21-year-old W Series driver taken on by Williams F1
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£38,425 when new
What is it? It’s a warmed up Vauxhall Insignia. Not that you get any extra power (sorry to disappoint), but there are chassis tweaks and extra bits of kit. The suspension is 10mm lower, adaptive dampers are standard, the spring rates have been stiffened, and the four-wheel drive system with active torque vectoring has been recalibrated to make the car turn in more sharply. 20-inch wheels and tyres unique to the GSi have shaved an impressive 6kg off the unsprung weight. True to form for any aspiring warmed-over car, it also comes as standard with flappy paddles for the eight-speed auto. Inside, there’s a BOSE stereo, along with figure-hugging sports seats (reps had better lay off the motorway snacks) and a head-up display. Oh, and there’s also a bit of additional chrome finery on the exterior. The damage for all this tweakery? Anything from £32,975 for the hatch to £34,475 for the diesel Sports Tourer tested here. Not only is that a chunk more than rivals like the Mondeo ST-Line, it’s also roughly £4.5k more than the previously top-spec Elite Nav. That’s a punchy increase, despite all the extra kit and engineering.
So why are we here? Reading between the lines, this feels like a stop-gap before the VXR comes along. Vauxhall insists VXR isn’t dead, but any future hot Vauxhall will need some serious R&D work to develop all the hybrid systems that will be necessary to achieve the pace/economy balance that all manufacturers need to hit these days. That’s hardly the work of a moment, so a GSi badge can be the halo car for the time being. And has it made any difference? Yes. As with the normal car it rides well, even in the Sport setting. The steering is precise and the active torque vectoring makes the car turn in sharply – it feels a lot smaller than it actually is. It’s a relaxing car to drive at pace on your favourite B-road, far more than any of the VXRs. No wonder it’s quicker round the ‘Ring than the old Insignia VXR – that thing was an angry, chuntering handful over lumpy roads. This new GSi positively flows in comparison. But it’s not quick. The bi-turbo diesel we drove produces peak torque of 354lb ft from just 1,500rpm, but the build-up is more of a slow burner, rather than a kick-in-the-kidneys acceleration hit. One plus side, though, is that if you leave it in Sport (Tour and Normal are the other modes), the BOSE speakers pump out a synthesised engine note. And for once in this sort of system, it sounds OK. I can sense a ‘but’ coming. You’re right. While this Insignia is a decent bit of kit, and it’s definitely more exciting than the standard car, we can’t help but feel that it’s an answer to a question no-one asked. Was the Insignia really crying out for an extra degree of handling agility? Will any customer stroll into their local Vauxhall dealer and demand the ‘one that will make me look like a hero’? Fair play to Vauxhall for doing it, and its balance of handling and comfort bodes well for any up-coming VXR. But is it a halo model that’s going to be talked about in years to come? Probably not. 7/10