What is it?
The Vauxhall Insignia GSi revives a long-lost badge on a more overtly sporty version of the large fleet car.
Sports styling, diesel version, all-wheel-drive
The Vauxhall Insignia GSi is a new option for those that enjoy enthusiastic driving, without going to extremes. While no more powerful than other Insignias, its chassis is extremely well balanced, particularly effective on flowing cross-country routes.
Adding the GSi brings the Insignia firmly into competition with cars such as the Ford Mondeo ST-Line and Volkswagen Passat S-Line, but without leaving them in its wake.
The launch of the Vauxhall Insignia GSi marks the return of a badge not seen on one of the brand’s models for ten years. The moniker suggests sportiness, so what is it doing on a car regarded as a staple in the fleet market?
The answer is to give the big car some extra image at a time when it, and its entire sector, is under attack. Those who used to choose such big saloons or estates as a matter of course are now going increasingly for SUVs, while fleet types are being drawn to the likes of BMW and Audi as the premium brands try to snap up sales from customers who were once regarded as below them.
Vauxhall thinks there is still mileage in this market though, evident in the fact that when the Iatest-generation Insignia launched in 2017, it gained extra snappy names – Grand Sport for the hatch and Sports Tourer for the estate. We’ve since seen a more off-road themed variant in the Country Tourer, and now the GSi becomes the new ‘halo model’, the range-topper.
Previously that job was done by the Insignia VXR, and while announcing that the Corsa supermini will also soon get the GSi treatment, Vauxhall insists this is not the end for VXR – in future, such cars will be more hardcore, while the GSi way will be a more ‘real world’ sensible sportiness.
Evidence of this is the fact that there are no engine upgrades to the GSi – all the performance work has been done to the chassis. Yet in petrol form (yes, there is also a diesel variant) the GSi has lapped the renowned 14-mile Nurburgring test track 12 seconds quicker than the VXR variant of its predecessor…
Evidence of the ‘sensible sporty’ image is clear in the Insignia GSi’s visual upgrades. The looks are bolder but not outrageously so. And UK buyers get more bling as standard than their European equivalents – a larger rear spoiler and 20-inch alloy wheels are standard on Brit versions.
In terms of rivals, Vauxhall sees the GSi taking on the Ford Mondeo ST-Line and Volkswagen Passat R-Line. For GSi, money one can have the Ford with similar power output but not all-wheel-drive, or less power and AWD. The Passat S-Line comes in at 20hp less and again in 2WD form – to get AWD you need to pay an extra £5,000 or so for the 240hp variant.
Bravely, Vauxhall also tells us that they could steal some sales back from the premium sector, suggesting that an Insignia could be a much more economic option compared to something from Audi’s S model line-up for example.
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- Vauxhall Insignia Grand Sport review
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Buying and owning a Vauxhall Insignia GSi
The Vauxhall Insignia GSi is pitched as a range-topping model and offered in both Grand Sport hatch and Sports Tourer estate variants.
It gains the most powerful options in the diesel and petrol engine range, both of 2.0 litres and offering 210hp in the diesel and 260hp in the petrol. These engines are both familiar, already available in other Insignia variants, and as mentioned there are no power upgrades – the car’s secret is elsewhere, as we will see shortly.
An eight-speed auto transmission is standard equipment, with manual shift paddles and modified to provide more slick shifts than on the standard car. It is combined with an all-wheel-drive transmission described as ‘unique to the segment’ by Volker Strycek, a former top German racing driver and as head of Vauxhall-Opel’s performance department responsible for applying the GSi effect to the Insignia.
The AWD centres on a twin-clutch torque-vectoring unit; it constantly varies the grip applied dependent on the road conditions, and as a result particularly improves the performance out of corners, eliminating understeer – a tendency to go straight on rather than turn as the driver desires.
It is on the chassis where the team led by Strycek have carried out most of their work. The new Insignia starts off with an advantage by being up to 160kg lighter than its predecessor, modern metals, in particular, cutting poundage from the body.
Start point was to drop the GSi’s ride height a centimetre lower than the stock car. It employs bespoke springs, dampers, anti-roll bars and driveshafts, while the GSi-specific wheels and tyres cut unsprung weight on each corner by 1.5kg. Brakes from racing supplier Brembo are fitted, with larger front discs.
