First Iteration of GM's new Global Mid-Size FWD Platform Revealed

The new Opel Insignia, and its badge-engineered Vauxhall Insignia twin, are the first expression of General Motors' new Global Mid-Size architecture, likely to be the base for a larger Saturn in the next few years. Presented statically at Opel's new Design Center in Rüsselsheim, Germany, the car is far more convincing than earlier GM Europe designs. It is sized to compete with the Ford Mondeo and Volkswagen Passat, but comes across as a more substantial vehicle, in part because the overall tire diameter, kept the same whether the wheels are 16-, 17-, 18- or 20-inch, is the biggest in the class.

French-born Bertrand Bach, head of Opel exterior design, first presented a see-through plastic full-size model of the car, and with much hand-waving and eloquent gesturing showed how their new Sculptural Artistry design language, emphasizing the alternating concave and convex surface treatments. Asked exactly how that language differs from BMW's "flame surfacing," especially considering the raised rear deck clearly inspired by the much-maligned but highly successful Bavarian 7-series sedans, Mark Adams, Vice President for European design, had a clear, reasoned answer: "these shapes are controlled, with controlled being the key word." And he is right. The hard lines are directional, without sag or slop.

After a series of workshop presentations of color, trim, interior fittings and a great deal more PR-speak ("German precision, engineered to energize" and other essentially meaningless phrases), an actual metal car made on production tooling was unveiled. It was head and shoulders above the fiberglass model, with excellent fit and finish and a very nice interior for a mainstream commodity car. Two themes were persistent: a wing shape sweeping across the instrument panel, and a C-shape that the designers were calling a "blade," which seems to be the styling word of the moment. In this application, it is simply an extrapolation of the indent impressed on the Insignia's body side, carried onto the steering wheel, the shift knob and various other interior features.

There are four interior trim set-ups: base, Elegance/Style, Progressive/Sport and Cosmopolitan/Well Being. The base was not shown, but is essentially all black, with little contrasting materials or colors. The second level enjoys warm colors, including an upper instrumental panel in a rich brown. The third level is all black, but with "piano black" paint where the top level model has "wood," which the interior designers, pressed as to whether it was plastic imitation wood or not, admitted was "wood foil," i.e., plastic. Happily, one can order the piano finish as an option. Final judgement: the interiors are warm, welcoming and comfortable.

To be kind, one can say that this is a beautifully surfaced, precisely assembled car. To be a bit more realistic, one can say that in some respects, the front end could very well be from a Chinese attempt to recapitulate Mercedes design. The grille perimeter is definitely Mercedes-like, and it definitely will not fool the customers.

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