOEING is to buy the South Carolina facility owned by Vought Aircraft Industries. This is seen as a strengthening of the 787 supply train, the plant responsible for major parts of the fuselage. It also could be a factor as to where Boeing goes in respect of its much vaunted second production line for the aircraft. Whilst the Everett plant is a clear favourite nothing has been confirmed as yet. At the time of this week's AERBT publication the 787 prototype was involved in high speed taxiway runs but no lift off as yet. www.boeing.com/787milestones
AIRASIA has launched Redbox, said to be the world’s first low cost air courier service, offering what it calls the best value-for-money shipment option in Malaysia. Savings of up to 50% are claimed. Customers enjoy online tracking that ensures packages are delivered on time. Pick up and delivery services are provided as well as convenient drop-off points. The service is domestic at the moment but plans are to expand internationally. The project will be carefully monitored by European budget airlines who might consider similar schemes. The maximum weight offered at the present time is 25kg. Our picture shows Tony Fernandes, Group CEO of AirAsia (left), and the senior management of the airline’s various partners in the scheme. http://redbox.airasia.com
MARKHAM JACKSON has been appointed Chief Executive of BACA (Baltic Air Charter Association), essentially an air brokers’ organisation acting for a variety of organisations involved in air charter, executive aviation and freight. BACA was founded in 1949 as a development of the long established role of London’s Baltic Exchange in the management of shipping. Mr Jackson started his career with BOAC (now BA) and was for some time a broker in his own right. www.baca.org.uk
MARCO POLO, a cruise ship under charter to Transocean Tours of Bremen, was detained at Invergordon last week following an outbreak of what was thought to be Norovirus. This affected some 200 passengers. Four people were initially retained in hospital and a passenger died whilst the ship was berthed, although this is thought to have no connection with the virus. All told there were 769 passengers on board plus 340 crew. Clients were given an offer to return to Tilbury by a specially chartered train or sail with the ship. As planned, and with all the necessary certificates in place, Marco Polo will then continue her scheduled programme on Tuesday 14 July with a 12-night Baltic Cities and St Petersburg cruise. www.transoceancruises.co.uk
LONDON’S heliport at Battersea will be graced with a stunning five-star hotel at the end of the year if a target completion date is met. Both are being developed by Von Essen, a private group which includes some of the UK's most outstanding country properties including Cliveden and Thornbury Castle (see www.aerbt.co.uk On Tour) and the executive aviation operator PremiAir. The hotel is reaching final completion in parallel with major investment at the heliport. Hotel Verta offers 70 rooms to a very high standard, and full executive services. All day dining will be available as is a very well equipped spa and recreational facilities. www.londonheliport.co.uk www.vonessenhotels.com
OAG’s monthly analysis of airline seats, as opposed to actual passengers flown, says that carriers worldwide will offer 1% less in July than in the same month of 2008. The reduction in actual flights is 3% the figures indicating that the airlines are matching capacity and services. What they don’t tell is the actual carryings, these available for IATA members late next month. Once again, the biggest contributor to the decline in frequency and capacity is North America, around 7% for both. However it is by far the largest market. Traffic within Europe continues the downward trend, frequency and capacity in this region, down 6% and 4% respectively. To and from Europe capacity is slightly up. The numbers are small by comparison but the Middle East region again exhibits impressive growth. The number of flight activity and seat capacity within the Middle East is scheduled to rise by 16% and 17% respectively. www.oag.com
TRAVEL WEEKLY, the long established holiday trade publication, is moving out of the RBI division of the Reed Elsevier empire into a new business called TW Group Ltd. The new company is headed by Simon Ferguson who left RBI in March 2009 after six years as Publishing Director of the travel portfolio and Clive Jacobs formerly of Holiday Autos and Lastminute.com. The Non-Executive Directors include Michael East, travel industry management consultant and entrepreneur; Colin Morrison, who has managed international media businesses at RBI, NatMags, Future and Emap; and Ian Findlay, M&A Director at Ariadne Capital and former Director of Corporate Development at Emap plc and Development Director at RBI. www.travelweekly.co.uk
IN BRIEF followed by his months road test, Vauxhall’s new sports tourer
JAGUAR: Now owned by Tata of India, but still very much British, Jaguar has announced the new XJ sedan range due in car showrooms next January. The car looks like a nicely overgrown XF and comes with a whole collection of ‘toys‘. The XJ completes the new Jaguar range which started with the much underrated X series, the sweet handling 21st century XF and now a new contender for the smart car to have. Prices start from UKP52,000.
PEUGEOT: The Peugeot 407 range is now available with a 1.6 HDI turbo diesel engine delivering 110 bhp and good for a claimed 110 bhp/129 g/km emissions. Fitted with Michelin low resistance Energy tyres, the car is claimed to return 57.6 mpg. Price is from UKP18,745.
