By Stewart Smith on 2014-03-09 - Stewart was the former motoring editor of the Coventry Telegraph and is now a freelance contributor to Eurekar. He is based in Scotland and specialises in First Drive reviews.
Vauxhall hot on
IN 1815 Napoleon returned from exile in Elba and begun a 100-day march with his army heading for Paris to overthrow Louis XVIII.
The first part of his historic journey is now named the Route Napoleon and runs from the shores of the Mediterranean to Grenoble in the Southern Alps.
The French dictator and his followers took six days to complete the twisty tortuous mountain trail - I managed it in less than half a day, thanks to being behind the wheel of some of Vauxhall's most modern, powerful and technically advanced motors.
Starting point for the adventure, named the Griffin Greats, was in Casino Square in Monaco, where the stunning new Vauxhalls where lined up attracting the attention of tourists and locals alike.
My first vehicle for the demanding drive was the latest Corsa VXR ClubSport which was set for the 70 mile leg to St Julien De Vernon.
It was my first experience of the top range Corsa which pumps out a mean 205bhp from its 1.6-litre turbocharged engine which gives it a top speed of 143mph and a cracking 6.5 second zero to 60mph sprint time.
But it is the superb handling of this special Corsa that impressed me, especially on the Route Napoleon, which is a succession of tight, fast cambered bends with serious drops if you get it wrong.
It's the hottest Corsa on the market and at £22,390 it's up with the best of the top range hot hatches around.
The next stage on the route, which has been voted one of the top ten driving experience roads in Europe, was from St Julien De Vernon to Digne Les Bain, a 66km blast in the latest Astra GTC 1.6.
It's a stunning looking high performance hatch with sweeping sporty lines and a small spoiler but it can easily accommodate five adults and its interior storage space has been increased by 50 per cent over the previous Sport Hatch model.
It handled the demanding mountain roads well, gripping on corners and the steering was positive and braking had just the right weight.
The GTC is now the most powerful non-VXR in the Astra range, with 200bhp under the bonnet which gives it a top speed of 143mph and 0-60mph time of 7.3 seconds. Prices of my test car was £21,943.
Next on tap was the 170mph Insignia VXR, the UK's fastest car you can buy for under £30,000, and does it fly!
The all-wheel-drive high performance Sports Tourer version was my choice for the next leg from Digne Les Bain to the Chateau de la Commanderie near Grenoble for our welcome overnight stop.
The latest Insignia VXR has a slick 6-speed manual gearbox, and new kit includes an all-new instrument panel and central console, Bluetooth-operated internet connection, and eight-inch touchscreen, 3D navigation and voice control.
Power is awesome, with the V6 turbo 2.8 power pack producing a huge 325mph which rockets the Insignia to 60mph in just 5.9 seconds and on to a top whack of 170mph.
Despite its larger size it handled the demanding Alpine bends with ease and its powerful braking meant I felt under control even when I pushed just a little near my limit.
The Sports Tourer version of the Insignia will set you back £31,049.
After a welcome overnight stop, my last leg was in the Cascada 1.6 from the classy 17-century chateau to the lakeside at Geneva, a 111 mile journey, unfortunately most of in torrential rain.
It's Vauxhall's recent entry into the full-size convertible market and will easily take four adults and is Vauxhall's first large open-topper since the 1930s.
Bigger than the likes of the BMW 3-Series convertible and the Audi A3 convertible, the Cascada is also cheaper, coming in at £23,995.
Power comes from the 1.6-litre turbo and it can reach a maximum 146mph. It drove fantastically well under appalling conditions on the last leg.
The great driving event, covering 340 miles of some of the most testing tarmac in Europe, came to an end, before I attended the Geneva motor show where Vauxhall's new chairman Tim Tozer insisted Vauxhall's future was bright, with even more up-market models on the horizon.
If the cars I drove on the Griffin Greats experience was anything to go by he could be right.
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