If you hear the words Vauxhall and GSi in the same sentence – you will recall fond memories of the Nova and Astra – cars that set the hot-hatch market alight back in the day – today though; GSi is reborn on something very different.
As hot-hatches are getting bigger, so too are the demands of car owners and with increasing needs, the cars we drive are also vastly increasing in size – Vauxhall’s sales-rep and constabulary favourite – the Insignia, is far from a hot-hatch, but it now offers ‘performance through dynamics’ with the rebirth of the GSi badge.
You have read that correctly – Vauxhall have chosen their larger than life, hugely practical and family friendly Insignia as the first model to wear the GSi badge once again, a trim and performance level that hasn’t been seen in over a decade.
It’s been 12-years since we last could buy a GSi to be exact, and for the last decade we have become accustomed to the VXR model range – a range that saw refinement put out the window in aid of raw driving and sheer speed – racing inspired exhaust systems and sports seating most certainly appealed, but not to the masses.
GSi now fills the void for a car that offers performance with refinement, frugality and affordability – bringing a bit more than the SRi but not just as much as the VXR, it sits well as a car that will be sought after by many a car enthusiast, now married with a few dogs and a couple of kids, as well as being stylish and sporty enough for management to be seen driving as their company car.
Available in hatchback and estate guise, the latest Insignia is a real looker when in GSi trim, featuring model specific front and rear bumpers, side skirts and a rear spoiler alongside dual-exit exhaust system, rear privacy glass and 20-inch twin-spoke alloy wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres.
On both body styles, the boot is capable of absorbing a small hamlet, particularly handy for those with a young family whilst a hardware store collection, or run to the local amenity site will never be a trouble.
Inside the latest Insignia is a great improvement and despite not having as much luxury materials as some German rivals, who’s price tag is much heftier, there is soft touch everywhere and the dash is sculpted around the driver, it’s a very nice place to be.
With heated and cooled – massaging front seats, a heated steering wheel, and heated outer rear seats, the interior is monochrome with its black leather and white stitching, whilst the GSi specific front sports seats are not only super supportive but also incredibly comfortable.
Family life is easy with the Insignia GSi as ISOFIX seating fits in the rear without the need to move the front seats forward, resulting in an uncomfortable driving position, something only a car of this capacity can offer and four lengthy adults will even cope on a long drive with comfort.
An 8-inch screen is the hub of the infotainment which features navigation, OnStar app, phone connectivity, Bluetooth, AM/FM/DAB radio and a fantastic BOSE audio premium sound system whilst a head-up display aids viewing of vital data.
Two engines are available, starting with a 2.0L Bi-turbo diesel unit as tested in the model pictured, producing 207bhp with 354lb/ft whilst the more potent 2.0L turbocharged petrol provides 256bhp with 295lb/ft – both only come paired to an 8-speed automatic gearbox and an all-wheel-drive system.
Capable of a 0-60mph sprint in around 7-seconds with a claimed, combined economy, coming in at around 40mpg and 30mpg respectively, i personally didn’t see a return of even 30mpg in the diesel model over a couple of hundred miles of mixed driving during the week i had it, a little off the 40mpg claim and one that did disappoint a little.
The driving experience is greatly helped with the use of torque vectoring, technology that see’s Vauxhall being the first in this segment to use and it is ahead of much more premium rivals by doing so.
Vauxhall are so proud of their advancements in the mechanicals and enhanced driving experience, that I headed onto a recently used Circuit of Ireland Rally stage close to my home to gain a real-world feel for what the GSi is all about and having tested the car on track at launch, i knew it was capable, but just how would it cope on the narrow, bumpy and twisty lanes?
Well, I am genuinely miffed by what this all-wheel-drive, Ikea absorbing mode of comfortable transport is capable of, unlike many in this segment, it does not feel at all heavy over the bumps, the suspension smooth and precise and despite the lack of twin-clutch gearbox with a sporting pedigree, the 8-speed auto on offer is more than adequate.
Utilising the ‘flexride chassis’ – a fully integrated system offering 3 driving profiles; Tour – Normal – Sport, with an additional Competitive Mode activated via the ESC button which then allows the driver to be fully in control, this Insignia GSi easily adjusts from motorway rep mobile to a car willing to tackle the most enjoyable roads without a fuss.
One benefit of buying a new Insignia GSi in the UK is that Vauxhall UK have taken it upon themselves to spec the cars to a higher level than most other countries meaning there really isn’t much of a need for any expensive option boxes when ordering.
Priced as you see it in the pictures at £37,840 for the model tested, it is not exactly ‘cheap’, however it is unique and when pitched against a like-for-like rival, i am confident it would look much more affordable and I could easily see a GSi estate on my own drive, in petrol form, for added smiles.
I really do rate this car, however be warned, it is BIIIIIIG and navigating a multi-story car-park and limited spaces such like, can be a little daunting, with a simple 3-point turning, becoming a full workout at times…
Words and Photos: GRAHAM BAALHAM-CURRY
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