Cars > Driven

GAC Emkoo GL: Too cool for Manila’s streets

This funky, razor-sharp crossover could cast a shadow on the competition

Looks like something straight out of a design study sketch. PHOTO BY JUSTIN YOUNG

For sure, 2023 is shaping up to be the year for GAC Philippines. During this year’s MIAS, the Chinese giant under Astara previewed a radically designed crossover with sharper angles than a Honda HR-V. The Emkoo came in swinging to attract the contemporary consumer, trying to show that it was much better than the more conservative GS4.

Might sound silly, but it works. PHOTO BY JUSTIN YOUNG

Previously, my colleague tried his best to explain the meaning of Empow, and underneath the nuances of naming conventions, there’s more to ‘Em’ than meets the eye.

The prefix is a romanticized version of the word ying, meaning shadow in Chinese. Hence, for the compact sports sedan, yingbao stands for “shadow leopard,” which sounds fast and edgy.

On the other hand, Emkoo (yingku) stands for “shadow cool.” Sometimes, you don’t have to think too hard about a model name, so in this case, this crisscross CUV lives up to the coolness.

Even from the little details, GAC wants to express that sci-fi feel. PHOTOS BY JUSTIN YOUNG

The first aspect greeted by everyone is the styling, and the Emkoo delivers in the most futuristic way possible. The front grille doesn’t follow the typical honeycomb pattern, but straight leading lines that create an X-shape with a surprisingly small ratio of plastic black to body paint.

The rest of the body follows the sharp diagonal motif, almost like a real-life design sketch, as if the designers didn’t bother to change much when translating it to life-size. Paired with a psychedelic set of 19-inch wheels and an out-of-this-world roof spoiler, anyone could mistake the Emkoo for a spaceship.

Who needs a string of letters and numbers when there's Mega Wave Power? PHOTOS BY JUSTIN YOUNG

The Emkoo is powered by the same 1.5-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine from the Empow. With similar power figures of 177hp and 270Nm, its delivery swiftly propels on the highway straights and keeps the wheels planted in the corners, but the seven-speed wet dual-clutch transmission can be a smooth hit or a jerky miss depending on the driving style.

Throughout the week, I achieved around 10-14km/L of city and expressway driving, somewhat close to the advertised 16.1km/L. I never got to experience filling up the Emkoo as the tank meter read as half-empty by the end of the drive, but since the Mega Wave Power recommends 95-octane gas, it could be a burden to one’s wallet.

The author commends the uniqueness in door-handle design. PHOTOS BY JUSTIN YOUNG

Inside is chock-full of sci-fi-inspired cylinders and shapes mixed with typical leather materials in black, black-and-green, or beige. Trunk cargo space is a step up from the GS4, spanning between 635L and 1,586L when the second row is folded down.

Red stitching is found throughout the dashboard, the seats, and the flat-bottom steering wheel, an odd combination for a crossover that isn’t a performance-oriented model like the Empow.

Designers often want to reinvent the door handle, and GAC is no exception. Outside, the hidden grips automatically pop out when unlocked by default, as it can be turned off in the settings. The interior’s flick-up handles are located on the door card, which is something owners could get used to after adapting to the conventional way.

Yes, this crossover has RGB lighting like your PC parts. PHOTOS BY JUSTIN YOUNG

The three driving modes (Economy, Comfort, and Sport) make a familiar return, and—much like the GS4—lightening or hardening steering input and throttle response is a tap away. In front of the pilot lie a seven-inch digital instrument cluster and a 10.1-inch infotainment system, both screens outputting bright and readable at default settings.

The Emkoo GL contains exclusive features not found on the GE. The ambient lighting is notably customizable and quick in toggling between colors, enough to turn your cockpit into a rave. Other aspects—such as a panoramic glass sunroof, an electric tailgate, and 360° surround cameras—add convenience that justifies the additional cost.

The author had a couple of heart attacks while accidentally flicking into reverse in traffic. PHOTOS BY JUSTIN YOUNG

Some minor drawbacks can be seen here and there, which could easily be overlooked after a month or two. The diamond gear shifter can be finicky, especially selecting from Drive to Neutral could overshoot to Reverse. Applying the brake to change gears can cause a delay at the stoplight, so be aware of when the light turns green.

Having a wireless key fob doesn’t necessarily mean it has a keyless touch entry, which means unlocking the Emkoo requires the old-fashioned button-pressing. At least, locking the vehicle is hands-free and a breeze through a proximity sensor.

The piano-black material on the screens and the center console can get annoying—especially to clean. PHOTOS BY JUSTIN YOUNG

On the center console is a dedicated spot to place your smartphone, and one might assume this to be a wireless charging zone. In reality, it doesn’t come with such a feature, and charging or connecting to Apple CarPlay required me to place the phone upside down for the wire to hook up.

The climate control still operates through a separate page on the screen (albeit less intrusive than the GS4), except for the auto climate and defroster buttons that are thankfully physical and tactile for accessibility and simplicity. Nevertheless, this and the capacitive touch of the fan speed and the volume could be distracting for new operators.

The built-in radar can even identify what mode of transportation is in front of you—either a car, a truck or a two-wheeler. PHOTOS BY JUSTIN YOUNG

That fittingly segues to one of the key selling points of the Emkoo: GAC’s proprietary intelligent driving system ADiGO 5.0. I got to experience ADAS for the first time, and compared to Honda Sensing, GAC’s is more fleshed out and trippier, especially with lane-departure warning and lane-keep assist.

I have never tried adaptive cruise control in any form before, so sampling the Integrated Cruise Assist was an eye-opening treat to set a certain speed and distance from any form of transportation in front and let ADiGO do its magic. This wizardry still requires drivers to maintain control of the steering wheel and the throttle pedal.

The Emkoo really stands out in the sea of crossovers. PHOTOS BY JUSTIN YOUNG

GAC doesn’t specify that the Emkoo replaces any existing model in its lineup, but with a price of P1.498 million, it’s safe to say that consumers might gravitate toward the GS4.

However, the spec sheets don’t lie, and the Emkoo GL is a bargain compact crossover specifically for those that seek a comfortable ride and a solid safety package wrapped in a cool, radical design straight out of Blade Runner.

The funky door handle, the lack of a keyless entry, and even the piano-black parts can be overlooked for the car’s peppy driving dynamics and jaw-dropping ADAS—so much so that anyone’s mind will be blown that it’s actually a Chinese car.


Engine1.5-liter four-cylinder turbo gasoline
Transmission7-speed dual-clutch automatic
Power177hp @ 5,500 rpm
Torque270Nm @ 1,400-4,500 rpm
Dimensions4,680mm × 1,901mm × 1,670mm
Drive layoutFWD
UpsideStriking futuristic design, smooth powertrain, spacious cabin for front and rear passengers, bright cluster and infotainment displays, fantastic ADAS features.
DownsideFrequent jerky shifting, a separate climate control page yet again, odd door handles

Justin Young

Justin loves cars of all forms. Molded by motoring TV shows and Internet car culture, he sees the world from a different perspective that not many get to see every day.