Cars > Driven

GAC GS3 Emzoom: Home run in the making

It definitely leaves a lasting impression

Not for the shy types. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

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.

Boy-racer styling is a bit much, but we have to admit the detailing is impressive. PHOTOS BY ANDY LEUTERIO

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.

Probably one of the most flamboyantly styled cars on the market today. PHOTOS BY ANDY LEUTERIO

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.

We dig the sci-fi feels, but the ergonomics are also spot-on. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

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?

GAC didn't cheap out on the tires either. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

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.

There is supposed to be a variable exhaust note, but the author could not hear a big difference. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

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.

Striations on the two-tone dash further liven up the cockpit, and the R-Style gets a leather tiller. PHOTOS BY ANDY LEUTERIO

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.

Ambient lighting, a 360° camera, and a full ADAS suite won't leave you feeling shortchanged. PHOTOS BY ANDY LEUTERIO

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.

Cute gimmick, but could have been omitted. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

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?

Good seats and decent storage of 341L with the seats folded. PHOTOS BY ANDY LEUTERIO

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.

A very competitive and extroverted offering for the subcompact crossover category. PHOTO BY ANDY LEUTERIO

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.


Engine1.5-liter four-cylinder turbo gasoline
Transmission7-speed dual-clutch automatic
Power174hp @ 5,500rpm
Torque270Nm @ 1,400-4,500rpm
Dimensions4,446mm x 1,850mm x 1,600mm
Drive layoutFWD
UpsideSporty style and handling that lives up to the look. Comprehensively specced for the price. Good fit and finish. Smooth, gutsy powertrain.
DownsideDCT needs a manual mode. Not for the low-key buyer.

Andy Leuterio

Andy is both an avid cyclist and a car enthusiast who has finally made the shift to motorcycles. You've probably seen him on his bicycle or motorbike overtaking your crawling car. He is our motorcycle editor and the author of the ‘Quickshift’ column.