New GSi performance variant aims to boost the the appeal of what is already a practical, well equipped estate car

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Welcome back, GSi. It has been more than a decade now since the old Vectra (C generation) last wore that badge.

Back then, Vauxhall used it to mark out its fruitier model derivatives, until it was retired in favour of the more hardcore VXR series of vehicles.

The last Vauxhall to wear a GSi badge was discontinued more than a decade ago. It has been revived to identify a fast but usable performance derivative.

But VXR is now experiencing something of a hiatus. Click through to the Vauxhall VXR website and all you’ll find is a list of models that are no longer on sale. So where do you look if you fancy a Vauxhall with a bit more pep?

Now, as before, to a trusty, thrusty GSi.

With VXR out of the picture – for now, at least – that revived model derivative will serve as Vauxhall’s performance sub-brand, offering buyers a griffin-badged alternative to Ford’s ST and Volkswagen’s GTI range of cars.

Rather than reintroduce GSi on the back of a hot hatchback, though, Vauxhall has chosen its flagship Insignia to return GSi to the performance car landscape. And it hasn’t done things by half measures, either.

Former DTM (German Touring Car Masters) champion Volker Strycek – now Vauxhall’s director of performance cars and motorsport – led the Insignia GSi’s development programme; a programme that included plenty of time on track at the Nürburgring.

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In fact, Vauxhall claims the Insignia GSi is the fastest production car it has put around the circuit, knocking 12sec off the lap time set by the first-generation Insignia VXR. That’s not to say GSi is usurping VXR in like-for-like terms, though.

Despite Vauxhall’s touting of the Insignia GSi as being its new performance flagship, it has firmly said that VXR isn’t dead and that there will be new VXR-badged cars in future. Where VXRs will be more hardcore, uncompromising driver’s cars, GSis will always put plenty of emphasis on everyday usability.

Regardless, it sounds as though Vauxhall should have a fairly potent performance car on its hands with the new Insignia GSi. Will it pass muster under the microscope of the full Autocar road test, though? Let’s find out.

What Car? New Car Buyer marketplace


Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer GSI review hero rear

Just like any other Insignia, the GSi is available in either Grand Sport or Sports Tourer guises, and the choice of a petrol or diesel engine increases the number of possible model variations to four.

The quickest? That’s the Grand Sport with the 256bhp 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol motor – the same car that bettered the old Insignia VXR’s Nürburgring lap time despite having 65bhp less power. Being 160kg lighter than the older car was likely a key factor.

Although the GSi-specific front bumper doesn’t scream ‘performance’, it does lend the Insignia a more purposeful, muscular stance compared with its standard range-mates.

The Insignia GSi Sports Tourer we opted to test, however, is powered by Vauxhall’s diesel engine. It’s the same 2.0-litre four-cylinder biturbo unit you’ll find in the Insignia Elite Nav and Country Tourer models – and so, a touch disappointingly, perhaps not what you’d consider a dedicated ‘performance’ engine – but it makes a pretty healthy 207bhp at 4000rpm and 354lb ft from 1500rpm.

This is sent to all four wheels via an eight-speed automatic transmission – the first to be fitted to a Vauxhall – while a GKN Twinster e-diff aids traction by managing the distribution of torque actively between the rear wheels.

Structurally, the GSi sits on the same E2 platform that underpins all Insignia models. Suspension comprises MacPherson struts and coil springs at the front, with a five-link axle and coil springs at the rear.

For the GSi, though, Vauxhall has dropped the Insignia’s ride height by 10mm and stiffened the spring rates by between 35% and 40% depending on the engine and bodystyle.

Flexride adaptive dampers are standard fit and offer a choice of three configurations: Standard, Sport and Tour. All variants ride on 20in alloy wheels that are shod in 245/35-sized Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S tyres.

Each of these wheels is 1.5kg lighter than the comparable 20in alloy offered on lesser Insignia models. Four-cylinder Brembo front brakes also provide improved stopping power.


Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer GSI review dashboard

The Insignia GSi’s cabin doesn’t immediately strike you as one that has been given an appetite-whetting performance makeover.

A pair of leather-upholstered sports front seats are the clearest indicator that you’re in something with sporting ambitions. They’re fairly large but offer good lateral support and adjustability, allowing you to sit low down in the cabin for a more sporting driving position than in a normal Insignia.

Sports seats are the main draw in the GSi’s cabin. They’re heated and ventilated and offer plenty of adjustability and support.

Vauxhall’s Navi 900 Intellilink system isn’t the most advanced or impressive infotainment on the market, but it has all the key features you might need. Satellite navigation, DAB radio, Bluetooth connectivity, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are all included as standard, as is a Bose premium sound system.

The screen itself sits in a small recess in the dashboard and is easy to reach from the driver’s seat. It’s simple to navigate between the menus using the touchscreen itself, and buttons in the centre of the dashboard allow for quick navigation to the home screen and track selection.

