PH goes record breaking in an Insignia GSI*


The return of the GSI is not only a big deal to Vauxhall, it's of considerable importance to PHers: the launch story from Frankfurt last year attracted more than 260 comments, after all. So when Vauxhall pitched to PistonHeads a launch drive with a difference, it seemed nothing less than our duty to take Luton up on it.

The original idea was to set three diesel production car lap records, in three countries, in 24 hours. Knockhill Monday afternoon, Oulton Park Tuesday lunchtime and Anglesey before the sun went down on the same day. Simple, right? Not the case as it turned out, as the Anglesey lap was kiboshed just a couple of days before we were due to travel. So it would be two circuits, two record laps, two countries and 24 hours. Even simpler, then, and ample opportunity to see if the Insignia is good enough to lure buyers from their SUVs.

Cynical yet? Of course. In the same way this could have been a red Vauxhall hatchback lap record or lap record for people called Matthew born in December, the target is so tremendously specific that even pushing it around would claim the record. Indeed, as a friend so accurately suggested, an Audi SQ7 would surpass anything the mighty Vauxhall could lay down. And yes, Knockhill is further from London than Le Mans. Quite a lot further. But then David Leslie and John Cleland didn't have rapturous fans cheering them on in Cavalier GSIs at Le Mans now, did they?


Poor photographer Luc has to put up with my banal chat for hour after hour as the M6 gradually gets prettier and the border approaches. However the Insignia is - no particular surprise, granted - ideal for the journey: while on optional 20-inch wheels the road noise is a bit much, the seats are absolutely fantastic, the engine is hushed, the stereo is decent and it tracks beautifully. Perhaps an overly specific point, but when you spend hours on the motorway it's nice to have complete faith in what the car is doing. The GSI also feels immensely solid, every surface and interaction with it having a reassuring heft to it. Does this have a weight penalty? Well Vauxhall insists not - 160kg less than an Insignia VXR, it says - but by our maths that still makes for 1,665kg. And that's assuming it's correct...

Whatever, we arrive at Knockhill in reasonably good spirits, the afternoon dry at least and looking as exciting as it did on the McLaren P1 drive (one lap the Vauxhall should be quicker than, at least, limited as the hypercar was to 70mph). Still, once the car is cleaned and Luc is happy with his photography, there's precious little time left to actually, y'know, do some laps. And while it wasn't going to be a blistering circulation of Knockhill's 1.2 miles, it would be nice to give a decent account of both the car and, to a lesser extent, the driver.

Vauxhall makes big claims about the GSI's circuit suitability, equipment including Brembo brakes, torque vectoring all-wheel drive, a 'Competition' drive mode and Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S tyres. And while it won't be anybody's first choice for just one last lap, the big Vaux gives a better account of itself than you might imagine. In the more aggressive of the 'Flexride' drive modes, the GSI is assured and capable enough, dealing with Knockhill's bumps, kerbs and undulations well. There's still movement in the chassis, because this is a big saloon at the end of the day, but it's controlled and well managed rather than floppy and vague.


Anybody expecting Focus RS style histrionics from the GKN 'Twinster' twin-clutch diff in the Insignia will be disappointed, though you'd have to question why they were looking for them in the first place. What it offers in the Vauxhall is good neutrality, even on track, the car reluctant to understeer and feeling pretty balanced, the sensation for the driver being of equal parts push from the back and pull from the front. Make your own jokes there, but you see the point...

What you'll probably see as well is that I'm avoiding mention of a lap time. Well given it was timed solely on the Insignia's onboard stopwatch by yours truly and not a single other witnessed it, you'll have to just believe the 1:09 that we recorded. Hardly a rocketship, by any standards. And perhaps the most tenuous lap record yet. (It was actually stopped on 1:08, the extra second added in case the clock started late; interestingly this page suggests a Ferrari 308 did a 1:08.594 - so there.)

With the Brembo brakes feeling (and smelling) rather less confidence inspiring than they did on the road, we head to the nearby Dunfermline Travelodge for some well earned rest. We have Matt Prior in tow with a Subaru WRX STI now, with the plan to shoot that the next morning while still leaving enough time to get down to Oulton for my second 'record lap'. The best laid plans of mice and men, right Burnsy?


Luc wants to go to Cappercleuch to take pics of the Subaru, because it's quiet and there's a lovely road that runs by St Mary's Loch that would be good for some photography from the Vauxhall. Unfortunately the weather takes a real turn, snow coming across horizontally and laying faster than it can be driven into mush on the minor roads. It's really sketchy at points, speed down below 20mph and confidence plummeting despite the 4WD of both cars. Nothing to make you have faith in your car like a Subaru struggling to move right ahead of you...

Still, we persevere (well, Luc does, Matt and I stay warm in our cars) and, with the photography done, I'm free to head to Oulton Park with plenty of time in hand. The weather, however, has other plans...

