The GSi name returns, but not to replace VXR
Don’t mistake GSi for a VXR replacement. Vauxhall’s top-dog performance brand is alive and well, but resting for now. Reviving the performance badge of the 90s, Insignia GSi isn’t chasing huge power figures or crazy 0-62mph times, instead it focuses on chassis tuning and weight saving. Exclusively offered with all-wheel drive, it can be had in in petrol or diesel, estate or saloon guises — potentially giving company car buyers something to think about.
Vauxhall takes a lot of flack for dull designs of the past, but the latest Insignia isn’t bad looking at all. The car's teardrop hatchback is rather elegant and its interesting creases add a sense of athleticism. GSi cars benefit from a bit of added flair courtesy of more aggressive bodywork and a set of 20-inch alloy wheels wrapped in sticky Michelin rubber.
It might not be a VXR, but Vauxhall claims it goes like one with a petrol GSi lapping the infamous Nurburgring a full 12 seconds faster than the last Insignia VXR. That margin wasn’t gained by adding power, but removing 160kg of weight and fettling the chassis. The GSi sits 10mm lower to the ground than standard and features reworked suspension as well as a set of Brembo brakes.
The interior is dominated by a pair of heavily-bolstered sports seats that were apparently inspired by the shape of a cobra. They look like seats to us and they’re certainly more comfortable than sitting on a snake thanks to being heated, ventilated and massaging. A smattering of fake carbonfibre can be found amongst some soft-touch materials, however, there are also plenty of harder plastics that detract from an otherwise grown-up feeling cabin. Rear passengers might find head room restricted due to the sloping roofline, but leg room is plentiful.
Infotainment is taken care of by an 8.0-inch touchscreen display which comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard. The system itself is easy to use, although it’s not the most graphically impressive. Audiophiles can also enjoy a premium Bose sound system at no cost.
Boot space isn’t bad, although smaller than that of a Ford Mondeo or Volkswagen Passat, with the hatchback providing a nice square opening.
How does it drive?
The Insignia GSi is offered in petrol and diesel flavour with the most potent being a 256bhp 2.0-litre petrol. Our test car might be the lesser 207bhp BiTurbo diesel, but it can deliver 354lb ft of torque from just 1,500rpm. Getting that performance to the ground is an 8-speed automatic transmission and an all-wheel drive system. It’s good for a 0-62mph time of 7.5 seconds and a top speed of 145mph — not too shabby for a car that’ll likely shuttle area managers up and down the M1.
As you might expect, this diesel GSi thrives on the motorway and uses its torque to make strong overtakes — perfect for scything through slower traffic on the way to a meeting. However, it doesn’t feel much more urgent than any other Insignia with this engine. There’s some gurgling under load, but it is remarkably quiet at cruising speeds. The gearbox does a decent job of blending gears together when left in automatic, although it can be hesitant when selecting ratios manually via the paddles — it’s best left to its own devices. Put the standard fit cruise control to work and this Insignia is a perfectly pleasant means of covering big distances.
The GSi has three different driving modes; Normal, Sport and Tour. We’d avoid Normal as this default setting makes the steering very light and totally devoid of feel. That said, we do like the GSI’s balance of body control and ride comfort, provided by the non-cost adjustable dampers in this mode. Considering it sits on 20-inch alloy wheels, the suspension absorbs the brunt of any pothole-related impact.
Sport mode goes some way to remedy the steering by adding weight for more precision. It still doesn’t provide much communication between Tarmac and driver, but you’ll at least have a bit more confidence in the car.
Something else that boosts confidence is the all-wheel drive system, which does a great job of maximising traction. There’s loads of grip and - in tandem with torque vectoring - the GSi feels agile for its size. The stiffer damper setting further improves body control, but the ride over high frequency bumps can become jarring. Thankfully Sport mode is customisable, allowing you to retain the more compliant dampers of the standard setting while reaping the benefit of a sharper throttle response and quicker gearshifts.
Tour softens the suspension and reduces throttle sensitivity, so think of it as a motorway setup.
There is actually another hidden mode that isn’t so easy to activate. Dubbed ‘Competition’, jabbing a couple of buttons in sequence will ease off the electronic nannies and allow the car to move around more. It doesn’t suddenly turn the GSi into a track star, but it’s certainly more fun and requires you to think a bit more about how weight is transferred around the car.
Should I buy one?
That depends on how you look at the Insignia GSi. If you expect it to be a ‘seat of your pants’ drive like a VXR, you’ll be disappointed. But viewed as a slightly hotter version of the Insignia, as opposed to a true sports saloon, it’ll certainly find a place on many driveways.
The bigger issue is that company car buyers will struggle to justify this diesel Insignia GSi. Fuel economy stands at a lowly 40mpg combined and with unusually high emissions of 186g/km CO2, it’s actually more costly on company car tax than a BMW 4 Series Gran Coupe xDrive20d or an Audi A5 Sportback, and we’d recommend either over the Vauxhall. After all, the GSi faces a BIK rate of 37% for 2018/19, or £396 a month for 40% tax payers, making it £50 a month more than the BMW and £30 more than the Audi.
Those buying the car for themselves, and who really have their heart set on the GSi, might want to consider the more potent petrol instead. Its added performance and Nurburgring bragging rights over the old VXR makes the small 7mpg deficit to the diesel worthwhile.