Graphically, the satellite navigation system is fairly basic, but streets are clearly legible and directions easy to follow. Interestingly for a car at this price point, the Insignia GSi Nav doesn’t include a reversing camera.

The steering wheel adjusts for both rake and reach, so in terms of ergonomics, Vauxhall has done a commendable job. The material quality and richness you expect of a top-of-the-range performance derivative is notable largely by its absence, though.

Soft-touch plastics dominate the dashboard and harder, scratchier materials are used in the lower reaches – just as they are in a normal Insignia. Vauxhall has fitted chromed and piano black panelling in an apparent attempt at lifting the Insignia’s ambience, although this only really serves to leave the cabin feeling rather dull and monochrome.

Still, while the Vauxhall may not impress so much on a visual level, it champions practicality. Up front, there’s plenty of space between the driver and passenger, and those in the rear will find an abundance of leg and head room.

The main draw, though, is the Insignia Sports Tourer’s load-carrying ability. Lifting the tailgate reveals a large, wide boot aperture that provides access to a 560-litre cargo area when the rear seats are in place and 1665 litres with the back seats folded down.

The boot floor is flush with the rear bumper, so there’s no large lip to lift heavy items over, and a number of hooks provide handy mounting points to stop the weekly shop from sliding about on the way home.

For the sake of comparison, a Ford Mondeo estate offers between 500 and 1605 litres of luggage capacity depending on the seating configuration, and the Skoda Superb estate trumps both with 660 litres available with the rear seats in place and a cavernous 1950 litres if they’re folded flat.


Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer GSI review on the road side

You’ll know how important it is that pseudo-sporting models sound the part, right? You turn the key and are rewarded with an aggressive growl that hints at the potential.

Hmm. If you’re looking for that, the Insignia GSi diesel is not the car for you.

Load up the chassis in a corner and while the GSi is resistant to mid-corner bump steer, they thump noise into the cabin.

The Insignia GSi’s diesel engine is one you’ll find in the Elite Nav and Country Tourer models and it sounds as underwhelming here as it does in those applications.

There’s a top-endy kind of rattle that you won’t find in premium-badged alternatives, a lack of refinement that manifests itself as a constant backdrop to your driving, unless you’re at a barely open throttle motorway cruising speed, when (reasonable) road and (moderate) wind noise and the low revs afforded by the eight-speed auto render it inaudible.

At no point, anyway, does it sound powerful. It isn’t, either. Its 207bhp is not the sort of power output that would have you writing letters home, although its 354lb ft, which is developed from only 1500rpm, gives the GSi real-world acceleration of the useful kind.

The 0-60mph time of 8.4sec is no better than respectable (and comes with no scrabble, thanks to the GKN four-wheel-drive system) but the fact that it’ll mooch from 50mph to 70mph in 4.7sec on kickdown makes better reading.

If you’ve taken control via the diddy plastic wheel-fixed paddles and left the Insignia in, say, fourth gear, it’ll lug from 30mph to 70mph in 8.2sec, which doesn’t sound that special, because it isn’t. But bear in mind it’s faster than a previous-generation Volkswagen Golf GTI left in the same gear.

In ordinary, everyday driving, then, a GSi will be as brisk as you could reasonably expect, if short on what you’d hope for from a performance-oriented badge. Its gearchanges are smooth and efficient, with well-programmed shift patterns that don’t leave the GSi scratching around at no revs in a bid to improve fuel economy, as some rivals are prone to.

In our testing, Vauxhalls tend to get closer to their claimed fuel consumption figures than most rivals, as if they’ve been less optimised for the drive cycle. They’re better for it.

Our Insignia test car stopped spectacularly well. Conditions under wheel on Millbrook’s mile straight were only decent and it’s not like we’d been out warming the tyres but, still, a 70-0mph distance of 41.8m is seriously good. Anything that gets close to 40m is excellent. (A McLaren 720S only just stops short of 40m.)


Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer GSI review cornering front

The Insignia GSi can certainly handle itself on a challenging stretch of B-road.

Although you’re constantly aware that you’re driving a 1.8-tonne estate car, the manner in which the Insignia’s fettled suspension contains what is a large, heavy body – particularly with the Flexride adaptive damping system set to Sport – is quietly impressive.

For a car of its size, body control under direction changes is relatively impressive.

That’s not to say you can’t feel the car’s mass shifting about its lateral axis through faster bends – you can – but this happens in a progressive and controlled fashion, and sudden direction changes don’t greatly disturb the car’s particular meeting of stability and poise.

It’s a touch unfortunate, though, that a steering set-up short on contact-patch feel leaves the GSi with a driving experience that could be more involving. Feeling over-light and a little vague just off centre, it does weight up progressively as you add lock but it doesn’t become any more meaningfully communicative.