Further changes have been carried out to the car’s Flexride active suspension system, retuned for the GSi’s role. It includes a Sport mode with configurable settings plus a ‘Competitive Mode’ – an on-track setting which reduces the input of the car’s electronic stability control and allows more aggressive cornering.
Range-topping status brings with it a long equipment specification. The standard list includes a host of technology, including keyless entry and start, an eight-inch colour touchscreen, navigation, Bose premium sound system, head-up display and Vauxhall’s On Star connectivity and emergency service. Heating extends to the front and outer rear seats and the steering wheels, while those up front also get massaging and seat ventilation.
More potency requires a safety specification up to the mark. The Insignia gained a five-star Euro NCAP crash-test rating when tested in 2017. However, it’s worth noting that significant safety items require options list spending – a rear camera is £350, adaptive cruise control £570, while £1,025 buys a ‘driver assistance pack’ including park and lane-change assistance, a 360-degree camera and a rear cross traffic alert.
Inside the Vauxhall Insignia GSi
The interior of the GSi is similar to other Insignia models, with some notable upgrades, particularly in the sports seats – another aspect that UK buyers get as standard while their European equivalents have to spend on the options list.
These seats are specially designed units, inspired by those made by specialist Cobra for racing cars – they are lighter even than the specific Recaro units fitted in the previous Insignia VXR, and they have more precisely sited seat belt routing at shoulder height. As well as all the functions already described they are swathed in leather.
Ahead the driver enjoys the much more effective cockpit design that debuted with the new Insignia range. The central touchscreen removes many extraneous buttons, making for a much less cluttered look and encouraging a more premium feel to the car.
The latest Insignia boasts a wheelbase stretched more than 9cm over its predecessor, which translates to plenty of interior space. However, the sloping roofline of the hatch does make for cosy rear-seat headroom, and while the boot looks big rivals offer significantly more actual space.
Driving the Vauxhall Insignia GSi
The launch event served up just the diesel variant of the GSi – despite everything that is happening around diesel at present, Vauxhall still expects this to account for a higher percentage of the car’s sales.
For a start, it’s cheaper than the petrol engine, with better economy and emissions – though beaten very significantly in this area by rivals from other brands. And while some 50 horsepower less potent than its petrol sibling, it is highly flexible, with its entire 480Nm torque offering on offer from a mere 1,500rpm.
Combine this engine with the grippy all-wheel-drive system and the significant chassis upgrades and the real attraction of the Insignia GSi becomes very apparent. Strycek and his team certainly know their stuff – this is an exceptionally well-balanced car, and at its best when one takes on a swift, flowing cross-country route.
Performance-pitched cars normally come with compromises – most often rock-hard suspension that can soon become wearing particularly on the small of the back. Not the GSi – on the motorway it is a comfortable, refined cruiser, and pointed at a B-road peppered with fast bends it will surprise any enthusiastic driver. It doesn’t feel particularly fast, but it does feel fun to drive.
Vauxhall insists that the Insignia GSi is not a replacement for the VXR and this is true – it’s not quick enough to offer the image of an outright performance car.
Equally, however, it does not come with the limitations one gets used to with VXR, models you can’t really use every day unless you are some kind of masochist. The GSi you can – it offers enough beautifully balanced, swift progress to enjoy, without sacrificing the comfort you need.
Buy a GSi and you will also be driving a reasonably exclusive car – the Insignia sells around 25,000 examples a year but Vauxhall’s number crunchers expect only around 500 of these to be GSi models. They will also be more highly biased to retail sales than the Insignia’s usual fleet majority – few user choosers are likely to persuade their fleet manager to let them drive a GSi.
Should you choose a GSi? Well, it will appeal to a very specific audience. Rivals from Ford and Volkswagen offer better economy but not all the specification for the money, while it’s difficult to see too many choosing this car over a BMW or an Audi, unless funding really is the critical factor.
In such circumstances, and for those who like to drive enthusiastically without requiring performance to track day levels, the Insignia GSi is certainly worth a look.