Vauxhall Insignia: GSi adds more sparkle to Insignia sheen
Anyone who followed my travails with the utterly hopeless Vauxhall Mokka will perhaps be surprised than I now look forward to spending time with one of the company's cars, writes William Scholes.
ANYONE who followed my travails with the utterly hopeless Vauxhall Mokka will perhaps be surprised than I now look forward to spending time with one of the company's cars, writes William Scholes.
That original Mokka was beyond dreadful. Climbing into a wardrobe and asking someone to push it down a long, hard flight of stairs is more comfortable than a journey in an early Mokka.
The watershed moment was when the current version of the Astra arrived. An outstanding and underrated car, it was evidence that Vauxhall had got its mojo back.
Everything Vauxhall has done since then has been of a high standard. They even managed to overhaul the Mokka into something beyond mediocre.
Best of the bunch is the Insignia. I have now spent quite a bit of time with the car in various combinations of engine and trim - there are a great many of both - and its different body styles, which Vauxhall calls Grand Sport and Sports Tourer, but which real people will refer to as hatchback and estate respectively.
Each time I've had the keys to one of these new Insignia models, I have come away more impressed than the last.
In basic form, it is a fine car - spacious, comfortable, nice to drive and rakishly stylish for a family holdall - but there are several specifications which elevate it far beyond the expectations you might have for what, at the end of the day, some might too easily dismiss as being simply 'a big Vauxhall'.
We enjoyed the off-roadish, jacked-up estate Country Tourer earlier this year - honestly, who needs an SUV? - and the latest to impress was the sporty-flavoured GSi.
This is a great looking car. Brembo brake callipers peep from behind tasty 20-inch alloy wheels, all the better to take advantage of a sleek body that sits 10mm lower thanks to suspension that has been tuned for a sportier drive.
There are some other modest cosmetic tweaks to the exterior but the GSi does not shout about its performance in the brash way that quick Vauxhalls of the recent past did.
Inside, the most obvious tell-tale that you are in the boss Insignia are its deeply bolstered leather bucket seats.
This is a great looking car. Brembo brake callipers peep from behind tasty 20-inch alloy wheels, all the better to take advantage of a sleek body
There's an inevitably subjective aspect to seat comfort in any car - my lanky frame puts different demands on a driving position than someone who is shorter or heavier, for example - but I found the GSi pews among the best I can remember.
They adjust every-which-way, are heated and ventilated, and manage the trick of offering both fatigue-reducing comfort and enough firmness to help you feel more involved in the car's movements - handy during, erm, spirited driving.
There's a nice steering wheel, aluminium pedals and black headlining, but other than that the interior is the more or less the same high quality item found in other Insignia models.
That also means there is boundless amounts of space, with back seat passengers particularly complimentary about the lounging room.
Given the Byzantine matrix of engines and trims that can confront anyone perusing one of its brochures, Vauxhall has managed to keep things pretty simple for the GSi.
There are two body styles - estate or hatch, naturally - and once you've decided that, your only other choice is whether you prefer to fill the tank with diesel or petrol.
The diesel is a brawny 207bhp, 354lb.ft 2.0-litre twin-turbo unit; the petrol is also a turbocharged 2.0-litre, with more power - 256bhp - but, with 295lb.ft, less torque.
The petrol is quicker and faster than the diesel - a top speed of 155mph and 0-62mph time of 6.9 seconds plays 145mph and 7.3 seconds - but there's little in it.
It is possible that the broader, torquier thrust of the diesel makes it the quicker as well as more relaxed companion in everyday driving.
Neither version, it should be said, has particularly outstanding fuel consumption (combined cycle for diesel 40.4mpg, petrol 32.8mpg).
Nor are the GSi's CO2 emissions.
These range between 186g/km and 199g/km, which may give company users, whose benefit in kind tax rate is based on CO2 figures, pause for thought
It also means car tax in the first year is a hefty £1,240.
Against these running costs, the GSi has a lot in its credit column to recommend it.
In addition to the way it looks, the flagship Insignia is technically very well endowed.
It has a eight-speed automatic gearbox that goes about its business with smooth efficiency; there are steering wheel-mounted shift paddles but the car does such a good job of managing the job on its own that in everyday driving it is best just to leave it to its own devices.
The GSi also has a sophisticated all-wheel-drive system, complete with trick kit including a twin-clutch differential on the rear axle and torque vectoring.
The suspension also has adaptive dampers, as part of Vauxhall's 'FlexRide' system.
As is the way of most modern cars, the driver can choose between several different modes to alter the behaviour of all this hardware, as well as some others.
Given the Byzantine matrix of engines and trims that can confront anyone perusing one of its brochures, Vauxhall has managed to keep things pretty simple for the GSi
The GSi's deserves praise for the fact that cycling between the drive modes - from the underwhelmingly named 'normal' to 'tour' to 'sport' - actually manages to elicit noticeable changes.
The most obvious of these, perhaps, is the way that sport mode makes its presence felt in the manner it makes the car feel more agile and playful, chiefly, I felt, because of how it changes the four-wheel-drive system's characteristics.
Still, it would be wrong to approach the GSi as if it were a full-fat, hardcore sports saloon. This is not a bargain-priced substitute for something like a BMW M3 or Audi S4 Avant.
Rather, the GSi is one of those rare cars that can be both satisfyingly quick when that's what you want or lazily refined and comfortable when you don't.
It is a highly satisfying car, one that gets under your skin the more miles you clock up in its fabulous seats.
The GSi is a deeply accomplished, large family car designed with the real world in mind, but with enough performance and discreet pizzazz to make the driver feel special from time to time.
I really enjoyed it, then - this new habit of giving Vauxhalls the thumbs-up is getting a bit boring, isn't it?
AT A GLANCE
Vauxhall Insignia GSi Grand Sport BiTurbo D
Price: £36,965. As tested £37,840, with winter pack £150 and tri-coat premium paint £725
Engine and transmission: 2.0-litre four-cylinder diesel turbo, eight-speed automatic gearbox, four-wheel-drive; 207bhp, 354lb.ft
Performance: Top speed 145mph, 0-60mph in 7.3 seconds
Fuel consumption and CO2: 40.4mpg (combined), 32.3mpg (real world), 186g/km
Car tax: £1,240 in first year, then £140 annually
Benefit in kind: 37 per cent
Euro Ncap safety rating: Five stars (93/85/78/69), 2017