Right off the bat, we’ll say that China-made cars have made leaps and bounds in recent years. Whether it’s in their designs or performance, vehicles from China have all but rebuilt their image from “disposable and impractical” to “affordable and practical”; for the most part at least.
Looking at the more common Japanese fare, their smaller cars are already fetching for higher prices. Chinese cars, on the other hand, are offering quite the opposite. For what could be a bought as a Japanese sub-compact, you can get for far less and as a compact sedan, at that. Yes, that was the strategy of the South Koreans back in the day, but look how that turned out for them (hint: very well).
So, for what it offers, we are looking at the GAC GA4 sedan. We got ourselves a manual transmission variant to get down to the very core of this piece of machinery, and see if its price tag may be less than all the good stuff you may be getting more of. In a real-world setting, and with the budget-conscious in mind, can this China-made sedan bring more to the table in terms of performance, maintenance, and overall value for long-term ownership? After a few thousand kilometers clocked, let’s find out, shall we?
Now, the GA4 is definitely a definite looker. I mean, just look at it. First of all, a massive grill dominates the front end of the car. The top end of the grill incorporates into the edge of the clamshell hood, while a 3-slatted design with the GAC badge emblazoned in the middle take center-stage.
While one may initially think it’s bulky, it is designed to flow into the edges of the headlight housing, something GAC calls the “Iconic Flying Dynamics” design. In my eyes at least, I say it works pretty well. The grill and headlights look as though they are one single piece, and it serves to give a very masculine look about the GA4.
Headlights being mentioned, this variant does not have DRLs. The “Spreading Wings” design is carried over nonetheless, and again gives a wider look to the GA4. GAC has the finer details covered, too. While some of the other vehicles in their lineup have big, metal badges, the “Trumpchi” name (GAC's home market name) on the GA4 can be found in the headlight housing instead. Honestly it lessens what gaudiness there may be with the aforementioned badge, and that’s a big plus point in the looks department.
Let’s not neglect to look at that overhang, too. While it isn’t actually that low, it does help to give the car a sportier stance. On the daily, it doesn’t scrape, nor does it get caught on parking stops (Toblerone, as we call it). The younger generation should really have no qualms driving in this one, if it's a handsome car that they want.
From the side, you can see that the greenhouse looks a bit small, given the high beltline. Truth be known is that it’s not. Yes the windows are a bit high up, but they aren’t uncomfortable when, for example, you have to reach out to get a parking ticket. A distinct character line runs from the front fender all the way to the rear fender spanning the car’s entire length. Given how wide the panels are, it gives a welcome break to make it look sportier than it is. The swept roofline adds to an aerodynamic silhouette, and gives it a slight fastback look at quick glance.
If there is something to nitpick at, though, it would be the 16-inch wheels. The design itself isn’t bad, but it really does look small for the GA4. As it is, the wheels are fitted with chunky tires but overall, a 17-inch set might actually look better. The good that comes of this is that ride comfort is pretty good, with a lot of the shock being absorbed by the tires. Again, as a daily drive, this is something well worth considering.
Now we get to what we really experience everyday, and that is fit and finish, the amenities, and comfort inside the cabin.
First, the fit: it is very safe to say that the GA4 was not rushed from design to production. How so? There are no unsightly gaps that we could see anywhere. From the dash, door cards, even the cut of the mats, GAC didn't just haphazardly slap on parts in this car.
As for the materials, the car still does have plastic all round, but it also employed the use of soft-touch materials. Most of the car is draped in cream (leather upholstery) or brownish gray bits, but glossy black accents on the shifter and gauge pods and window switches add another touch of class. That never gets old now, doesn’t it?
As far as being classy goes, brushed "aluminum" pieces also make their way into the interior. That aside, you can really tell that GAC did not scrimp on materials because they padded just about every part of the cabin where you hands usually go. Even this entry-level offering feels more premium than others in its class; for its price.
One thing we are sure you all noticed, though, is that rather unsightly black plate; empty aside from what is the infotainment screen. This variant, sadly, has a basic sound system that only comes with USB connection, a 2-band AM and 3-band FM radio. The USB doesn’t connect to any external device either, so if you want to play your music, it’ll have to be read from a flash drive. While some may argue that an auxiliary port should be minimum for a base model, this detail is probably the most glaring drawback to this variant.
A combination of rotary dials and switches do give a more upmarket feel, but really, that panel calls to be filled with a more updated head unit. It’s not as if it affects your driving experience in a large way, but a bit more technology in the infotainment department would really go a long way. It has relatively good stock speakers, so what better way to enjoy your music while on the road than with Spotify, right?
