In recent decades fast Vauxhalls have borne the VXR badge. In the 90s, however, GSi was the designation used for the brand’s quicker-than-average models.
Now owned by PSA Group, Vauxhall have revived the GSi badge for the 21st century, hoping to capitalise market demand for quick – but not crazy-quick – hatchbacks and saloons. A look at the outputs available (a 260bhp petrol or a 210bhp diesel) shows the GSi engine fairly analogous with the top available tunings of Ford’s 2.0-litre Duratorq and 2.0-litre Ecoboost engines which are available in sporty ST-Line or luxury Vignale trim (in fact the GSi pips both slightly in the power stakes).
That’s a generous amount of power for a non-premium saloon (or estate, as with our test car), but not something that’s realistically going to be put up against super saloons like the Audi S4 or BMW M3.
Vauxhall Insignia GSi Nav Sports Tourer 2.0 BiTurbo 4×4 Auto
Price: £39,720 (£40,475 as driven)
Engine: 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, bi-turbo diesel
Top speed: 144mph
Acceleration: 0-60mph 7.4 seconds
Economy: 39.8mpg combined
But at £39,720 new it’s a good bit cheaper than high-spec German rivals too. The trouble is, that price does put it well and truly in the same ballpark as mid-range Audi A4s, BMW 3 Series, Volvo V60 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class models.
The question becomes then, are the sporty touches, 4×4 drivetrain and GSi badge enough to get the juices flowing when compared with an entry-spec but premium badged offering from elsewhere on the Continent?
Parking that question for now, I was impressed with the Insignia GSi. The standard Insignia had already won me over as the best-looking Vauxhall for years and lower down the range in particular it’s a seriously competitive option in the D-segment hatchback/saloon market.
The sporty bodykit (new side sills and bumpers), 20-inch alloy wheels and sports exhaust system make an already good looking car look even more imposing. Wide, low and purposeful, if you stick a Mercedes-Benz logo on the grille I don’t think anyone would raise an eyebrow.
Inside, the GSi adds a sporty flat-bottomed steering wheel, sports seats and perforated leather to the clean lines and solid build of the Insignia cabin. It lacks the density of material you feel in a premium model, but is streets ahead of the old Insignia interior in terms of style and feeling.
My only criticism of the interior is that it’s a little dull. A splash of red stitching or some contrast dash inserts would emphasise the sportiness of the model against the standard car further.
Where you ought to notice a real difference compared with the standard car is the handling. The springs are 40 per cent stiffer and 10 per cent lower than those in the standard model and the anti-roll bars help combat car’s natural understeer. Typically for a sporting model it’s been honed at the Nurburgring (it’s reportedly 10 seconds faster round the circuit than the old Insignia VXR Supersport) and as you might expect thanks to the four-wheel drive setup there is plenty of grip.
It’s a precision drive in the bends and the handling belies the car’s significant proportions. Despite those proportions, the current generation of Insignia is considerably lighter than the previous model.
That means the 210bhp diesel power plant in our test car can deliver a nought to 60 mph time of 7.4 seconds, while the petrol variant manages it in 6.9 seconds.
The stopping power from the Brembo brake calipers is impressive, at the other end of the scale.
Despite the sporty bodykit and all the tuning that’s gone into making this car feel more dynamic than, for example, Elite specification models running the same engines, this is still a practical, comfortable family estate.
The suspension might be stiffer and lower, but it’s not a back-breaking ride like some performance models. It might look low and sleek – but it still has bags of room inside and a 560-litre boot with the seats up.
In all, it’s an appropriately sporty and practical return to the market for the GSi badge. Manufacturers all know that British car buyers – far more so than those on the Continent – are bewitched by big alloy wheels on thin tyres, flashes of red brake calipers between the spokes and perforated leather stitching.
This subtly sporty offering should win a few admirers then. I suspect the relatively steep price could mean the GSi Insignia remains a rare car on our roads though.
The blend of comfort, practicality, power, Nurburgring pedigree and sporting precision will bewitch some, but many with £40,000 to invest in a set of wheels will likely plump for something more obviously German.