Revived Opel Corsa GSI doesn’t merit the iconic tag

The question of what makes a moniker great will undoubtedly involve a number of factors and answers. Whether it is reliability, quirkiness or performance, there will always be a connotation, good or bad, to a certain name that will be remembered for years to come.

When it comes to the Grand Sport Injection denominator though, better known as GSI, it is a given that the nomenclature will forever be associated with Opel whose Kadetts carrying the grey initials on the boot become legends both on and off track during the 1980s and early 1990s.

Under the auspices of the Delta Motor Corporation following General Motors’ (GM) divestment in 1986, the GSI designation become iconic first on the eight-valve Kadett, then the 16-valve “Big Boss” and ultimately the immortal Superboss that is still regarded as the pinnacle of fast, locally built and developed Opels today.

Also found on the Monza and much later on the Corsa before bowing out well over a decade ago in favour of the OPC name, the GSI’s status had been sealed despite it going into a dormant phase until 2017, when new parent company, PSA, announced its return. Having debuted on the Insignia, the Corsa followed last year, first in the United Kingdom to celebrate 25 years of the Vauxhall Corsa GSI, before appearing in Opel guise as the interim replacement for the OPC.

Fast forward to 2019, the GSI name is back in South Africa on said Corsa and while its return has been welcomed, the general feeling is that a lot more should have been done to not only celebrate the occasion, but also to bid farewell to the GM-era Corsa.

The view of this newspaper’s motoring reporters that this is not a full-on GSI certainly didn’t involve the way it looked. As a replacement for the Corsa Sport – remember this – the GSI channels its Kadett forebears by eschewing the five-door bodystyle for a sportier three-door that has become a rarity in recent years.

In addition, Opel has added an OPC-Line bodykit, black mirror caps, a faux carbon fibre bonnet slot, a black honeycomb grille and larger air intakes on the flanks of the front bumper with silver surrounds to mix. The GSI is rounded off with eye-catching 18-inch alloy wheels wrapped in Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tyres, red brake calipers, a chrome tipped exhaust and the unmissable bootlid spoiler.

Resplendent in its racy yellow attire, the GSI flies in the face of subtle performance motoring by not only looking the part of a hot hatch, but being unapologetic about it as well. Compared to its rivals, there is a distinct old school-feel to the GSI’s interior. Despite being five years old, the minimalist cabin feels well put together with soft touch plastics, piano key black inlays, lashings of leather and subtle imitation chrome highlights featuring.

The standout, however, are the superb Recaro sport seats that are heated and provide excellent support and come trimmed in jet black nappa leather, while a grippy, heated flat-bottom leather steering wheel with drilled alloy pedals and stitched gear boot rounds the specific touches off.

Unfortunately, the GSI effect has not spilled over to the infotainment system where the seven-inch Intellilink setup, despite being easy to use and featuring Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, is still mounted too low and becomes virtually unreadable when exposed to the setting sun. What’s more, the quality of the six-speaker sound system was found wanting while the irksome pre-loaded, smartphone-based BringGo navigation system has been retained instead of a traditional setup like on the Astra and Grandland X.

Bizarrely, the GSI has fallen victim to the “giving-some-but-taking-another” principle. So the addition of the heated seats and steering wheel, cornering bi-xenon LED headlights, Traffic Sign Recognition, tyre pressure monitor, Forward Collision Alert, Hill Start Assist and Lane Departure Warning result in the loss of the Blind Spot Detection system, the average consumption readout and the distance-to-empty information.

In the practicality department, the GSI, admittedly, loses out against its rivals with the rear feeling cramped as a result of the sloping roofline, while the boot measures 265 litres or up to 1 120 litres, the latter surprisingly more than that of the class leading Volkswagen Polo GTI (305 – 1 079 litres).

For all its muscled-up persona and undoubted flair, the GSI’s main problem is that it does not have the power to do justice to a hot hatch renowned moniker. Up front, the 1.4-litre turbocharged engine from the Corsa Sport has not only been retained, but kept unchanged in terms of power with outputs of 110kW/220Nm.

Tipping the scales at just over 1.2 tons, the GSI, in its defence, does feel quicker than what the blown four-pot delivers, but only once the initial phase of turbo-lag is overcome and the satisfying whoosh takes over as the surge of power becomes a flood. This was proved during testing at Gerotek where road test editor Mark Jones could only clock a best 0-100 km/h of 9.1 seconds, which, despite being 0.3sec off Opel’s claim, is anything but GSI in terms of acceleration, though the test top speed of 210km/h eclipsed Opel’s rated V-Max by a scant one kilometre per hour.

In departure from the current trend, the GSI sticks with three pedals and although this was once again praised from a purist standpoint, the six-speed manual ‘box, in typical Opel fashion, is anything but slick with a nasty grating sensation in first and second gears that resulted in words uttered that cannot be repeated in a family newspaper.

Fitted with an OPC derived sport suspension, the GSI’s ride quality is on the firm side, but not so it becomes unbearably hard and uncomfortable. In fact, it feels bang on for a warm hatch with just enough steering wheel feel to exploit its talents when you want it to play ball, which it is always keen on.

As appealing as the Opel Corsa GSI is, the truth is that the most hallowed performance badge to graze a car with the blitz has made a disappointing return after nearly a decade of waiting. The lack of oomph, mismatched transmission and anything but GSI-like performance does not warrant it being called a GSI, especially at the rather silly R365 900 price tag and when the all-new, PSA underpinned Corsa is slated to arrive in South Africa next year.

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