It’s safe to say that Chinese auto manufacturers have definitely flooded our market, particularly the subcompact crossover SUV segment. From cars like the Geely Coolray, MG ZS, and Chery Tiggo 5X vying for your attention, there’s definitely no shortage of subcompact crossovers nowadays. We haven’t even counted the Japanese, American, and South Korean offerings that have also flooded our market. This makes us wonder, where does the GAC GS3 fit in?
Hailing from the highly-industrialized city of Guangzhou, GAC Motor is yet another Chinese automaker wanting to do battle in our diverse automotive market. Just like SAIC who owns MG and Maxus, GAC Motor is also state-owned, though one of its stand-out traits is its diverse portfolio of global OEM parts manufacturers such as Japanese transmission company Aisin. As a result, the GAC GS3 feels quite good from a quality standpoint.
This particular GS3 we have here is the top trim 200T variant, which means it gets a nice set of 18-inch alloy wheels, LED daytime running lights and taillights, passive entry with push-button start, just to name a few. The car’s shade of Beeswax Yellow is also striking, which makes it attention-grabbing out on the open road. Gone are the days that (most) Chinese cars are mere copy cats of their western or Japanese rivals because the GAC GS3 looks organic and original.
It’s also the same story inside. Open up the doors, and you’ll appreciate the heftiness of the damped door handles and solid thunk when you shut it close. Build quality is top-notch, with no squeak or rattle that ruins the perceived solidity. The middle of the dash and other common touchpoints are covered in leatherette surfaces, which makes it feel a bit more premium than some rivals. Though as expected, some parts are covered in hard plastic.
Equipment levels are good, with this particular variant having auto climate control, rear AC vents, a sunroof, and a 6-speaker audio system. It also gets an 8-inch touch screen, and while touch response is reasonably snappy, the functionality is actually quite limited. It also does not have Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, which could be a deal-breaker for some. Oftentimes, you’ll spot a few grammatical errors in the interface, such as in the reverse camera, wherein it says “Please check surroundings obstructions”.
While the GAC GS3 is a subcompact crossover SUV, interior space feels much more generous than what its size class suggests. For instance, at 1,825 mm wide, the GS3 is actually 10 mm wider than the Mitsubishi Montero Sport, which is already two size classes higher. This makes the GS3 one of the best at carrying three adults at the rear seats since they don’t have to argue for shoulder room. In addition, head and legroom for all occupants are good, which makes this a great companion space-wise for long drives.
Trunk space is also good, though not class-leading. At 370 liters, this puts it in the middle of the subcompact SUV category. The class benchmark is the Honda HR-V, which offers a full 100 liters more. Of course, if you want even more space, you can fold down the 60:40 split-folding rear seats.
Powering this GAC GS3 200T is a 1.3-liter inline-4 turbocharged gasoline engine that produces 136 hp and 202 Nm of torque. While most of its competitors use a dual-clutch transmission (DCT), the GS3 uses a more conventional 6-speed torque converter automatic transmission, and that actually might be a good thing. Here’s why.
While DCTs are known for their fast gear changes, they can often be clunky and unresponsive to change gear when calibrated incorrectly. That’s not the case with the GAC GS3’s conventional automatic transmission. Shifts are smooth and imperceptible, plus the 1.3-liter mill delivers good low-end torque. Whenever the engine and transmission are operating within their sweet spot, the GAC GS3 overtakes slower vehicles with confidence.
It’s not all good news though. While the transmission is good, the turbo engine can feel laggy from a standstill. For instance, when coming from a stoplight, there are moments when the turbos will take time to spool up before power is actually delivered with your throttle input. I can feel “bitin” at times, though as mentioned, power delivery is much better once the car is already in motion.
Comfort levels and refinement are also good. Road and wind noise is well controlled, and perhaps one of the contributing factors to this is its Michelin Primacy 3ST OEM tires, which have a solid reputation for being a quiet and refined tire. Ride quality is mostly good. I say mostly because while the suspension deals pretty well with bigger bumps, the GS3 seems to offer a slightly firmer ride when it comes to the smaller ones, with highway expansion joints often entering the cabin almost unfiltered.
On the upside, handling is good for a high-riding crossover. Sure, it’s not as sporty as a Mazda CX-3, but the GS3’s handling feels secure. Body roll is well controlled and grip levels when going through twisty roads are good, though push it harder and this crossover errs towards understeer. Steering is also light and devoid of any feedback, but it at least feels stable when you’re going down long straight roads, minimizing the need for minor steering corrections just to keep the GS3 straight. Barely anyone buys a crossover to go to an autocross, and the GS3 is going to be perfectly adequate for most people.
As for fuel economy, I’ve been averaging around 9 to 11 km/l, which is pretty good for a turbocharged small crossover SUV.
Going back to the original question, where does the GAC GS3 fit in such a crowded segment and why should you consider one? Well, first and foremost, the GS3 is one of the better engineered Chinese subcompact crossover SUVs out there. We think the Geely Coolray is still the benchmark with its exhilarating performance, handsome design, and its sheer amount of features for the price, but the GS3 still manages to offer a lot of car for the money.
Oftentimes, whenever we drive a Chinese vehicle, we tend to experience one or two mechanical quirks the moment we take it for a drive, but the GS3 feels much more polished than most other Chinese vehicles. While it’s still not as polished as its Japanese, South Korean, or American rivals, it’s definitely about 90 percent up there compared to its more mainstream rivals in terms of its overall engineering. If you’re looking for a small SUV with plenty of space, a punchy turbo engine, but at a price that undercuts its Japanese or American rivals in price, then you definitely should consider the GAC GS3.
Pricing and Rating
Exterior Design: ★★★★☆
Interior Design: ★★★★☆
Space and Practicality: ★★★★★
Fuel Efficiency: ★★★★☆
Value For Money: ★★★★☆
Overall: 4.1 out of 5
*Pricing is correct and accurate as of this article’s time of writing.