► Sportiest Insignia estate driven
► Is it GSi in name only?
► Tested in Bi-turbo diesel spec
Vauxhall has dusted off one of its dormant performance sub-brands for the new sports-inclined version of the Insignia. It comes in two body styles – the Sports Tourer estate and the Grand Sport hatchback – with a choice of two engines: a 207bhp bi-turbodiesel or a 256bhp single-turbo petrol four. Both are all-wheel drive, with an eight-speed paddleshift automatic gearbox. The chassis has been retuned and the bodywork tweaked for visual and aerodynamic gain.
Why GSi rather than SRi or GTE or HSR or HP or anything else in Vauxhall’s lengthy back catalogue of names for sporty road cars? Best not to overthink these things: look no further than the late-’80s Carlton GSi 3000. That was a big, butch five-seater that could embarrass a few more ostensibly sporty contemporaries (although don’t get it confused with the super-quick Lotus Carlton of the same era).
The version we’ve driven is the diesel estate. The GSi sits £4k clear of any other Insignia estate, raising an expectation that it’s going to be something pretty special – but don’t lose sight of the fact that the comparable German alternatives are all significantly more expensive than this newcomer.
The first current-generation Insignia we drove last year seemed a bit feeble and fussy; we wondered at the time if the estate body and a bigger engine would make more sense. Here’s where we find out.
How does the GSi fit into the Insignia line-up?
The GSi is at the top of the range in terms of pricing, although the same power and performance can be obtained in other models. Rather, it’s the version that gathers largely familiar ingredients into the most driver-focused package.
The torquey and refined 2.0-litre sequential twin-turbodiesel is Vauxhall’s first performance diesel; the 2.0-litre single-turbo petrol alternative is less torquey but more powerful; it has a higher top speed and quicker acceleration. Both engines are available in both body styles.
All Insignia GSi models use the FlexRide adaptive chassis, which is optional on other Insignias, and set up specifically for the GSi. It sits 10mm lower and has been developed partly at the Nürburgring, obviously, where the GSi clocked up quicker lap times than the more powerful but heavier previous-generation Insignia VXR.
All-wheel drive is available on other Insignias, but it’s compulsory on the GSi, in specially calibrated form. Part of the package is a torque vectoring system that takes the form of a twin-clutch diff on the rear axle, diverting torque to wherever it’s most needed for faster cornering and improved stability in tricky conditions. You get an eight-speed paddleshift auto with no manual option. There are upgraded brakes (Brembos at the front) and new lightweight 20in wheels.
Visual tweaks such as the chromed air intakes and chrome-edged exhaust tailpipes are GSi-only.
There are four driving modes – Standard, Sport, Tour and Competitive – that adjust the yaw damping, ABS, traction control and stability control.
The leather front seats are a unique design for the GSi, with massage, cooling and adjustable side bolsters, as is the flat-bottomed steering wheel, and you get aluminium pedals.
What do the GSi elements actually amount to?
They’re fine as far as they go. Flicking between the modes does make a difference to the car’s demeanour, but not radically so. It never feels particularly nimble or lively, and the steering is always a little numb. The eight-speed automatic transmission isn’t intrusive if left to make its own changes, and undramatic but effective if you used the paddles or lever to shift for yourself.
The ride quality is good – it lets you know the surface is bad, but soaks up the discomfort. The brakes are fine.
The GSi’s talent is for getting you to wherever you’re going, on any sort of road, at a good average speed. The sports seats are an excellent mix of support and comfort, although they make the rest of the cabin look a little unsporty.
But the non-GSi stuff is still there, isn’t it?
Yes. Aside from sacrificing a slender degree of refinement at the altar of sporty suspension, this is still a very sensible package – long, low, wide and essentially easygoing.
Anyone who needs to carry two or three long-legged passengers in the back seats should include an Insignia on their short list, especially if they do a lot of motorway miles, where the Insignia feels most in its element.
And although the GSi spec level isn’t luxury-orientated like Elite Nav, it is in fact just as well equipped as standard. It’s a lot of car for your money.
You get a decent sat-nav as part of a touchscreen system, there’s very good sound from the Bose audio, while the front and outer rear seats are heated, and the back-seat passengers also get two USB slots. There’s cruise control, a head-up display, LED matrix headlights, auto lights and wipers, tinted rear windows, hill assist, tyre pressure monitoring and keyless entry.
Many options are available, such as the opening full-length sunroof, different paint finishes and various upholstery variants. But go easy or you’ll soon be facing a total bill in the high-30s.
It’s not an extreme car, with nothing about the ride or refinement to annoy and discommode passengers. The performance in this diesel version is all about the torque: you have masses of the stuff in reserve, ready to assist with overtakes and to provide easy high-speed cruising.
Vauxhall has consciously alluded to past glories with the GSi name, but the reality is that this honest, decent car is essentially old fashioned in what it does and how it does it.
It’s not alone. The rivals are the Skoda Superb Sportline, Ford Mondeo ST-Line, Jaguar XF, at a stretch the Kia Stinger or even the Ford Mustang, and at a stretch in the other direction the VW Arteon. All have much to commend them, although they all sit a little awkwardly in a market that’s rapidly being overtaken by coupes and SUVs; these not-quite-premium saloons, estates and big hatches all seem to be aimed at an audience that nipped out for a quick fag in the interval and decided not to come back.
There is plenty to appreciate about the Insignia GSi. It’s comfortable, roomy, decently refined, well equipped with safety and infotainment, suitably clean and economical, and capable of maintaining brisk cross-country average speeds. It’s just not very much fun to drive or exciting to live with.
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