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Quick spin: 2016 Opel Insignia Country Tourer 4x4

by Ronan Glon

We check out the Regal\'s long-roof sibling.

We've been hearing rumors of a Buick Regal station wagon plucked directly from the Opel lineup for over half a decade. They're not entirely unsubstantiated, either. You might remember that a camo-free, Insignia-badged wagon was conspicuously spotted in the United States all the way back in 2010, and Buick recently moved to protect the names Regal TourX and TourX.

It goes without saying that the rumors have never materialized, and by some accounts they never will. However, we're sufficiently intrigued by the idea of a Regal wagon to slip behind the wheel of a Euro-spec Opel Insignia Cross Tourer in order to get a taste of what could be.

What is it?
The Country Tourer is to the regular Insignia wagon, which is known as the Sports Tourer in most of Europe, what the XC60 is to the Volvo V60. Simply put, it's a more rugged model that receives a specific front fascia with silver accents, black plastic cladding over the wheel arches and the rocker panels, roof rails, and nearly an inch of additional ground clearance. It's positioned near the very top of the Insignia lineup, both in terms of content and in terms of pricing.

Specifications sheet
The Insignia Country Tourer is exclusively offered with a pair of turbodiesel four-cylinder engines. The entry-level mill is a 1.6-liter unit that makes 136 horsepower from 3,500 to 4,000 rpm and 236 pound-feet of torque at 2,000 rpm. It comes bolted to a six-speed manual transmission that only spins the front wheels, which arguably defeats the purpose of buying a vehicle with plastic cladding and a raised ground clearance.

We've digressed. The second engine is a 2.0-liter tuned to pump out 170 horsepower from 3,500 to 4,000 rpm and a solid 295 pound-feet of torque between 1,750 and 2,500 rpm. The 2.0-liter comes standard with front-wheel drive and a six-speed automatic transmission, but a four-wheel drive system paired with either a six-speed automatic or a six-speed manual is offered at an extra cost. The model tested here is equipped with the 2.0-liter, the six-speed automatic, and all-wheel drive.

The Country Tourer stretches 193 inches long, 73 inches wide, and 60 inches tall. In comparison, the Regal measures 190 inches from bumper to bumper, 73 inches wide, and 58 inches tall.

Life aboard
If you're sitting in the front seats, the Insignia is nearly identical to the Regal save for a few market-specific details. Our tester lived up to its near flagship status with a panoramic sunroof, adaptive cruise control, heated and ventilated front seats, tan leather upholstery with contrast stitching, and a configurable eight-inch screen that partially replaces the instrument cluster. Highlighted by a build quality that's generally at or above average, these high-end features make the Insignia's cabin a surprisingly comfortable and well-lit place to travel in, but they also bump its price well into Mercedes-Benz territory. High-end versions of the Volkswagen Passat Variant and the Renault Talisman Estate, two of the Tourer's main rivals, face the same issue.

Space is ample for the front occupants, and the longer roofline means that the rear passengers have more headroom in the Insignia wagon than they do in the Regal. Families with young kids probably won't notice the difference, but motorists who regularly haul around adults or even teenagers will appreciate the extra few inches. The taller doors make the Insignia easier to get in and out of, too.

The Country Tourer offers 19 cubic feet of trunk space with five passengers on board. In comparison, the Regal sedan boasts 14.2 cubes. Folding down the rear bench yields nearly 48 cubes, and loading that 19th century oak armoire your other half put a deposit on is a breeze thanks to a low trunk floor and a wide, Audi-style liftgate.

However, your spiffy new piece of furniture might have to dangle out of the trunk on the way home from the antique store. 48 cubic feet is actually well below the segment's average; the Euro-spec Volkswagen Passat Variant gets a crossover-rivaling 62.8 cubes, and the wagon version of the Renault Talisman boasts a little over 60 cubic feet. Opel knows what it needs to improve as it designs the next-gen model, clearly.

On the road
The 2.0-liter is part of Opel's recently-introduced Whisper family of diesel engines, which also includes 1.3- and 1.6-liter units. It certainly doesn't whisper when you push the ignition button, it still sounds and feels like a diesel especially when it's cold outside, but it's not as intrusive as the engine it replaces. The "whisper" part becomes a little more evident at speed. Punch the throttle and the 2.0-liter is quieter than both Volkswagen's TDI and Renault's dCi. It's still louder than a gasoline-burning mill, but Opel has gone to great lengths to eliminate the resounding clatter typically associated with oil-burners.

The Country Tourer isn't fast by any means, though it's brisk off the line because the torque comes on heavy and low. There's very little lag from the turbo. The engine begins to run out of breath higher in the rev range, so the sooner the transmission shifts up the better.

The six-speed automatic goes through the gears without making its presence known even with the accelerator pushed in all the way. Our tester came with shift paddles, but the Insignia Country Tourer isn't a performance machine and it doesn't beg you to drive it like one, it's not engaging by any means. It's more of a laid-back cruiser designed to provide a comfortable ride above all, so the transmission is best left in automatic mode, at least in driving conditions broadly described as "regular." The paddles are useful when passing, and when going up a steep, winding mountain road.

The Insignia is more composed on twisty roads than a comparable crossover, a trait that we attribute to a much lower center of gravity. In terms of handling, the difference between the Insignia sedan and the Insignia wagon is all but imperceptible. The ride is supple even though it feels firmer than that of a Regal. Light it ain't, but the steering is well-weighted and direct so you don't get the impression that you're piloting a behemoth unless you really start to push it.

Opel's flagship is at home on the highway, where it'll effortlessly cruise for miles on end thanks to a long sixth gear that keeps the rpm down and a quiet four-pot. It returns about 40 mpg in a mixed cycle, and it can realistically reach the upper 40s on the highway if it's driven by someone with a light right foot.

Leftlane's bottom line
Make no mistake, the station wagon isn't about to make an unexpected comeback. Its time as the chariot of choice for families with kids, dogs, and a weekend's worth of gear has passed, and there's realistically little Buick -- or any automaker, for that matter -- can do to change that. However, there are still buyers out there who are after a spacious car that doesn't look and drive like a neutered off-roader, and a Buick-badged version of the Insignia Country Tourer could neatly slot into that niche.

The issue is that the current Insignia is getting a little long in the tooth, especially when it's pitted against its more modern competitors. Buick understandably can't justify putting itself through the costly and time-consuming process of federalizing it. A brand new Regal is scheduled to arrive in the next couple of years, and a rugged all-wheel drive wagon variant aimed at Subaru's Outback could lure an array of first-time buyers into Buick showrooms if it's priced right.

Photos by Ronan Glon.