The Legit Contender
For the last 4 years, the Geely Coolray has been our top pick in the subcompact crossover class. Yes, there are good rivals in the class that do certain things better, but if we take a holistic approach to a small crossover, the Geely still emerges as our top pick.
Then along came this GS3 Emzoom from GAC. After spending some time with the car, something tells us the car from Guangzhou definitely took aim at the one from Hangzhou. And it has a chance of unseating the Coolray.
GAC has been in the Philippines for a few years now, but they’ve been undergoing a transformation as of late. Management has changed, with Astara taking over the brand as the distributor. The influx of experienced management and aggressive strategy sees GAC expand to have more dealerships around the country from 6 before Astara, to 19 now and another by year’s end. The model range is changing rapidly too, with new generation GACs being launched such as the GS8 SUV, the Empow sedan, the Emkoo crossover, and the even smaller GS3 Emzoom.
The GS3 name itself is not a new one in the market, but it was never that well-known. If you drove one, you’ll know why: it was never really a standout like the Coolray was. Or is it? The new Emzoom is different; it looks like the designer was wearing kaleidoscope goggles and never took them off. There are angles and edges all over. The shapes look like a trigonometry exam. It’s like an F-117 Nighthawk for the road, though the orange trim on the body kit doesn’t exactly make it stealthy.
All the usual things are here, including the panoramic glass roof that has become a standard expectation on affordable Chinese crossovers. The door handles are a neat party trick, as these tuck in when the vehicle is locked, and then pop out when you walk up to it or tap a button on the keyfob. The tailgate is motorized, making access easier, but perhaps my favorite is the rolling stock. This R-Style runs on 19” wheels but comes with Michelin Pilot Sport 4 tires. Anyone who knows cars understands that tires make a huge difference in how a vehicle performs, and the set of PS4s makes a huge difference. Check out our video to find out.
The cabin is a place I really wouldn’t mind being stuck in traffic with. The design and layout are very well thought out. Many of the panels are soft to the touch with leather and the like. The selected color palette includes cream-like brown leather that has white stripes all around, creating continuity with some of the other interior and exterior accent pieces. The stuff in here feels of quality, and there are none in the way of creaks and rattles even when you’re going over notoriously bumpy roads like EDSA or C5’s truck lane.
The controls are easy enough to get familiarized with. The steering wheel is the flat bottom type befitting a small and sporty crossover. There are controls on the steering for things like advanced driver assist features (e.g. adaptive cruise) and for the infotainment system.
Oddly enough there were some strange decisions with certain things, particularly the transmission controls. They have this bejeweled toggle on the console for the transmission, but there is no gate to activate any kind of manual mode. There are also no paddle shifters by which to do the shifting yourself. That will come into play when we start driving.
There is actually so much to enjoy in the GS3 Emzoom R-Style. The infotainment has almost all that you could want. It’s a 12-inch touchscreen that has things like wireless Apple CarPlay, DTS speakers, and an ambient lighting system that follows the beat of your music. There’s no Android Auto, but I can make do with Bluetooth. I can charge my phone via the USB, the USB-C, or the wireless charging pad which is ideally placed for the driver.
But perhaps it is the presence of the many settings in the vehicle that is worthy of your attention. There are a lot of toys in this car, particularly with driver assistance and safety. You get an adaptive cruise that also works at low-speed city traffic, auto emergency braking, lane warning and assist, a tire pressure monitor, and more. GAC actually consolidated as many features into the screen. You can open the sunroof, the windows and adjust the mirrors from the screen, though why would you want to?
There’s also the drive mode selector on the screen; there are no physical buttons to cycle through Eco, Comfort, Sport, and Sport+. Depending on which one you select, you change settings for things like steering, transmission, and engine response. Sport+ is perhaps the most unusual setting because it transforms the screens in a rather cool way and changes the infotainment screen into a readout of the vehicle’s parameters. Oddly, the unit they chose for the turbo pressure seems wrong to me, because a reading of 400 bar at idle is way too high. To put that in perspective, 400 bar would equate to about 5,800 psi which is pretty close to the pressure at the Titanic’s current depth.
Yes, this is powered by a turbo engine. Specifically, it’s a 1.5L turbo which has become the standard for vehicles from China because it gives a price advantage due to reduced tariffs. Once it goes up to 1501cc, the pricing would change dramatically. That’s why engineers are really focusing on improving their 1.5L engines; in the case of the GS3 Emzoom, it gets 174 PS and 270 Nm of torque.
The figures are really good; if anything, it makes it a near match for the Geely Coolray which has 177 PS. The GS3 has an edge in torque with 270 over 250 Nm. Even the transmission is very squarely matched with the Coolray. The one on the GS3 Emzoom is a 7-speed dual clutch driving the front wheels.
Driving the Emzoom around, it’s clear that this is a head-turner. The curb appeal is strong, eliciting oohs and ahhs in the form of stares from people and drivers as you pass by. And when you do punch the throttle, it just surges forward eagerly. Of course when you change the drive mode, that changes; in Sport or Sport+ the car is aggressive with the throttle, while on the other side of the spectrum, it will be held back in Eco.
In the latter, it will be quite efficient; the GS3 Emzoom R-Style nets about anywhere between 10 to 12 kilometers per liter in the city depending on traffic, while on the highway you’ll be getting well north of 15 kilometers per liter easily. If you’re patient, expect about 17 km/l if you’re just cruising.
Yes, it’s quite efficient; and definitely better than the 3-cylinder Coolray in that regard. There’s also the fact that this is a 4-cylinder engine, which makes it far smoother overall and especially at idle in traffic. It just feels better to be driving a straight four than a straight three.
Perhaps the key difference is the selection of tires. For years, the Coolray has had one key advantage in the fact that the product planners went for Continental tires and not a set that had names we’ve never heard of. But the GS3 has a set of PS4 tires, and that’s like having a cheat code in your car. While the suspension is fairly soft for comfort (the Coolray’s is sportier) the GS3’s tires more than make up for it. The grip is just so good in something this small and with this kind of power available in something so light.
The GS3 Emzoom isn’t perfect though. The lack of Android Auto makes us Android users feel a little left out, but that’s minor. The claim that the Emzoom R-Style gets louder in Sport+ also doesn’t seem to be there; it’s hard to tell if there’s a difference when the system activates. But most critically, the one significant drawback is the wet dual-clutch transmission. As with the Emkoo and Empow, the DCT is the only weak point. When we were doing our handling test, we found that the shifting isn't as good as we want it to be. A manual mode would really do wonders. In city driving it gets a bit jerky and unsure of itself when you’re negotiating bumper-to-bumper traffic. And the engagement of reverse also feels odd when you’re doing three-point turns (AKA: “mane-obra”).
Do those detract from the GS3 Emzoom R-Style? The DCT maybe, but they can address that (hopefully) with some kind of reprogramming of the transmission’s ECU. The same goes for the exhaust thingamabob. Overall, I think GAC seems to have something really packed with potential here at its price point. For now, it’s just at the PHP 1.2 million mark. I hope it doesn’t change because that’s a very attractive offer.
Every automaker that seeks to succeed needs a model that can put up the goods. The way I see it, GAC has three SUVs that can fill that role. There’s the macho GS8, the futuristic Emkoo, and now this peppy GS3 Emzoom. If they keep up this pace and level of attention to detail, we’ll be seeing more and more G badges on our streets in the future.