GAC is killing it this year. After the impressive debut of the Empow and the Emkoo earlier this year, the latest, smallest GAC may be the one that really propels the Chinese manufacturer to the big leagues in the same manner that the Coolray did for Geely. I’m talking about the GS3 Emzoom.
It makes a positive, firm impression the moment anyone sets eyes on it. Angular and stubby, at first glance it looks small, but with a length of 4,446mm, it’s longer than the Honda HR-V and the Geely Coolray, and its 2,650mm wheelbase is also longer than these two.
Actually, with a starting price of P998,000, and topping out at just P1,198,000 for this R-Style variant, the Emzoom has an undeniable price advantage over everybody else.
The Coolray now starts at P1.083 million and is due for an update. The Changan CS35 starts at P1.109 million, and the Honda HR-V is at P1.389 million. The Haval Jolion is slightly larger and also starts at P998,000, but has a more subdued aesthetic.
So, the Emzoom’s brash styling looks good, and the price is compelling. Particularly with this R-Style variant, which gets 19-inch star-pattern alloy wheels, a “flying wing” front grille, laser-eye LED headlamps, and light-dart taillights.
Spend a few minutes walking around the car and running your hand over the body, and you’ll notice subtle details in the stamping, flowing from compound curves to sharp edges that will make you want to wash the car yourself from time to time. The exterior—as with the Empow—sometimes strays into overkill, especially with the exaggerated diffuser with the twin endpipes and the roof spoiler.
But man, it has been years since I saw a manufacturer let the artists have a free hand with its mainline models, so have at it.
Anyway, there’s still enough subtlety left in the design to keep the Emzoom from straying into Pontiac territory. It’s loud and extroverted, but stops short of being garish. And the more I looked at it, the more I liked the Salt Lake Blue color, which seemed to glow during golden hour.
One disappointment is the stubby little shifter for the seven-speed DCT. It does the job all right, but I like having a bigger joystick to work with from time to time. There’s also no manual mode, so you have to trust the computer that it will always be in the right gear for you.
The 1.5-liter turbo-four makes plenty of thrust for a small engine, and the DCT shifts cleanly and quickly most of the time. As usual, there are several driving modes to choose from: Eco, Comfort, Sport, and Sport+, and these alter throttle response and shift algorithms accordingly.
Also, 90% of the time, the drivetrain worked as intended, but for that 10% when I was pushing it, I kept thinking it would be better if it had paddle shifters or at least a manual mode. Not necessarily faster, but more involving. Flogging a car with just the accelerator to work with is like playing Gran Turismo 7 with an automatic car. Where’s the challenge in that?
The underpinnings are standard workaday hardware and potentially nothing to write home about. Front MacPherson struts, check. Rear torsion beam, check. But it has all-wheel disc brakes with ABS and even automatic emergency braking, and those are 45-series Michelin Pilot Sports.
And with the steering sensitivity set to Sport, it does justice to the “zoom” in its name if your jam is carving twisty roads. The suspension is supple and works well with the rubber for delivering a “comfortably firm” ride. Turn-in is crisp, and brake dive and body roll are controlled well enough so you can set a brisk pace without feeling like the car is all out of sorts just when you’re beginning to have some fun.
The engine has a strong midrange and a pleasant growl, working best in the 4,000-5,000rpm range. There’s supposed to be this variable exhaust sound, but I couldn’t discern any big change in the sound. Anyway, nobody should expect a 1.5-liter motor to sound especially invigorating, variable exhaust or not. But damn it, this really would be even more fun if you could do your own shifting.
More props to the driving fun department include supportive front seats; a handsome, thick-rimmed steering wheel with the flat bottom currently all the rage these days; and expansive view all around without having to rely on the 360° cameras.
There’s Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility for the infotainment screen, and you can even set the mood for the cabin by changing the color of the ambient lighting to your liking.
As with all new cars these days, the ADAS suite includes Traffic Sign Recognition, Lane Keeping Assistance, Lane Departure Warning, Adaptive Cruise Control, and Forward Collision Warning. If you dislike electronic nannies, you can disable as many as you like.
The R-Style gets front, side, and curtain airbags. Lower variants just get the front ones. All variants still benefit from traction control and a tire pressure monitoring system. I’m not too hot about the pop-out door handles, though. Who knows how well they’ll work after several thousand kilometers of accumulating gunk in the bearings and the innards?
Being a subcompact, the Emzoom makes the most of the available cabin space with sufficient headroom and legroom for four adults (five if you’re pushing it).
The back seat is acceptable for two large adults under 6ft tall. As usual, a third passenger can fit in there, but the hump is stiff and not a good place to be in for long drives. An electric tailgate, a moonroof, and rear A/C vents further add to comfort and convenience. You have 341L of cargo volume, but you can fold the seat backs down to further expand that figure.
With so many manufacturers wanting a piece of the crossover pie, GAC now has a very competitive offering for the subcompact category. It wouldn’t be a surprise if it topped the sales charts within a year.
GAC GS3 EMZOOM
|Engine||1.5-liter four-cylinder turbo gasoline|
|Transmission||7-speed dual-clutch automatic|
|Power||174hp @ 5,500rpm|
|Torque||270Nm @ 1,400-4,500rpm|
|Dimensions||4,446mm x 1,850mm x 1,600mm|
|Upside||Sporty style and handling that lives up to the look. Comprehensively specced for the price. Good fit and finish. Smooth, gutsy powertrain.|
|Downside||DCT needs a manual mode. Not for the low-key buyer.|