These days, it feels like the once indefatigable family saloon is slowly being squeezed off our roads. The rise of increasingly spacious hatchbacks and increasingly hatchbacky SUVs has left the one-time family stalwart standing on an ever-eroding island of the market, fingers twiddling nervously behind its back. Diversification would seem to be the route to salvation, with many previously middle-of-the-road saloons going premium or even electric in search of a wider audience.
Vauxhall’s solution? Ditch the saloon altogether. It should, perhaps, come as no surprise to any of us that the 2017 Vauxhall Insignia debuted solely in hatchback and estate guise. It’s on the hatchback platform, or Grand Sport, that the newly French-owned manufacturer is basing its hottest derivative yet of the new generation Insignia, the GSi.
Keen observers amongst you might recall the GSi label as a relic from the days of the now defunct Vectra. Since then, Vauxhall’s heaviest hitters have worn the VXR moniker. Though the 2017 Insignia hasn’t got the VXR treatment just yet, this GSi variant does go some way to bridging that gap.
With its running trainers on, Vauxhall’s heavily revamped new flagship sports a distinctive pair of chrome-framed air intakes at the front and rear, a modest spoiler and twin chrome-edged exhaust pipes. Whilst the interior is no fighter cockpit, the GSi does get a few more athletic touches, including a D-shaped leather sports steering wheel and aluminium pedals.
It requires a little more digging to discover the GSi’s most significant new toys. After all, Vauxhall’s engineers didn’t test their high-performance Insignia on the Nürburgring for no reason. The addition of a specially developed mechatronic Flexride chassis adapts suspension and steering characteristics on the fly, while shorter sports springs and shock absorbers provide a firmer, more track-centred ride. However, it’s the key addition of all-wheel drive that really earns the GSi its racing stripes. With torque vectoring on-board, the new Insignia GSi keeps understeer under wraps. Elsewhere, powerful Brembo brakes lend some extra stopping power to the 18-inch wheels. Also available with 20-inch alloys, the GSi wears a set of Michelin Pilot Sport tyres as standard.
On top of the three standard driving modes from the Insignia Grand Sport and Sports Tourer, the GSi gets an additional ‘Competition’ setting that disables traction control for some driving ‘au-naturel’.
Under the bonnet sits the Insignia range’s most powerful engine, a turbocharged 2.0 litre petrol unit. With 256bhp and 295lb-ft torque on tap, the GSi actually laps the Nürburgring Nordschleife faster than the previous generation Insignia VXR despite giving away 69bhp. The new Insignia GSi is, however, 160kg lighter than its nominal predecessor and uses a more efficient eight-speed automatic gearbox with paddle shift; hence the quicker time around Germany’s most infamous 12.9 miles of asphalt.
The spritelier new Vauxhall Insignia GSi hatchback makes its public debut at the 2017 Frankfurt Motor Show in September.