In my work as a reporter, I generally talk to high-level officials when I want to discuss the intricacies and nuances of public policy. Still, I immediately go to the “Person on the Street” to understand what effect these policies have outside the insulated walls of government bureaucracy.
When I have to deliver a speech or a lecture, I ask what crowd I would get. “Profiling” my audience determines whether I use exclusively English or Filipino (or apply “code-switching” for my fellow language majors) and what sort of pop culture references I would include.
This process of preconception has carried over to reviewing cars – a high-performance car should be fast and totally visceral, while a pick-up truck should be hardy and capacious. And then there’s the GAC GS4, first produced in 2019.
The latest Chinese cars, such as the GAC Emkoo and the MG GT Sport, offer fabulously original styling, strong performance, and whizzbang tech that would cost you most of your vital organs in an equivalent Japanese model.
I wasn't expecting much with the GS4 – but I’m happy to report that I was totally wrong.
Handsome but plain styling
The “cover” certainly doesn’t tell much about the GS4’s story.
Because this is an older-generation GAC, the styling still carries cues from Japanese and European crossovers. Compared to its Emkoo sibling, the GS4 looks more conservative, traditional, and generally inoffensive.
The large and powerful LED headlights flank a front grill that dominates the entire crossover’s face. That grill leads the eye down the lower bumper, which has silver trim to give it a more premium appearance.
Down the side, an enormous chrome strip emphasizes the GS4’s window line and roofline, while the 17-inch alloy wheels hark from an older time. The only noticeable “zing’ in this crossover’s flanks is the kink from the C-pillar to the D-pillar.
The rear is just as handsome (and anonymous) as the front. A large chrome strip connects the big LED taillights, while the matte-black lower bumper with silver trim mirrors the treatment upfront.
Overall, the GS4’s styling is fine, but it could use some of the zest of the rest of the GAC Motor Philippines lineup.
Roomy two-tone cabin
Step inside the GS4, and a two-tone, beige-and-black interior greets you.
The color combination is nice to behold, with the only concession to the zany being the headrests. Although all-round visibility is good, the driver’s seat could use more lower-back support.
The cabin layout is thankfully straightforward, with traditional analog gauges and an old-school gear selector that has satisfying clicks for every gear.
One feature that is laudable in the GS4 is the 8-inch touchscreen infotainment system. Mass-market brands, Japanese or otherwise, need to study this display carefully for its crisp resolution and good responsiveness.
However, this system has a few flaws. One, the rear-view camera offers poor visibility, with a grainy image and dull colors. And two, although there is Apple CarPlay, Android users like me are relegated to the Bluetooth system.
The air-conditioning is also stunningly good, almost up there with the likes of Nissan in the “full blast equals hypothermia” stakes. And for more light and ventilation, the enormous panoramic moonroof is more than up to the task.
Given that the GS4 is priced against top-spec subcompact sedans, the space for passengers and cargo is simply exceptional. I just wish there were more toys like an electric driver’s seat, a power tailgate, and adaptive cruise control that are available in the cheaper GAC GS3 Emzoom.
Also, softer interior materials would make this cabin even more appealing than the acres of hard plastic you get in the aging Toyota Vios GR-S.
Quick and economical
The GAC GS4 continues to impress when you take it out on the road.
Under the hood is a turbocharged 1.5-liter, twin-cam, 16-valve inline-4 gasoline engine pumping out 168 PS and 265 Nm of torque. This is mated, somewhat surprisingly, to a traditional 6-speed automatic gearbox from Japanese manufacturer Aisin (which is owned by Toyota).
I’m not particularly fond of dual-clutch transmissions (DCT) in non-performance cars because these are generally jerkier than a regular automatic at low speeds.
However, the GS4’s powertrain is smooth and responsive, with loads of punch at around 2,500 rpm. The Aisin gearbox may be leagues better than GAC’s DCTs, but it could still shift smoother, while a higher final drive would improve the rather lackluster acceleration.
The advantage of such tall gearing is that you can get 10 to 13 km/l in the city and 15 to 18 km/l on the expressway. Cruising at 100 km/h is at a steady 2,100 rpm in 6th gear.
Finally, the steering is light but lacking in feel, while the braking action is strong, albeit controlled by a slightly spongy pedal. The GS4’s ride is surprisingly firm for a crossover, but it’s a firmness that is composed rather than bone-shattering.
Well-priced, plenty of thought
Overall, the GAC GS4 is an older-generation Chinese crossover that tells more than what its plain appearance would imply.
And how much for all this space, power, and refinement? A jaw-dropping ₱1,160,000.
Yes, the GS3 Emzoom R-Style and Emkoo GL may be more stylish and better equipped. But the GS4 fights back with a far smoother gearbox, and the sort of value for money that makes top-of-the-line Japanese subcompact sedans look a bit silly.
The GS4 is for people who want a spacious, refined runaround instead of “catwalk-worthy” looks useless body kits, or pretentious badges.
It epitomizes the Chinese carmaker’s strategy of undercutting the competition by simply offering more while maintaining a feeling of quality that Filipinos demand.
I genuinely enjoyed my time with the 2023 GAC GS4, which should be promoted more to new-car buyers. The newer and more stylish GS4 Plus, available in other markets, would be a welcome addition to the GAC Motor Philippines lineup.
That’s one book I’d certainly love to read.
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An award-winning multimedia journalist, editor, and host for online and TV who has written in-depth stories on road safety and the Philippine elections. Outside of the media, VJ is an accomplished motorsports champion, English teacher, and dancer.