A quarter of a century after the GSi badge first appeared on a Vauxhall, the letters that used to mark out the company’s high-performance models are back – on a range-topping version of the new Insignia.
In effect a replacement for the VXR, the Insignia GSi is available in two bodystyles: the Grand Sport hatch and the Sports Tourer estate we’re driving here. Buyers have the option of a diesel engine, too. The 207bhp unit we’re testing is the only alternative to a 256bhp petrol motor, in fact.
Thanks to its sports suspension, the GSi sits 10mm lower than a regular model, and its 20-inch alloys, bespoke bumpers and sills, LED headlights and gleaming exhaust pipes all make it stand out from lesser Insignias. Inside, the excellent leather sports front seats and the flat-bottomed steering wheel are also unique to the GSi, as is the head-up display.
However, when you first drive off in this ‘sports model’, you may wonder what all the fuss is about. The eight-speed automatic transmission is quite slow to get the car going, so it doesn’t seem all that quick in stop-start traffic.
Things improve out of town, but the GSi never feels particularly fast. In part, that’s because of the relatively slow way in which the auto box responds – although Sport mode speeds things up or you can change gear manually. But it’s also because this is a heavy car, weighing more than 1,800kg.
The sports chassis, on the other hand, is much more impressive. The GSi certainly has a slightly firmer feel, but it’s far from uncomfortable. Thanks to the FlexRide adaptive damping system, drivers have various modes to choose from, but we found Normal to be the best balance for everyday use. The settings also affect the response of the steering, gearbox and throttle.
Overall, the GSi is a little softer in the way it drives than the old VXR. But with its standard four-wheel-drive system (including torque vectoring), the overall result is a car that feels tremendously sure-footed. There’s loads of grip from the tyres, and thanks to the excellent traction, you can put the power down very soon as you come out of a corner.
The Brembo brakes do a great job, too, but the one weak link is the steering, which never provides enough feedback. And that, sadly, means the GSi isn’t a terribly engaging car to drive.
At least you don’t lose any of the Insignia’s practicality by opting for this flagship model. It’s every bit as spacious, versatile and accommodating as the regular Sports Tourer, and it gets lots of kit included as standard as well.
The trouble is, it all comes at a high price. Costing just shy of £34,500, this is the most expensive model in the Insignia line-up. It carries a £4,500 premium over an Elite Nav version, in fact, and costs about the same as several competitors wearing more prestigious badges than the Vauxhall.
What’s more, lesser Insignia Sports Tourers still look good, are well equipped and drive very nicely – arguably even better than the GSi, if comfort is your priority – so you can get everything that’s good about an Insignia for a lot less money.