When I tested the GAC GS8, I received a lot of looks from young and old alike. But I noticed it resonated with children more with its wide boxy stance, prominent grille, angular design, and tall LED headlights. They would stop, stare, and even point at the GS8 as I passed them.
Even at the local carwash, I received questions about the crossover from car owners asking me if it was some new Land Rover model. Those who asked were shocked that the car was of Chinese origin and didn't expect something of this build and design to come from the Mainland.
The GAC GS8 broke the norms of what they thought a Chinese vehicle should look like, and they were pleasantly surprised that it could look that good.
The crossover has an imposing front with a more subtle rear. The design is accentuated by large 20-inch wheels that fit snugly into the wheel wells. It even has angular LED taillights, which work well with the vehicle's overall aesthetic.
I can’t say that the interior of the GAC GS8 is luxurious because it does not exude opulence despite the presence of premium leather and soft-touch materials.
The upper section of the dashboard has a hard faux leather top with a bit of give to it, but it is by no means soft. The dashboard is flat and broad, with a prominent piano black plastic accent on the passenger side. Granted, it does house the part of the interior mood lighting, which is a neat party trick, but it doesn't quite scream luxury to me.
The seats are supportive and have the right amount of suppleness to let you sit comfortably. The lumbar support is there and is hardly intrusive as the fit feels automatically natural to be seated.
The GS8 has cooled seats which is helpful in the Philippines. However, its effectiveness depends on the clothing that you have on. Sometimes it feels like a cold sweat behind your back, and other times it feels like a cool breeze. It's hit-or-miss, but at least it's there to help cool you off when you first enter the car on a hot day.
At the center of the dashboard of the GAC crossover lies its crowning jewel, a massive 14.6-inch infotainment system. For context, it's like having a laptop display stuck on your dashboard.
Despite its substantial size, it does come with one caveat: it has no support for Apple CarPlay or Android Auto. It is a disappointment considering that its other rivals, such as the Ford Explorer, Peugeot 5008, Kia Sorento, and Hyundai Santa Fe, have these features standard.
However, you do have screen mirroring, which requires installing an app on your phone to get it to work. But the app works as intended as it successfully mirrors your phone's screen. You can even use the GS8's massive touchscreen to operate your phone, provided you rotate it to go into landscape mode.
A surprising amount of space in the third row
When I first took delivery of the GAC GS8, I assumed that its third-row seating would be just like all other 7-seaters where space would be cramped, and there would be no thigh support.
While I was correct in the latter assumption, the former surprised me as there was ample size for average-sized adults between the height range of 5'5" to 5'8"; anything more than that, and it's a tight squeeze. Foot space is decent, and headroom and elbow room are excellent even when fully occupied.
You also get the bonus of a panoramic sunroof, which gloriously lets you see the sky and allow natural light to come in.
The one weakness of the GS8 is entry to and exit from the third row. If you aren’t nimble or agile, you will find it difficult. The second row does not fold or tumble; all it does is push forward and tilt the backrest so that you can get in. It's a minor engineering flaw that limits who can enter the back.
Agile for a big car
The GAC GS8 is almost five meters long and two meters wide, so it's a relatively big vehicle. However, driving the GS8 doesn’t feel like hauling a huge SUV. And this can be a good or bad thing, depending on your perspective.
It can be good as the car is easy to drive and is confidence-inspiring on the open road. Power comes in linearly but only after the turbo takes its time to spool and get into boost. Once you are in boost, you are in for a ride, as you will feel all the 400 Nm of torque the car can deliver.
The feeling of the GS8 accelerating is like a gentle yet consistent push into the seat. It will make you smile, but then you realize you are accelerating in a two-ton vehicle, and the thought of how you will stop suddenly hits you, making you back off the throttle.
Taking corners at speed isn't what you would expect from a giant lumbering beast. Yes, you feel the vehicle's heft while cornering, but it surprisingly sticks to the corner, and you get out smoothly as you get on the power.
GAC has tuned the chassis of the GS8 well, as both the front and the rear of the car feel like they are in constant communication with one another. It is slightly biased towards oversteer, but we suspect it was tuned to help the vehicle rotate.
A smooth ride but with deafening silence
The GAC GS8's ride is smooth and pliant, and it keeps the more minor bumps at bay, with only the larger ones being felt in the cabin. I noticed that the GS8 likes to wallow, which can become nauseating for passengers on rougher roads. Weight shift is also apparent in the vehicle when cornering, but it's understandable given its large size.
We do have to commend the GS8 for its impeccable NVH. On the road, you will barely hear the engine. One of my passengers even described the cabin of the GAC crossover as having a deafening silence when the infotainment wasn’t on. It's a testament to how far Chinese cars have come in addressing noise insulation.
However, tire noise is where the GS8 needs to be improved. Even with the cabin having great sound-deadening, the hum emanating from the 20-inch rubbers would make its way into the vehicle's interior even at lower speeds. Tire noise could be heard as early as 60km/h. But you can quickly remedy this by getting a new set of quieter tires later.
A bit too wide
Things can get dicey in tight streets where you can feel the vehicle's width work against you. Positioning the car in tight parking spots becomes difficult despite its excellent 360-degree camera and high-definition display.
It also becomes hard to maneuver the GS8 in tight parking structures due to its length. All that interior space comes at the price of maneuverability. You will still fit into standard parking spots, albeit less easily than other vehicles.
2.0-liter turbocharged gasoline power
Under the hood, you are looking at a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder gasoline engine. It produces 248 horsepower and 400 Nm of torque and is mated to an 8-speed automatic transmission. It is more than enough power for the crossover, but I wish the gearbox were snappier even in Sport mode.
The GS8 even has a cool feature where you can adjust the throttle sensitivity per driving mode, making you comfortable with the SUV rather quickly. It has three driving modes: Eco, which dulls the throttle response; Comfort, the middle ground for normal day-to-day driving; and Sport, where the shifting points get pushed higher into the RPMs, and the steering feel gets slightly heavier.
I got between 7 to 10km/l in the city and 12 to 14km/l on the highway for fuel economy. The city figures were significant, and I have no complaints. But I wish the highway figures were higher.
I did my best to see how far I could bring the numbers up by keeping the engine out of boost and coasting the crossover when there was space. Unfortunately, the best I could manage, even with a light foot, was 14km/l. GAC Philippines should bring a hybrid version of the GS8 to the Philippines to help raise the highway cruising fuel economy figures.
Is it an unpolished gem?
In a realm where driving and riding refinement define a car's existence, the GAC GS8 is a stunning piece of rock that deserves a bit more polishing because of its potential to dominate the 7-seater crossover segment. It already has the looks and the tech but needs a few revisions to let the nameplate shine.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are necessary, as many Filipinos have already grown accustomed to these features. The screen mirroring feature works but has a complex setup process, and car owners and passengers prefer a plug-and-play solution.
A hybrid version would also be a welcome addition to the nameplate, as the fuel-efficiency figures were as expected for a 2-liter turbo. Granted, for the price of ₱2,398,000, we understand that the demographic GAC is trying to target with the GS8 won’t care about fuel economy. But its less than frugal gas consumption will entail more costs to you in the long run.
The GAC GS8 has the makings to become a dominant force in the market. GAC needs to polish the spec sheet a bit to better fit the needs and wants of the Filipino car buyer and to capture a wider audience.
It's worth considering if you want to plunge into the new generation of Chinese vehicles. But like any work in progress, it needs a bit of time and refinement from GAC to get it to its shining glory.
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