Vauxhall's Insignia GSi is a deceptively quick package. Jonathan Crouch takes a look at the improved 230PS version.
The fastest Vauxhall Insignia, this Gsi model, isn't quite as wild as its Insignia VXR predecessor was but it's smarter and arguably faster in the real world. Four wheel drive is still a key part of the package now based around 230PS 2.0-litre petrol power, with near 150mph performance. Plus there's a new 9-speed paddleshift auto gearbox and some clever electronics to get torque to the tarmac. It's a lot of car for around £35,000.
Vauxhall has a very creditable history when it comes to high performance versions of its sporty mainstream models and some of the very best of them were made in the Eighties and Nineties sporting 'GSi' badges. That's a moniker the company revived at the launch of this Insignia GSi in early 2018.
Ex-DTM Champion Volker Strycek and a crack team of engineers were briefed to take this fairly standard package and create something really special from it. They lowered the car, gave it bigger brakes with grippier tyres and added stiffer springs that work through a bespoke FlexRide adaptive damping system with an extra 'Competition' setting. They also added a twin clutch differential for the rear axle which allows more torque to be sent to the outside rear wheel when cornering. All of this was honed throughout an extensive development programme at the classic Nurburgring Nordschleife racetrack. More recently, this model gained a new 2.0-litre 230PS petrol engine, creating the car we're going to look at here.
This generation Insignia Gsi has never had the throaty V6 powerplant used in its VXR predecessor model, but it has been fitted with quite a variety of engines. The original launch fanfare was based around the fact that in 2.0-litre 260PS petrol form, it was faster around the industry's benchmark test track, the infamous Nurburgring Nordschleife; 12 seconds faster in fact. But that powertrain didn't last very long for UK buyers and the Insignia Gsi range was quickly slimmed down to a single 210PS CDTi turbo diesel. Now that engine's also been discontinued and buyers of this car instead revert to a new 2.0-litre petrol unit with cylinder deactivation, this engine developing 230PS.
But of course it's not what you have but how you use it. The Brembo brakes and direct steering system of this enhanced Gsi model have been improved but otherwise, all the handling mechanicals remain unchanged. This car's sophisticated intelligent all-wheel drive system uses a state-of-the-art rear torque vectoring system. Here, a clever twin-clutch set-up - the so-called 'Twinster diff' - can apply torque to one or both of the rear wheels independently. When cornering quickly, more torque is sent to the outside rear wheel, improving traction and ensuring that there's far more of a feeling of precision when you turn in. That's ideal if, for example, one of your wheels happens to be slightly off the ground, as it might be if you were taking a fast, bumpy turn at speed.
This new engine is mated to a freshly designed, super-slick 9-speed auto gearbox that comes with the requisite steering wheel paddles. It offers 350Nm of torque and a 62mph sprint time of well under 8s. The brand's 'FlexRide' driving modes system is standard, complete with adaptive damping. The driver can choose between the driving modes 'Standard', 'Tour', 'Sport' and - exclusively for the Gsi - 'Competition'.
The brand reckons that this improved Insignia Gsi looks smarter - thanks to the adoption of piercing Intellilux LED headlights. And the company's stylists believe the car also looks lower and wider than it previously did, thanks to the position of the air inlets with their integrated fog lamps. The prominent grille and those slim-line headlamps enhance the wide horizontal design of the front end and provide it with a bold appearance. You can now only have a five-door hatch version of this car which, as before, comes with a package of subtle sporting styling cues. The Gsi logo can be seen at the rear of the car, which carries a spoiler to deliver additional levels of downforce to the rear axle. The rear also features two chrome-edged exhaust pipes, and smart, pronounced chrome air intakes can be found near the front wheels. All Insignia Gsi's come equipped with unique wheels and tyres, combined with Brembo four-cylinder brakes at the front. The rims are special 20-inch, flow-formed items, and when combined with the lighter Michelin Pilot Sport 4-S tyre, each item weighs 1.5 kilograms less than the regular 20-inch wheel/tyre on other Insignia models.
Inside, there are AGR-certified sports seats developed by Vauxhall provide increased lateral support and long-distance comfort. These offer ventilation, heating, massage and adjustable side bolsters. There's a leather steering wheel with a flattened lower section, plus aluminium pedals and black headlining.
Vauxhall emphasises the performance-per-pound value proposition of this car: that'll depend on your perspective of course. Prices start at around £35,000 for the single GrandSport hatch body style. The asking figures include 20-inch wheels, a GSi bodykit, a special sports chassis and the FlexRide driving modes system with adjustable damping.
Inside, you get a flat-bottomed sports steering wheel, aluminium pedals and perforated full-leather upholstery that also features on grippy sports seats that have been given the seal of approval by German 'healthy back' specialists 'Aktion Gesundfer Rucken'. These chairs are 18-way power-adjustable, are heated and have active ventilation and even a massage function. Heated rear seats, a Head-up display, a top-spec 6-channel, a 7-speaker BOSE audio system and twin rear USB ports are also included. Customers can specify the seats in one of two leather combinations, each featuring the prominent Gsi emblem. Infotainment is taken care of by a 'Navi 900 Intellilink' system that comes with a large 8-inch screen. Plus there's a smartphone app that can remotely lock or unlock the doors, check your oil life or, if you've lost this Vauxhall in a busy carpark, it can sound the horn or flash the lights.
Insignia GSi customers can expect to manage up to 38.0mpg (WLTP) and 193g/km (NEDC) which, thanks to the cylinder deactivation system in the new 2.0-litre 230PS petrol engine, isn't much different to what this car could manage in its previous 210PS 2.0 CDTi diesel form.
Obviously, the key criteria in fuel and CO2 returns lies with the way you'll be driving the car. An 'Eco Index' option in the 'info' part of the instrument binnacle display provides a coloured bar that helps you drive more economically. On to maintenance issues. Both engines share the same one year or 20,000-mile service intervals and you can download a provided 'My Vauxhall' app onto your phone that sets up reminders about servicing and MoTs and helps you find the most convenient garage to your location. Another part of the instrument binnacle's 'info' section has an option that allows you to view remaining oil life. If anything goes wrong that's not supposed to, you're covered by a three-year, 60,000-mile warranty that includes 'Vauxhall Roadside Assistance' breakdown cover. This can be extended by up to two years and up to a maximum of 100,000 miles at extra cost.
Of course, this Insignia Gsi doesn't have the image of the kind of German mid-sized model you might ordinarily have thought you'd be considering armed with this kind of budget. But Vauxhall has now got much closer to the kind of quality that Teutonic makers will deliver. And of course you get far more standard equipment than the premium brands would ever offer you. All well and good, but what we're supposed to be evaluating here is the performance proposition. Does this car really feel track-tuned, in keeping with its Nurburgring development heritage? Not really. The steering's still not sharp enough and the 230PS 2.0-litre petrol powerplant on offer isn't the kind of engine that'll make you want to dig out your crash helmet.
No, what we have here is more of a GT than a Gti demeanour - and that'll probably be all to the good when it comes to the needs of most likely buyers. These people might like the idea of the Nordschleife, but what they actually need is a car whose primary capabilities lie in the way it can tackle the North Circular. Which leaves us with what? A pretty polished attempt at turning a fleet favourite into a credible driver's car without adding in unnecessary extra power. Most Gsi owners will never experience just how dynamically capable this car can be. But take it from us: the job's been done properly.
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