Entry-level GAC SUV gets premium cabin and safety features

GAC GS3 1.5 GS

A subcompact crossover for just P888,000 — that’s what GAC (Guangzhou Automobile Group Co., Ltd.) offers in the GS3 base model 1.5 GS. I know what you’re thinking, “Here’s another China-made unit, relatively cheap for the segment, but what does it offer?” After a full week with it, here are my thoughts.

At first glance, it immediately satisfies the basics: high ground clearance, sizable, and yet compact. These are the top things that need to check out before Filipinos even give crossovers another look.

Subtle, effective styling

What I like about GAC is the implementation of the grille. It isn’t very fancy — chrome with two slats — but it is uniformly done across all nameplates, regardless of body type. That means the GS3’s grille will look like what’s on the GA4 sedan, GS4 SUV, and the GN6 MPV (multi-purpose vehicle). There’s cohesiveness and familiarity that will make it easier for the brand to be recognized.

Additional chrome trims extend from the grille and sit on top of the halogen headlights. Some chrome trim even traces the side windows.

The body isn’t plain and has its fair share of lines to give it presence like the ones on the hood. Lines on the flared rear fenders give it a little bit of muscle. There’s also a unique pinch that runs along the width of the tailgate.

Additional exterior features include front and rear underbody garnishes, a rear spoiler, and roof rails.

There are a few empty spaces that have been covered up, like the holes for the front fog lamps and the dual exhaust system, as this base model comes without those features.

While the overall look is somewhat dated, it’s still eye-catching and if it were just based on its exterior appearance, I’d still easily put it over a few of its competitors.

Eye-catching fit and finish

The cabin is a mix of black plastic with some brown leatherette on the door panels and dashboard, which makes some of the surfaces soft to the touch. Seats are a combo of leather and fabric, and while they’re only manually adjustable, offers a great fit and good driving position.

There are four headrests, two in front and two at the rear, plus orange stitching is visible on all the leather materials. All these make for an impressive cabin in an entry-level unit.

What it doesn’t have is the eight-inch touchscreen of the top-of-the-line. In its place is a two-din sized monitor. There’s also no Bluetooth connection but if you plug in your device via USB, it will pop up as a music device so you can listen to your music library.

Palpable power

Powering it is a 1.5L gasoline engine with DCVVT (Dual Continuous Variable Valve Timing) that sends 113-HP and 150-Nm of torque to the front wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission.

All the pull and power are highly palpable from first through second gear, which makes the GS3 take off quickly from a standstill. It feels very energetic and somewhat powerful when it’s taking off. When it’s on ECO mode, you’ll need to put some serious throttle pressure and expect a little bit of a delay from third onwards.

There is the option to use Sport mode but it’s more bark than bite as it revs much higher (and louder) but the gains are minimal at best.

So long as it doesn’t need to fulfill overtaking demands, the GS3 feels more settled. It struggles to respond to throttle input, whether on ECO or Sport, but once it gets to the desired speed, it starts to calm down and drive much smoother.

Ride and handling

Surprising for this crossover is its rather stiff suspension. The uneven patches on EDSA were more pronounced than usual, but thankfully, it was able to suppress a good amount of noise, vibration, and harshness. I’m guessing that it should balance itself out more evenly with a passenger or two, or maybe some load.

As it stands much higher than other crossovers, cornering isn’t its best suit either. But what I do like is the steering feel. It might be electronically powered but feedback is great and there’s no dead spot, so every adjustment made registers.

Another thing I like about it are its safety features. It comes with Traction Control, Hill-Start Hold Control, Hill Descent Control, and even a seatbelt minder for both front seats. Most of these aren’t standard in entry-level models or they might get some, but not all of it.

While it obviously still has some ways to go, there are several things it got right and don’t forget that this GAC model is just three years old and you’re looking at a first-generation.

A pleasant surprise

Several aspects will need some polishing but what the base model GS3 1.5 GS does have over others of the same ilk are better assist systems that make the drive easier and more fun, plus a more upmarket cabin.