SEAT: A sporty Bocanegra 3-door version of the SEAT Ibiza will reach the UK market later this year. Developed at the SEAT factory at Martortell near Barcelona, the car features a lot of black and aluminium trim and is powered by a twin charged 1.4 TSI engine driving through a 7-speed selectable automatic DSG transmission. Bocanegra means black mouth in Spanish.
TOYOTA: An all new Toyota Prius hybrid powered model is due for UK launch this August. The car will feature an optional solar powered air conditioning system to provide cabin cooling when parked. There will also be an air cooling system that can be operated from the key fob up to three minutes prior to starting the engine.
VAUXHALL: Across the range, apart from Insignia, dealer fit front/rear parking sensors are now available. A simpler rear system fitted to the number plate is also offered for UKP179.
VAUXHALL INSIGNIA 2.0 CDTI SE NAV SPORTS TOURER
Vauxhall brings in outstanding estate car
Vauxhall’s new Insignia executive class model range has already gathered a lot of accolades, including European Car of the Year, and is much more of a serious contender than its Vectra predecessor in a market sector dominated by the likes of Volkswagen Passat, Ford Mondeo, Citroen C5, Skoda, Mercedes-Benz C Class, Peugeot 407 and many more.
Initially, the Insignia was offered in four-door saloon and five-door hatch back forms, that has been highly rated by most testers though criticised by a number for sacrificing styling in the interests of rear space, notably headroom as a result of the rakish rear roof line.
More recently the Insignia range has been expanded by the introduction of an estate version, Vauxhall use the more fashionable title of a Sports Tourer and it has developed a body shape which notably addresses the head space criticism of the original version as well as providing a moderate gain in load capacity. This body design also overcomes to a great degree the limited rear vision caused by the thick rear pillars on the hatch back Insignia.
I have been driving the 158 bhp 2.0-litre turbo diesel version of the Sports Tourer in the near range-topping SE specification which includes satellite navigation which is an UKP800 addition on some of the other Insignia versions.
This test car should probably prove the most popular in a range that includes both turbo charged and normally aspirated petrol units from .6 litres up to 2.0-litres, also an entry level 2.0-litre turbo charged diesel unit, developing 129 bhp. Other engine options are also planned.
Transmission options include 6-speed units in both manual and automatic and the range also includes all-wheel drive versions powered by a potent 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine.
Visually the Insignia is an imposing car, one of considerable substance though the creation of the Sports Tourer body has lost some of the racy looks of the saloon and hatch back derivatives in the quest for greater practicality. A styling problem shared with most estates in this market sector but not all.
Open the tail-gate and there is a passable amount of easily accessible luggage space though of shallow height but with the bonus of split folding rear seats (taking available capacity up from 540 up to 1,510 litres), a central ski hatch and substantial chrome finished load securing lugs. Bright metal strips are embedded into the roof to accept a roof rack or roof bars if required.
What was obvious from the moment I sat inside the Insignia was that the build quality, most of the finish, equipment specification, driving comfort and fascia presentation was very close to the style and standards currently exhibited in the mainstream quality German cars.
For me, the only let down was the use of imitation wood trim. I suggest either fit the real thing or use the currently in vogue polycarbonate. The only leather items on this SE version were the covering on the steering wheel and gear knob.
From the outset the Insignia drives like a quality class car with much more dynamic handling and response than the Vectra and even though it is similar in size to the Mondeo it felt smaller to drive and easier to place both on the road especially when setting up for fast corners and also when accessing into that last remaining parking slot.
Controls are responsive though one has to take a moment to understand and then appreciate the electronic parking brake.
Instrumentation is clear and conventional, the satellite navigation system user friendly though the central switch panel is a bit busy looking until fully comprehended. Comfort levels in all five seats are to a high standard, though the driving seat is a mix of manual and powered adjustment.
There is plenty for the discerning driver to appreciate, the road grip is impressive, the steering response accurate and the braking power strong yet smooth. The power unit, not the quietest diesel I have recently experienced, delivers a good spread of power and is complemented by the clean changing manual gearbox.
With good flexibility this engine enables smooth and rapid acceleration with 60 mph claimed to be achieved in 9.3 seconds and with a top speed of 132 mph. Expect to get around the 40 mpg mark which is impressive for a car of this size/weight.
Apart from a sun roof this car has about everything you would expect to find in an executive class car, notably an easy use satellite navigation system, front, side and curtain airbags, front active head restraints, Electronic Stability Programme, cruise control, automatic lighting and electrically adjustable/heated exterior mirrors. Front/rear parking sensors are an option at UKP365.
In this class this is undoubtedly the best Vauxhall yet, providing notable driving dynamics with easy character, impressive product quality and in Sports Tourer form a bit more practicality that will be appreciated whatever the car’s use. Yet another example of Vauxhall’s modern and very competitive car range.
Ride and Comfort 8
Price: From UKP24,640.