The GSI badge is back, but Vaux­hall’s fast flag­ship strug­gles to stand out from its cheaper sta­ble­mates

Evo - - CONTENTS - James Dis­dale

VAUX­HALL HAS A RICH HIS­TORY OF high-per­for­mance sa­loons. From its vin­tage mod­els with sur­pris­ing vi­tal­ity and 100mph top speeds, through to the lu­natic Lo­tus Carl­ton and the In­signia VXR, the Bri­tish brand’s back-cat­a­logue is lit­tered with high-oc­tane an­ti­dotes to its more main­stream of­fer­ings. Yet when Vaux­hall re­vealed that the ven­er­a­ble An­glo-aus­tralian VXR8 was go­ing to be pen­sioned off, it looked like there would be noth­ing left on the firm’s books to get peo­ple like you and me ex­cited. Well, apart from a cou­ple of VXR hot hatches in the form of the in­creas­ingly creaky Corsa and grey-haired GTC. How­ever, that could change with the ar­rival of the (deep breath) In­signia Grand Sport GSI.

Not only does the new­comer fill the role of fast flag­ship, it also marks a re­turn of the GSI name­plate af­ter the best part of two decades away. It was last seen on the first-gen­er­a­tion Corsa, but more fit­tingly, it was also used on the Bmw-bait­ing Carl­ton GSI 3000 of the ’80s. Adding to the an­tic­i­pa­tion is the fact the In­signia gets a torque-vec­tor­ing four-wheeldrive sys­tem (the same ba­sic GKN set-up used by the Ford Fo­cus RS), adap­tive damp­ing, a 10mm lower ride height, spring rates that are be­tween 35 and 40 per cent stiffer (de­pend­ing on whether it’s a hatch or an es­tate) and heav­ily upgraded Brembo brakes. All of which, Vaux­hall claims, helps the Grand Sport com­plete a lap of the Nür­bur­gring Nord­schleife 12 sec­onds faster than the old In­signia VXR. So far, so promis­ing.

Ig­nore the un­marked-pa­trol-car white paint of our test car and it’s fair to say the GSI looks the part. A deeper front bumper, larger air in­takes, some side skirts and a rear spoiler help give the Vaux­hall some vis­ual mus­cle, while the light­weight 20-inch al­loys are wrapped in Miche­lin Pi­lot Sport 4 S tyres. Inside there are equally big clues to the car’s sport­ing in­tent, in­clud­ing a pair of heav­ily bol­stered and GSI em­bla­zoned high-backed front seats, a flat-bot­tomed steer­ing wheel and alu­minium-fin­ished ped­als. Prod the starter but­ton, how­ever, and any thoughts of a fine drive are drowned out by the in­tru­sive clat­ter from un­der the bon­net. Yes, that’s right – this GSI is a diesel. There is a petrol op­tion (a 2-litre turbo four with 256bhp), but Vaux­hall doesn’t have any on its press fleet be­cause it reck­ons the Bi­turbo will be the big seller. Per­haps the diesel­gate scan­dal hasn’t yet landed in Lu­ton…

Still, ig­nore the cold-start ca­coph­ony and the twin-turbo 2-litre diesel’s sta­tis­tics are promis­ing, with a head­line fig­ure of 207bhp and a thump­ing torque peak of 354lb ft at just 1500rpm. As a re­sult, Vaux­hall claims the bench­mark 0-62mph sprint is dealt with in 7.3 sec­onds, which is only four-tenths down on the petrol car. On the move, the GSI feels brisk rather than out­right fast. With so much twist avail­able at such low revs there’s lit­tle point in ex­tend­ing the mo­tor, which is much qui­eter when warmed through but still fairly

agri­cul­tural sound­ing. In com­bi­na­tion with the rea­son­ably smooth stan­dard eight-speed auto (there’s no man­ual op­tion) it al­lows you to make ef­fort­less and un­ob­tru­sive progress.

There’s a choice of Tour and Sport modes, and in the for­mer the In­signia sim­ply feels like a slightly quicker ver­sion of a reg­u­lar In­siginia. The adap­tive dampers serve up a cush­ioned ride, the trans­mis­sion slurs the ra­tios nicely and the life­less steer­ing is light and fairly pre­cise. It’s rel­a­tively unin­spir­ing, but as a quiet and com­fort­able out­side-lane ex­press, the Vaux­hall does a good job.

It’s when you hit the Sport but­ton that the GSI re­ally strug­gles be­cause, well, it doesn’t feel that much dif­fer­ent to Tour mode. There’s some ex­tra firm­ness to the dampers, but not much, so while body move­ments are rea­son­ably well con­trolled, there’s a fair amount of roll. Other changes in­clude a dash of ex­tra sharp­ness to the throt­tle and ex­tra heft to the elec­tri­cally as­sisted steer­ing. That said, the lat­ter is still too light and of­fers zero feed­back. This isn’t such a prob­lem in the dry, where you can trust the Miche­lins will grip, but in greasy or wet con­di­tions, turn­ing into a cor­ner re­quires an act of faith. An­other is­sue is the noise from the en­gine, which is treated to an elec­tronic aug­men­ta­tion through the speakers that brings to mind rac­ing games avail­able for a late ’80s Com­modore 64.

Still, there are pos­i­tives. Once turned in, the Vaux­hall grips hard, while the four-wheeldrive sys­tem sub­tly over­drives the out­side rear wheel, piv­ot­ing the car about its axis and point­ing the nose to­wards the apex. There’s also the very sub­tlest hint of power over­steer on the exit of a bend. It’s not as wild as a Fo­cus RS, but it helps the Vaux­hall feel more ag­ile and cover ground more ef­fec­tively.

How­ever, even this can’t help the In­signia, which sim­ply doesn’t feel as well sorted and en­gag­ing as high-pow­ered 4x4 ver­sions of the VW Ar­teon or Skoda Su­perb. The GSI is ca­pa­ble, quick, com­posed and spa­cious, but it’s not very ex­cit­ing. Its big­gest prob­lem is that it doesn’t feel much dif­fer­ent to lesser In­signias, which de­liver many of the same qual­i­ties in much cheaper pack­ages.

Left: GSI makes for a quiet and com­fort­able cruiser. Far left: torque-vec­tor­ing four-wheel drive is shared with the Fo­cus RS. Be­low left: 20-inch al­loys save 1.5kg per cor­ner; brakes are upgraded Brem­bos

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