Dressed to Impress
To be perfectly candid with you, most of the Chinese-made automobiles we try out are entirely new model nameplates.
There’s no history or past test drive review that we’ve done for us to refer to because most of the Chinese brands here are new. That’s a stark contrast from testing models like Corolla or Montero Sport where we can refer to our reviews of older generations so we can see what’s changed and what has improved.
With the GS8, that’s not the case. I did have some seat time in the previous generation model, and now I’m driving the new one to see if they did better. And judging by how this is performing, they seem to have addressed a lot of the boxes I ticked.
When I saw the photos of the first generation GAC GS8 in an inflight magazine from Manila to Dubai, I thought that China finally had a Land Cruiser equivalent that wasn’t a facsimile of a Land Cruiser. You know, the kind where they put a car under a 3D scanner to copy the lines, shapes, and details. The GS8 was an original design, and that’s certainly true of the second coming.
This thing looks impressive, and I wasn’t alone in thinking that. During the 2022 Manila International Auto Show, people were gravitating towards the second generation GS8 that was being previewed there along with the Empow. The front is oozing with curb appeal, so much so that we think of it as China’s Escalade with a very boxy front, edgy lines, and sharp details. And while I may not be a fan of chrome, the way GAC’s designers applied it to their design is just right.
They also addressed one more issue I had with the first gen GS8: the size of it. In pictures, it looked massive, but in person, it looked much smaller. This time, the size is just right because it really got bigger. The GS8 stretched to 4980mm in length (+70mm), the width was extended to 1950mm (+40mm), and it got taller at 1780mm (+10mm). Yes, it’s bigger in all respects and it looks it, though they haven’t increased the ground clearance which seems to be still at 200mm. What is important is that they stretched the wheelbase to 2920mm; that’s nearly 5 inches more than before, and it should have a good effect on the ride comfort.
If you’re impressed with the look, then the interior will definitely seal the deal. Compared to its predecessor which had a rather older-fashioned cabin aesthetic with a white or cream theme with the inserts, panels, and upholstery, the new one is straight-up black and gray and very modern. The eyes are immediately drawn to the screens, especially the one in the middle of the dashboard that is actually bigger than my MacBook Pro. It’s loaded with practically everything too, like smart safety features, adaptive cruise control, the ability to control all the windows, and the panoramic roof via the screen. The only holdouts are Apple Carplay and Android Auto; for some strange reason, this doesn’t have either, even though the Empow has the former.
I’m surprised at how much has changed since I last sat inside a GS8. This new generation is really made to a much higher standard than before, and you can feel it when you run your hands, and your fingers, and even feel the seats with your back. Everything is just much better. The buttons feel high quality. The steering feels proper and very solid. The shifter I really like even though the “crystal” detail may be a bit much. The materials seem high-grade, especially with the texture of the center console. The interior panels fit together very well. I can see the border of the driver display screen like a TV box, but at night it blends in nicely. I can’t seem to find anything to gripe about, and that’s a good thing.
This is a three-row crossover SUV, so it does have space for two more people in the very back, but the middle-row seats would probably get a lot of mileage. An SUV like this would really be used by executives, so it stands to reason that the middle row needs to be comfortable, needs to be spacious, and needs to be well-equipped.
While many of the features are centralized on the front screen, the middle row does get its own A/C zone. There are charging ports over there too, and the panoramic glass roof does go all the way there; that means if the boss wants some sun, he/she can have it. But what they will really enjoy is the legroom, the armrest, and the really nice quilted floormats. That style of mat is actually quite common with upscale Chinese automobiles, and that’s what you get here.
True luxury means power, and by that I mean horsepower. The predecessor we drove was the GE 320T, and it had a 6-speed automatic with a 2.0L turbo gasoline that made 201 PS and 320 Nm of torque. This new GT version also has a 2.0L turbo gasoline, but now gets direct injection and a lot of other improvements. The result is a significant jump in power to 252 PS and in torque as the new model gets 400 Nm.
The transmission is also better: this gets an 8-speed automatic, but the interesting story here is that the 8-speed used by GAC is also used by BMW, Toyota, Lexus, Cadillac, and so on and so forth. That’s because they sourced the transverse transmission from Aisin. It may be an 8-speed, but it’s about the same size as a 6-speed which the GS8 had before.
The only thing we wish the GS8 offered is all-wheel drive because like before, this GT is only available in front-wheel drive. That means no off-roading, though it doesn’t really matter as most of these SUVs tend to stay exclusively on paved roads. Still, it would be nice to have the option because some of the promo images on the brochure of the GS8 show it amongst the sand dunes. There’s no way you’d take an FWD on that kind of surface.
In our bumpy, inconsistent, and pockmarked urban road scape, the GS8 impresses. The tires and suspension certainly work well to keep as much of the unwanted vibrations from making the cabin a bouncy place to be in. The side windows also work well to suppress unwanted noise. The extra wheelbase also helps, as the front tires have a little more time to settle after a bump before the rear goes over the same; it just makes for a smoother ride which is why luxury saloons always have long wheelbases.
The GS8 is smooth, which is surprising for a big vehicle with a relatively small turbo engine. Maybe it’s the weight that dampens what should have been a peaky turbo engine, but it doesn’t behave like a turbo with the way power is delivered. Don’t get me wrong: if you mash the throttle the GS8 will oblige, lunging forward as the gasoline engine works to deliver what your right foot demands. But what is nice is how the system (meaning the powertrain) works together to make sure the power is delivered in a smooth manner.
If you do that frequently then don’t expect good fuel economy numbers. For a big car, this one does fairly well at 8.3 km/l in town, in fairly decent traffic. Another wishlist item: GAC didn’t offer the GS8 with the hybrid system like in other markets. Maybe they’re saving that for a future launch.
Amongst the many Chinese brands that are active in the Philippine market, GAC is most definitely an up-and-comer. If we’re talking just purely about the feel of the car, we would still contend that Geely is still the standard setter amongst its peers. GAC, however, isn’t too far behind. What we’re seeing, feeling, and experiencing with the GS8 is proof of the progress they have made in the last few years.
The GS8 certainly makes a big impression. Yes, it has the size and yes, it has the presence, especially with the striking and very uncommon shade of metallic green our test car came in. Heads do turn for this Chinese Escalade, so much so that if you’re the type that doesn’t like attention, this might not be for you.
Still, we’re not quite sure how the market will accept that GS8. They’ve pegged this GT variant at just under PHP 2.3 million, and that’s an introductory price meaning the price will likely go up after the introductory period. And while it is significantly less than a similarly sized model like a Ford Explorer (3.3 million) or a Hyundai Palisade (almost 3.8 million), both those models are from already established brands in a class of car where the brand badge means not just prestige, but credibility.
Personally, I’m of the opinion that GAC still has some work to do to establish itself as a credible brand in the mind of brand-conscious Filipino consumers. While we have experience with the reliability of GAC’s products, not many do. That’s what’s really needed. Aftersales service will be key. I was actually surprised that during the turnover to the new distributor Astara, the GAC brand didn’t incorporate PMS (free service, parts, labor for 3 years) as a key value-added component of the ownership experience.
They need to make the proposition of owning a GAC enticing because the quality of the car is already there especially if you compare it to the previous generation. They just need to make the prospect of owning one compelling.