Switching to Sport mode goes some way to combating this by adding more weight, but the tactility hoped for of a really distinguished sports saloon isn’t there. So although there’s lots of outright grip and body control, the Insignia GSi isn’t quite the keen driver’s machine Vauxhall purports it to be.

The Insignia is capable of maintaining decent speeds around Millbrook’s hill route, to the extent that you can imagine why it’s capable of the otherwise irrelevant lap time around the Nürburgring. But don’t come to this car expecting levels of interaction or distinction like you’d get in a serious performance saloon.

There’s grip and the steering is linearly responsive. Body control is well contained too. There’s nothing here, though, that shouts interaction beyond that which you’d find in a car with an SRi or Elite badge, let alone a GSi model.

The diesel engine is audible and the automatic gearbox is ordinarily responsive, and although the Insignia is capable of high cornering speeds, it never makes you think you’re in a car that weighs less than it does or has any particular intention of entertaining you.

However, any diesel estate car’s outright dynamism ought to be judged in proportion to how it tackles arduous motorway miles – and here things are more positive. That stiffened suspension – while firm – doesn’t compromise the Insignia’s ability to absorb lumps and bumps too significantly, nor does it keep the car from settling into a comfortable, high-speed, long-distance cruise.

Our only gripe is the extra road roar created by those larger 20in alloys.


Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer GSI 2018 review hero front

There’s no difference in price between diesel and petrol versions of the Insignia GSi. Both variants of the Grand Sport cost from £32,975, which rises to £35,465 for the Sports Tourer estate.

Our test car, which was fitted with £715 worth of options, came in at £36,180. Standard kit includes satellite navigation, DAB radio, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity, leather sports seats, a head-up display and plenty of safety tech so, at a glance, it would seem you’re getting plenty of equipment for the money.

Insignia GSi is on a par with the cheaper Mondeo, but comes up trumps against the pricier Superb

However, an all-wheel-drive Mondeo ST-Line Edition estate with a 178bhp 2.0-litre diesel engine – which will set you back from £30,710 – comes with comparable levels of equipment.

Granted, you don’t get adaptive dampers or Brembo brakes, and there is a bit of a power deficit, but asking roughly a £5000 premium for a large estate that’s otherwise comparably equipped does seem excessive.

The Vauxhall doesn’t perform any better than the Ford in terms of depreciation, either. Over the course of 36,000 miles and 36 months of ownership, according to our experts’ predictions, both cars will retain 42% of their value.

As for CO2 emissions, Vauxhall says this Insignia model emits 187g/km, and its extra urban claimed fuel economy is a quoted 48.7mpg; and although we approached the latter on a sustained 70mph motorway run, neither figure will endear the GSi to many, given that the four-wheel-drive diesel executive wagons that the Insignia is seeking to undercut are pretty much all sub-140g/km prospects.

What Car? New Car Buyer marketplace


Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer GSI review static hero

Having proudly heralded the return of its old performance sub-brand, Vauxhall has proved itself crucially short on the commitment necessary to make much of an impact with the first of its new-age GSi models.

The Insignia GSi is a practical, well-equipped estate car whose ride and handling are reasonably good adverts for it, but its steering, diesel engine and price positioning don’t do it very many favours. As a debut for a revived GSi, then, the Insignia falls short.

Lacks the value appeal of range-mates. A disappointing return for GSi

For all of its Nürburgring development, it fails to capture your attention as a true driver’s car, more often feeling like a superficially warmed-up family estate. And for the money, there are more compelling affordable performance tourers.

A VW Passat GTE estate is quicker, more desirable and more interesting to drive and Kia’s Kia Stinger has a more distinguished and involving chassis.

Although it’s comfortable, composed and practical, the Insignia GSi simply fails to appeal in the way we think a performance variant should and it misses out on a top-five mention among its peers as a result.

What Car? New Car Buyer marketplace

Matt Saunders

Matt Saunders Autocar
Title: Road test editor

As Autocar’s chief car tester and reviewer, it’s Matt’s job to ensure the quality, objectivity, relevance and rigour of the entirety of Autocar’s reviews output, as well contributing a great many detailed road tests, group tests and drive reviews himself.

Matt has been an Autocar staffer since the autumn of 2003, and has been lucky enough to work alongside some of the magazine’s best-known writers and contributors over that time. He served as staff writer, features editor, assistant editor and digital editor, before joining the road test desk in 2011.

Since then he’s driven, measured, lap-timed, figured, and reported on cars as varied as the Bugatti Veyron, Rolls-Royce PhantomTesla RoadsterAriel Hipercar, Tata Nano, McLaren SennaRenault Twizy and Toyota Mirai. Among his wider personal highlights of the job have been covering Sebastien Loeb’s record-breaking run at Pikes Peak in 2013; doing 190mph on derestricted German autobahn in a Brabus Rocket; and driving McLaren’s legendary ‘XP5’ F1 prototype. His own car is a trusty Mazda CX-5.

Vauxhall Insignia Sports Tourer 2017-2019 First drives