We just want to get this out into the wind: China cars are coming, have come, and will definitely keep on coming. Whether they are Euro or British brands outsourcing production to China, or marques from China themselves, we now have ourselves a much bigger market for vehicles.
We already have ourselves a great slew of choices on our own shores, but only a few months since its official launch, and even during its participation at this year's Manila International Auto Show (MIAS), one brand has kept a rather (more) visible presence compared to its compatriots, and that is GAC. We recently got a hold of their compact crossover, the GS4, and we took it around to see if it has enough to go against its more well-placed competitors.
Let’s start with its looks, shall we? Let’s face it, not too many people take kindly towards the design of new players, moreso those from our non-Korean Asian neighbors. I, on the other hand, believe it looks quite attractive. What you’ll quickly notice are the abundance of angles and lines from the hood, on the side, and even at the tailgaite. It also has the floating roof trend going on (like the Fortuner’s) with the blacked out D-pillars. The chrome piece that finishes the sloping, “floating” roof also has the name “Trumpchi” on it, which apparently is GAC's name in its home market. It’s something that I personally wish was not there, but it doesn’t make it unattractive anyway.
That aside, everything else is well-put together. A massive chrome, slatted and honeycomb grill, raked headlights that look a little like miniaturized Land Cruiser lamps, and the black accent pieces give the GS4 a classy demeanor about it. Wraparound skirts from the front, sides, all the way to the rear then add a sportier appeal to the entire package. It’s meant for a younger audience, anyway, so that does very well to make it attractive, looks-wise.
On the inside, this is where we see how China-made cars are made more affordable. Plastic is very obviously the material of choice for the interior bits. Fortunately, there are also faux brushed aluminum trim on the side and center air conditioner vents. Even better, though, are the piano black pieces right above the glove box, and the door grab handles. They're absolutely pretty and break monotony of the dark plastic. Oh, and the steering wheel and shift boot are wrapped in leather, too, so that’s also a nice touch.
Rounding up the interior would be steering wheel audio controls, a multi-information gauge cluster display, a moonroof, and an extremely large screen from which you control everything from airconditioning, to music, to navigation, and the car’s basic functions such as lights and toggling the auto-wipers, among others. Also, about that information display on the gauge, there are two languages that you’ll see which are English and Chinese. You can’t turn either off, so it’s something you’ll have to get used to seeing in this car.
Comfort, now that is something that we all look at when purchasing a car, regardless of where it’s made. The space for both front and rear occupants are more than ample. Normally I drive pretty close to the wheel, with a slight bend on my knees and my backrest upright. Though my right knee would brush up against the center console, this shouldn’t be a problem for other drivers. In the rear, you can comfortably seat 2 adults plus a small child (or adult) in the middle. Head room is very good, but it’s the lateral space that needs a bit of improvement. Cargo space, on the other hand, is very much abundant. A big cooler, a couple of check-in luggage, and a few other bags can be loaded and unloaded with ease, thanks to the space, and a comfortable loading height.
The ride is a bit more on the soft side, but fortunately it’s not as if you’re riding on choppy waters. It gives you just the right amount of comfort but at the same time enough confidence should you like to take a corner a bit more spiritedly. “Spiritedly”, I say, because the engine does have enough pull on it. More than enough, actually.
The 1.5-liter gasoline turbo mill gives enough punch to power you through straights and corners with ease. What we did notice, though, are a few (and literal) hiccups from the engine, and what felt like a rather confused transmission. Power delivery is strong, but you can feel the transmission fumbling about the gears – “should I downshift, should I go up?” – especially if you give a quick step on the accelerator. Its steering, on the other hand, was a bit too light for my liking. You can adjust this via the big monitor you have on the center stack, but despite that, I’d prefer to have less play and more positive feel on the wheel. Again, it’s something you can learn to live with.
So what really could be the bane of this China-made crossover competitor? It looks great, it drives well, it can fit your family and friends and not shake you up while on a long trip. So what is it? In my case, it’s the gas consumption. Remember how we mentioned earlier that bit of hiccup from the engine and transmission? We think that may be it.
See, for the engine’s displacement and the size of its fuel tank, it doesn’t quite make sense to make 7.5km/L despite consciously hypermiling. Perhaps something is amiss with all the tuning involving the ECU, the slush box, and even the plumbing itself. We did bring this up with GAC, though, and to be fair, this test unit did have a bit on its odometer already. It still is something to take into consideration when purchasing a car, though. How quickly will it need light or heavy maintenance, is the engine’s thirst a sign that we should bring it into the dealership? We don’t have an answer to those, yet.
So what does the GAC GS4 put on the table, and what does it have to offer? First of all, we can’t reiterate this enough: it looks very, very good. Times of China cars looking like cheap disposable automobiles are over, and this is proof of it. It has an inviting interior, and provides a comfortable ride for all its occupants, and with cargo in tow, err, baggage area. The engine has enough pep to make you smirk when taking long straights and corners. That does come at a price, though, as we mentioned above.
If this is a vehicle that you’d consider for the audience that it’s intended for – younger, first time car owners – who are looking for good deals, lower prices, and greater value for what could be their first vehicle,the GS4 is a good choice. They may just have to watch those spirited bursts and stomps on the accelerator, though.