In the realm of sedans, the subcompact segment is a hotly contested one, with a loads of them on our roads and highways. If “new players” want to make a dent in the segment, their car not only has to be reasonably priced, it has to be good too. It's difficult to strike that balance as making a budget car that doesn't feel cheap will challenge any manufacturer.
But then, there's GAC, a Chinese car manufacturer that’s been making small head way into the Philippine market. Their mission? That's to change our notions (and skepticisms) on China made cars.
What makes GAC interesting is the fact that in their home turf in Guangzhou China they are responsible for the assembly of Toyota, Honda and Mitsubishi for the local market, why is that interesting? We'll get to that later.
One vehicle in particular which happens to be their top seller has caught our attention in recent months, as we’ve been seeing more populate our roads is the GA4 sedan. What makes the GA4 so popular? Looking at it on face value alone already gives us an idea as to why. It has the size of a compact sedan (think Altis and Civic) but priced to compete with sub-compacts (think Vios and City). But price alone doesn't sell cars. A car may be within reach, but it doesn't always mean it will be good. Fortunately, the entry-level GA4 we have as a long-termer doesn't disappoint, but will it still be worth considering when you move up the range with this GA4 200T?
On the looks department the GA4 200T doesn't disappoint, its handsome in the literal sense with a very masculine vibe in terms of design. Yes, the body is unchanged from the entry-level model, but that's a good thing. That front fascia is dominated by a wide gaping grill with the GAC logo up front and center, but is complimented with LED DRL’s and foglamps while the headlights are separated from the hood by a neat metal strip above adding a more premium look. This design philosophy is what GAC dubs the “Iconic Flying Design” and we think it bodes well with the overall motif of the look.
Over at the side there’s a noticeable protruding line that runs through the door handles that gives it a more unique sculpted appearance than the usual. The windows might seem small and bit high-up but you don’t get that impression at all from the inside making tasks such as paying for parking not difficult at all. My only concern is the rear, GAC played it too safe in terms of its design nothing that separates it from the rest and could be mistaken for any other car from the rear. Overall though taking everything into account, the GA4 is a lesson in understated design; it doesn’t shout about its looks but is still a head turner on the road.
The cockpit is where the GA4 make’s it’s case though, the cabin follows a dark brown and black color palette which make’s it look neat. The dashboard and panels are covered in soft touch materials which are a rarity in this segment, giving it an upscale feel compared to its rivals. The monotony of dark colors is broken only by the “brushed aluminum” garnishes on the steering wheel, the door handles and a single strip that cuts through the center stack right below the infotainment system. Its a proper blend of old-school class and modern design.
Another thing you’ll notice is that the fit and finish of all the panels are properly done, no unsightly gaps or signs of haphazard assembly. Remember when we said it's interesting that GAC builds cars for Toyota, Honda, and Mitsubishi as well? That's because it gives GAC a front row seat in learning from some of the top Japanese brands worldwide when it comes to quality, tech, and features and it's evident in this sedan.
While we're on the subject of features, well you can immediately tell that GAC did not scrimp when it comes to creature comforts. The infotainment system for instance is an 8 inch LED screen unit which may not have Android Auto and Apple Carplay but it does have Bluetooth connectivity. It also houses the in-car settings like steering feel (Sport or Urban) and features like auto-door lock. The GA4 Is also equipped with a dual climate control air-condition system with rear passenger air vents, a 360 degree all around camera view of the car for ease in maneuverability and an overlooked but practical feature in heated side mirrors for when they fog up in certain conditions. If we didn't say it was a GAC, these are features you'd find in cars twice, or even thrice, the price.
That’s just the half of it though, the instrument cluster houses a digital screen that not only displays fuel economy but also tire temperature and pressures. The front drivers seat is powered and has the ability to adjust the lumbar support to negate lower back pain during long stints behind the wheel. Not to mention that it also has cruise control and an electronic parking brake with an auto hold function for start and stop traffic and lastly a push to start ignition system. To say its feature packed is an understatement, it’s got the essentials with a sprinkling of things we didn’t know we even needed, so kudos to GAC for that.
Yes it's a tech overload inside, but what is it like to drive?
The GA4 is powered by a 1.3 liter turbocharged gasoline engine good for 136 HP and 202 Nm of torque, which is sent to the front wheels via a 6 speed Automatic transmission. The specs seem fairly par for the course but GAC did wonders with the tuning of this drivetrain. There are 3 driving mode’s to choose from D (Standard) M (Manual) and E (Eco). In manual mode the driver is given the option to shift gears through buttons mounted on the side of the gear lever, which isn’t ergonomic as we see paddles or a 'manu-matic' mode on the gear selector as more intuitive. Nonetheless it is actually responsive in the GA4.
The power delivery is felt best at the standard setting as opposed to the restrictive eco mode that’s oriented more for fuel economy rather than performance. The acceleration is linear for a turbo and you wouldn’t even know its a turbo because there’s no noise to indicate that it’s there. Granted, it wasn’t made to light your pants on fire but its no slouch and due to an almost non-existent engine noise you’d be deceived into thinking its slow when it really isn’t at all. Performance then is best summed up as solid, as the GA4 won't lull you into thinking its a sports sedan. However, when the mood strikes you this 1.3-liter turbo picks up the pace quicker than you expect.
But what's great about the GA4 is its suspension tuning. Again, it's no sports sedan but GAC tuned it to be supple. its not tiring to drive at all, with the dampers absorbing the bumps and potholes of Manila better than most sedans. The best part is, it doesn't wallow or have extra body movements which might induce carsickness. On the highway, it's an excellent cruiser as it eats up the miles in the most comfortable way possible.
Okay, it's no Lexus LS 500, but when you compare it to other cars in its price point, this is likely the most comfortable we've tested. It's quiet too with urban noises and wind buffeting kept to a minimum. The only (minor) thing that dampened the hushed experience was the tire noise on the highway, which is more down to the tires and not the actual car itself.
Another interesting tidbit was, although the GA4 is actually quite a heavy car which we expected was going to hamper fuel economy. It proved us wrong once again, in the city we were able to achieve around 9-11 kilometers per liter in heavy traffic, and on pure highway driving it did a shocking 20 kilometers per liter at an average of 100kph nearly on par with diesel or smaller displacement engines.
Given all this, is the GA4 worth it? Does it walk the talk? We think so, and we haven’t even gotten to the best part yet: Its price.
The GA4 200T (which is the range topper) comes in at Php 988,000. Yes for that price it comes with all the creature comforts you’ll ever need and more. Even if you don't factor in price in the equation, it's still fantastic value because of the car's abilities. You definitely get more for what you paid for.
Yes, it's assembled in China so we understand your skepticism. The thing is, GAC has put it through quite the acid test by entering it in endurance races and actually winning it. Besides, we also have a long-term GAC (albeit in manual) and we can tell you that we've had a trouble-free experience with it.
The GA4 certainly ticks all the right boxes and then some, it has without a doubt shattered our preconceptions of 'Made in China'. It rides great, sips fuel, spacious, and loaded with tech, all for a hair under Php 1 million which gives it fantastic value. Put aside any past misgiving Chinese cars had in the past and try the GA4 out. It will surprise you in more ways than one.