Review: For X50 money, the 2022 GAC GS3 certainly asks a lot from Malaysians, but can it justify?
Sanjay · Sep 18, 2022 09:00 AM
Not too many cars these days are truly bottom barrel, in spite of whatever netizens clack away on their keyboards daily. We've come a long way from cars just purely built to transport – you know those types – but does the 2022 GAC GS3 belong in that category?
Overview: GAC GS3 Premium
RM 105,800 (OTR with SST, variant as tested)
1.5-litre NA 4-cyl
114 PS @ 6,000 rpm
150 Nm @ 4,500 rpm
A Chery nor Geely this isn't, we'll say as much. Perhaps it does have something good behind its non-threatening face, but it takes some digging...
Exterior: Plain jane automobile
If there's a visual representation of the expression "ok lo..." then this GS3 is the dictionary definition. Not the most stunningest thing around, but neither is it a slop of unheated leftover porridge either. It's just...alright.
Again, not necessarily a bad thing because it'll have its fans who like thier understated designs. Choice touches – a neat red line on the grille, small trapezoidal metal badges by the side, and distinctive LED lights – all help to liven the simple looks a bit.
Ours come facelifted; but we lose the nicer wheels available on its Chinese-market counterpart, and no LED headlights either. Just plain ol' halogens, not too big of an issue as the warmer colours do help with penetration in rainy/foggy weather, even if it looks a little old school.
Interior: Simple, but tough to understand
Oh dear, we're not sure how or why this has happened but despite the new exterior, our GS3's cabin oddly belongs to the old pre-facelift model.
Yes, it's hard to believe, and it took us a few rounds of reading up on Chinese websites too. But it's true, ours – in all its analogue dials and vertical air-cond slats splendour – are entirely dissimilar from the much, much more modern interior of the properly new GS3.
Quality though is better than aesthetics suggest, with numerous soft padding and leather touchpoints. Where there's hard plastic, they aren't the soft cheapo scratchy kinds. First impressions could be worse...
Logical button placements and a nice sunroof further sweeten the deal of the cabin, but get to actually using the digital bits and the relative lack of effort taken in polishing it muddies the lengths they've taken to make the rest of the car.
You see, this is GAC's first-ever right-hand drive (RHD) model with supposedly over 130 changes made to it, but those obviously didn't include language.
Sadly it's an 'Oh My English!' moment in here, with all kinds of headscratching English that I personally feel cheapens everything else.
The 8-inch headunit is where you find a lot of the car's settings squirrelled away, and though it offers plenty of customisation, performance is really nothing to shout about. The screen is not unlike mid-range aftermarket ones; visual quality is barely acceptable and the screen doesn't feel very nice to touch.
Sound quality remains sub-par whether or not the equaliser looks like the Mariana trench or if GALA is on (whatever that does), but er, at least there's Apple CarPlay. Android users are stuck with plain ol' Bluetooth and remember, changing the player isn't an option because you'll lose access to other functions.
Slow-witted screen aside, it's nice that air-cond controls are still typical buttons, as they're so much more friendlier to use while driving.
Cabin Space: Plenty of it to go around
Despite the foibles in ergonomics and general polish, the GS3 notches some points with extra space. It's slightly bigger than the Proton X50 – both with similar pricetags, hoo boy hasn't GAC got to fight for every inch – which might be appealing to some.
It's only 25 mm girthier than the Geely-based SUV (1,825 mm vs 1,820 mm), but it feels like the interior is better packaged, so three-abreast seating here feels marginally better.
Head- and legroom are good, with 2 tennis balls fitting between my noggin and the headliner, and two more between my knees and the front seats. If you're on the better side of 175 cm, you'll be rather comfortable.
There's a few cupholders around the cabin, though nothing too big that'll swallow your 1.5-litre water bottles whole. Smaller bottles are fine. Parents with small children and all the knick-knacks they entail, be forewarned.
The little box on the centre tunnel is just that, little, and easily filled up with a wallet and your keys.
Boot space is a plainly average 356 litres with the rear seats up, but push the 60:40 split-folding rear seats down and there's 780 litres of room; good enough for a couple days out of the city.
Driving: Not an overperformer
Look, driving this thing is not bad per se but it all melds into one lukewarm package because nothing is truly outstanding. Note too that it's one of the few rare new SUVs to not get neither a turbo or a hybrid system strapped alongside its engine.
A 1.5-litre naturally-aspirated four-cylinder with 114 PS and 150 Nm is the sole option across both variants here, and just like the numbers suggest, powerful it is not. It's not terrible, it remains a relatively quiet engine with adequate power to not feel ENTIRELY anaemic, but if you're looking for an SUV that's even a smidge fun, this ain't it.
Paired to that is a 6-speed Aisin-sourced torque converter automatic (not a CVT), that's pretty good on its own. Shifts are generally smooth and rather interestingly the 'Manual' mode really is full-manual: you can slam the redline if you so choose.
Acceleration isn't its strong suit, taking a measly 16.2 seconds to hit 100 km/h from a standstill. Slamming the brakes from that speed will stop the car in 46.1 meters, or just 3.4 seconds.
Fuel consumption tests returned an on-the-money 6.8 litres/100 km, exactly as claimed.
As a whole, the powertrain is inoffensive. It does its job, is relatively efficient, and simple. Steering on the other hand, is abysmal.
It just does the basic job of putting you on the road, but in every other aspect it's vague like a mumbly, moody teenager after being told to do the dishes. It's hard to trust where the wheels are pointing, and the 'deadzone' feeling is downright jarring at higher speeds.
Don't bother with the synthetic 'drive modes' either: the GAC allows you to choose between Normal, Comfort and Sport steering modes but we couldn't discern anything different between the first latter pair anyway. 'Sport' is a scam; it adds artificial heft to the steering wheel that only serves to make the vague tiller doubly annoying to deal with.
Ride comfort: Generally fine
Ride comfort in the GAC GS3 is fairly middle-ground, again, nothing that makes us long intensely at another go at the wheel. The chunky tyres do help in absorbing road ruts and imperfections a bit, but overall performance is forgettable. Leao Batman isn't really a trusted name either, so proceed with caution.
Suspension articulation is very old-school and could be made way better. It suffers from the usual China-car syndrome where it's relatively firm (like the Binyue and Jiaji we tested in China back in 2019), and that doesn't translate to Malaysian roads so well.
Where to begin? With prices starting from RM 96,800 (Standard variant, which is even more barebones than this) to RM 105,800 (Premium, as tested) the 2022 GAC GS3 Power launches itself in a hotly-contested arena that includes the Proton X50 and Perodua Ativa.
And that's just in its segment; we don't need to remind you what else are there at prices cheaper than this. Cars that come with full ADAS at prices magnitudes lower, while you only get 6 airbags and blind spot monitors (BSM) here.
Its five-year, 150,000-kilometre warranty is also easily outdone by rivals, and GAC doesn't have the most extensive aftersales network either. And with a brand as fledgling this to Malaysians, we'd argue this is very important for buyers.
At best, you get a cabin that's just OK, perhaps an innocuous exterior that's easy to look at, and we're sure the relatively efficient, simple NA engine and torque converter combo will have its fans too.
But that's all, and that's the problem. It's so quickly forgotten.
With humble beginnings collecting diecast models and spending hours virtually tuning dream cars on the computer, his love of cars has delightfully transformed into a career. Sanjay enjoys how the same passion for cars transcends boundaries and brings people together.