Let us remind you that this review is, again, about how choosing this car is well worth the coin in the long run. While the maintenance is of utmost priority, comfort is just as important. The former we’ll be talking about shortly, but let’s go to how it actually feels driving and riding in the GA4.
One word that comes to mind: comfortable. The seats are actually plush and very well padded. They are wide enough to not let you slip and slide, and they extend forward with just enough support for your thighs. The seatbacks are just as soft, and are bolstered as well. The lumbar supports jut out just so slightly, but isn’t uncomfortable, though. An adjuster would be nice, but maybe that would be asking too much.
The seats in the rear are just as comfortable, and might we add spacious. While leg and headroom in front are impressive, it’s even more so in the back. Even with the driver seat set in proper position, I could still sit behind it with a lot of room to spare for my knees and legs. While three could fit in the rear bench, it’s worth noting that despite being a close fit, it’s still comfortable.
We’ve had people of all ages sit in the GA4 for city and long(er) drives, and the materials don’t seem so flimsy as to soften up so quickly. Again, GAC really did go the length of picking quality materials to use, so kudos for that.
On to the subject of creature comforts, it's got rear air conditioning vents and a single USB port in the back. However, I reckon a lighter plug would have been more useful to provide more flexible charging for devices while on the go, so maybe that’s something that you’ll be left wanting.
There is a pocket for your little knick-knacks at the bottom of the center armrest, so that’s a good thing. If you have someone sitting in the middle, though, best that you don’t use it for cellphones or gadgets, lest you risk getting them kicked or stepped on.
Regardless, we can confidently say that you’re in for a pleasant and comfortable ride in the GA4, whether in front of at the back.
And now, the GA4’s on-road performance.
For the ride quality, we have reached a consensus: the GA4’s suspension is actually very good. Driving solo, you can expect a ride that’s on the stiffer side, but it also not of the rough sort. It’s just enough to allow you to literally sit back and relax, and more than enough to give you confidence in taking turns. The car is stable on the straights and in the corners, and while it isn’t a racecar in any way, you do feel safe in it.
With passengers, you’d expect the ride to get bouncier, but we were pleasantly surprised that it did not. While we're on the subject of refinement, just about everyone who tried it out were surprised at just how quiet the riding experience was. Seriously, it's an experience you have to feel for yourself.
After a few thousand kilometers of driving it daily, we can say that it’s maintained its ride with no odd sounds or squeaks emanating from anywhere under the chassis. If anything, this does speak of its durability; at least for another few thousand before we take it for its PMS.
The engine is a 1.5-liter DOHC and has some points we want to discuss. It makes 113 PS and 150 Nm of torque, which is about on par with typical 1500 cc engines. From behind the wheel, you feel the torque which peaks at 4500 rpm, which we also felt. However, it’s the power delivery that feels… a little strange. Lower in the revs it seems to come up slow, but at around 2000 rpm is when it starts picking up. Add the rather long throw of the shifter and newbie drivers may take time to get accustomed to getting the GA4 moving.
Its consumption, though, is good at 8.4 km/l in daily traffic. Travelling 28 kilometers daily from home to work and back, that really is decent considering traffic jams both to and from the office. On the highway, and with 4 people, we got up to about 12.3 km/l. Sure, many would argue that it could or should be better, but really, what matters is that there are no knocks or pings to be heard from the engine; whether on idle, on calm drives, or spirited bursts, the GA4’s engine seems to be built ready for daily rigors.
So, taking a step back and looking at how the GAC GA4 performs, does it really put a lot on the table? Does it really have enough to be worth more than its already competitively low price tag? Is it comfortable and reliable enough so as not to make you worry about rattling your teeth out or breaking your wallet for repairs?
The answer is “yes”.
We tried to look for a lot of things to fault in this newcomer to the market, but we had to resort to nitpicking to find them. While there are some things that clearly do need updating and improvement, we’ve come to the conclusion that those things will not adversely affect one’s ownership of the GA4 in any way.
The vehicle’s build quality is good, the materials used are actually only a notch below premium, its ride is quite comfortable, and its engine has enough juice and sips at just the right amount to save you fuel, and ultimately, money between refills.
While we have to clock in a bit more to get a more in-depth look at how things might change for its first PMS, we can say right here right now, that for its cost and what it offers, the GAC GA4 really does show how far China cars have come.