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