Heading towards Moffat to pick up the A74 the snow gets worse, to the point where road, verge and sheep all largely look the same. With 13 miles until the junction I stop and turn around, because it just feels too risky for what we stand to gain, even if that will be record-breaking worldwide internet superstardom. After what feels like the most treacherous three-point turn (that becomes about 11-point) ever executed, I'm on my back in the wrong direction, past those scamps with the Subaru and heading towards the A7 to meet the M6 that way.


While it would be nice to tell a heroic tale of time made up, of the Insignia's 354lb ft surging the car past everything between the Borders and Cheshire, it wasn't to be. The A7 is slushy, quite slow and, on occasion, rather scary as the car struggles to find purchase. Combine that with the longer route and even before I'd left Scotland the nav was saying we'd be late (the plan being to lap in the lunch break of a track day).

So, disappointingly for my record-setting aspirations, there was nothing left to do but continue through the downloaded Desert Island Discs episodes and watch the miles fall - there wasn't going to be any more circuit heroics in the Vauxhall.

Still, I did get to Oulton Park, just about two hours later than I originally planned. With a sticker purchased for some sort of posterity and the tank brimmed - sadly the GSI averaged just 36mpg for the whole trip - the five hours or so home from Cheshire should have been a breeze.


And they were, actually, which was extremely welcome after the morning's drama. Fulfilling the cliché to a tee, the Insignia ferried a person who really wanted to just be at home down the M6, M40 and M25 with consummate ease. Its ability to shrink huge motorway distances is incredibly impressive, and will surely appeal strongly to a lot of potential customers. Probably even more than the Competition drive mode.

Mercifully the M25 is clear of both snow and most of the traffic by the time I reach it, so the remainder of the journey is painless. To be honest, after the snow and a brief race against the clock, it's actually quite relaxing. Nothing to focus the mind like a spurious record attempt, it turns out!

With all that done, though (alright, half done is you're being picky), what can be made of this return for the Vauxhall GSI badge? While it may not be as deeply desirable to enthusiasts as some of its illustrious predecessors, this Insignia is a broadly talented and very capable car. At no point on our adventure (perhaps apart from when it was really snowy) did it ever feel out of its depth, performing with aplomb throughout. The biggest issue the Insignia GSI faces, it seems - beyond a rather ordinary diesel engine - is that cars of its ilk simply aren't what buyers are after anymore. However, should you not be part of the crossover clan, this big Vauxhall proves that there's still a lot to be said for a well developed D segment family car. So it's not cool, this GSI - but it is quite good.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Comments (37) Join the discussion on the forum

  • Gandahar 22 Feb 2018

    You failed because that is a Volvo!

    Actually the new Insignia looks pretty good, especially in the flesh. I fear people now think of it as the modern day Montego though compared to everyone wanting something made in a certain country in Europe that shall not be named.

  • mon the fish 22 Feb 2018

    Not been in a Vauxhall for a few years but the interior of that looks quite nice - makes a change seeing the screen in, rather than on, the dash. Dials look nice as well - looks up to the standard of ze Germans but as has been said no-one will buy it anyway

  • Davie 22 Feb 2018

    As a former owner of many a GSi badged Vauxhall, part of me died when I put two and two together and realised this is in fact a diesel... I know it make sense, I know there's bucket loads of torque but part of me thinks that's not right. It'd be like Ford sticking an RS badge on a diesel Mondeo.

  • TheBALDpuma 22 Feb 2018

    Bluehawk said:
    Last time I looked these circuits were in the same country:

    "The original idea was to set three diesel production car lap records, in three countries, in 24 hours. Knockhill Monday afternoon, Oulton Park Tuesday lunchtime and Anglesey before the sun went down on the same day. Simple, right? Not the case as it turned out, as the Anglesey lap was kiboshed just a couple of days before we were due to travel. So it would be two circuits, two record laps, two countries and 24 hours. Even simpler, then, and ample opportunity to see if the Insignia is good enough to lure buyers from their SUVs."

    Does anyone proof read these articles any more?
    I know anyone can make an error, but recent articles are littered with them.
    Knockhill - Scotland
    Anglesey - Wales
    Oulton - England

    Last time I looked, these were three different countries.

  • Turbo-Dan 22 Feb 2018

    Davie said:
    As a former owner of many a GSi badged Vauxhall, part of me died when I put two and two together and realised this is in fact a diesel... I know it make sense, I know there's bucket loads of torque but part of me thinks that's not right. It'd be like Ford sticking an RS badge on a diesel Mondeo.
    Exactly, or like BMW sticking ///M badges all over a 318d.. oh wait. Joking aside I know what your saying but sadly I think a lot of manufacturers these days are ruining the heritage of badges that people once respected. I have an M135i, I don't completely agree with it having the 'M' because it's not really a full fat 'M' car, If that makes sense.

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