A resurgence in horsepower one-upmanship is resulting in huge outputs from hatchbacks and saloons, but the approach taken by Opel in attaching the GSi name to its Insignia Grand Sport is to create a car that focuses on the driving experience rather than outright performance. We've already experienced the biturbo diesel Insignia GSi, now it's time to test drive the more potent petrol version.
In the metal
The Insignia GSi benefits in the looks department by starting from an already strong base. Even in its more regular trim, it's a handsome car, and the GSi treatment adds bespoke 20-inch wheels, behind which lurk beefy Brembo brakes. A purposeful-looking body kit differentiates the car's exterior, while chrome-look surrounds have been added to the front bumper's lower intakes. Mildly flared sills, a subtle lip spoiler extending from the rear hatch and a unique rear bumper signify the car's sportier intent. Pick an exterior colour other than the vibrant red of our test car and you'll have a reasonably subtle machine.
Minor changes to the car's interior focus on figure-hugging sports seats, which are electrically adjustable and feature both heating and ventilation. Additionally, Opel has obtained AGR certification for these seats that get the approval of Germany's chiropractic professionals. Aluminium pedals, wheel-mounted smaller black plastic gear shift paddles and a sports steering wheel partly upholstered in perforated leather round off what are modest but welcome enhancements to the cabin.
If you're scanning straight down the technical specifications of the engine to the horsepower column and thinking it's not so impressive, then you're slightly missing the point. Yes, there are several cars out there with similar engine displacements that feature all-wheel-drive transmissions with higher power outputs, such as the SEAT Leon ST Cupra and Volkswagen Golf R, not to mention the bonkers Audi RS 3 Saloon. All smaller, sure, but delivering more punch in the outright performance stakes.
In creating the Insignia GSi, the engineers claim to have made a conscious effort to hone the chassis to deliver a more engaging and rewarding driving experience. The ride height is lower by 10mm and the car gains bespoke hubs, springs, dampers and anti-roll bars. One additional piece of hardware that benefits the driving experience is a twin-clutch rear differential. This compact unit distributes power between the rear wheels, providing a form of torque vectoring that can be especially useful in optimising the car's performance in the bends and helping with direction changes.
Thumb the engine start button and you won't be met with a raucous flurry of revs. In fact, there's little in the way of theatre with the GSi. Even the exhaust note from the twin exit pipes won't attract much attention, which might well suit many owners. In comparison to the diesel, there's a much smoother engine note from the petrol engine. However, you'll need to select the Sport mode if you want to get some augmented engine noise plumbed into the cabin.
Choosing the Sport setting on the FlexRide system adjusts the calibration of the steering, throttle sharpness, damper settings and the shift points of the automatic gearbox, too. Of the changes, it is the ride quality and the steering that have the more noticeable effect. Unlike some electric power assisted steering setups, flicking to Sport mode doesn't just lump on a more weight. The changes here are subtler and are best experienced on a proper driving road. There you'll discover a more accurate level of feedback from what the front axle is doing, and the car is very easy to place.
Tighter bends highlight the benefit of that smart rear differential, which sends more torque to the outer wheel to aid rotation of the car around an apex. A bonus to the extra grip and stability that an all-wheel-drive transmission provides. When not attacking your favourite sections of tarmac, the softer Tour mode slackens off the suspension and the difference is immediately apparent. The car floats much more smoothly over surface changes, and even on those big 20-inch wheels the ride comfort isn't harsh.
With 260hp, the turbocharged petrol engine has ample power, but it doesn't have the same frenetic fizz that you'd find in a good hot hatch. That is as much to do with how it's tuned as it is to pull along the Insignia's 1,716kg mass. It lags the diesel version in the torque stakes, at 400Nm (versus 480Nm), and it arrives later in the rev range at 2,500rpm. Keep it wound up and the Insignia will cover ground at a decent rate, however. We found using the paddles to manually control the transmission didn't always give the required response, often refusing to provide you with the lower gear you pull for. Leaving it to do all the shifting itself, especially in Sport mode, delivers a fun drive and leaves you to focus on the crisp steering.
What you get for your money
Even in isolation, this Opel is a surprisingly expensive car. When you look at what else you get from a visual perspective, it doesn't represent stellar value at its €49,500 starting price, even when you compare it to the equipment level you get on a high-spec Insignia Elite or the SRi version. With no plans for a more hardcore OPC model on the horizon, this remains the most performance-orientated Insignia you can buy.
But with so much choice on the market now for anyone looking for a fast saloon or estate, the Opel faces stiff competition even before price comes into the equation. It may be a well-finished car with a sweet handling setup, but we just can't look at the high price without thinking what else you could have while also pocketing a chunk of change.
Anyone that appreciates fine handling in a car will click with the Opel Insignia GSi. As a complete package it works quite well and shows that chasing horsepower figures isn't everything. But there is the high price and not-so-low emissions that bring an additional annual cost. In truth, while the Insignia GSi is desirable on many levels, it remains outgunned by many of its direct competitors and more appealing alternatives making it more a draw for only the more devout of Opel enthusiasts.