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Review: GAC GS3 Emzoom - The Omoda 5 needs to firm up its defenses, here's why

CY Foong · Jun 19, 2024 03:30 PM

Review: GAC GS3 Emzoom - The Omoda 5 needs to firm up its defenses, here's why 01

The underdog story is a tale that inspires people to never give up and continue to work hard to achieve success. It is worthy of feel-good coverage when someone or a team goes against all odds to make it to the top of the table and succeed after all that hard work.

GAC is far from an underdog but if its time in Malaysia has so far shown, it kind of has the hallmarks of one. It isn't new to Malaysia with distributor WTC Automotif (WTCA) Sdn Bhd having introduced the Guangzhou-based brand back in 2021 with the GS3 Power as a close-priced competitor against the Proton X50.

Review: GAC GS3 Emzoom - The Omoda 5 needs to firm up its defenses, here's why 02

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The old GS3 Power has become a forgotten blip in a sea of B-segment SUVs and GAC was also swept away as the tide of Chinese brands entered the market.

Now though, the GS3 Power is replaced by its all-new successor, the GAC GS3 Emzoom but its foe is no longer the X50. Rather, it’s a fellow fashionable countryman which saw immense success in Malaysia.

Overview: GAC GS3 Emzoom Premium R
Price RM 128,900 (OTR w/o insurance)
Segment B-segment
Powertrain Turbocharged 1.5-litre 4-cylinder
Transmission 7-speed wet-type dual-clutch transmission (DCT)
Power 177 PS
Torque 270 Nm
0-100 km/h 9.28 seconds (as tested)
Origin CBU, China (CKD deliveries to start later)

The Chery Omoda 5 has become a common sight on Malaysian roads with an attractive price and impressive features to boot. However, we don’t exactly share the same love for the Omoda 5 in the office but there’s no denying its sheer popularity.

Review: GAC GS3 Emzoom - The Omoda 5 needs to firm up its defenses, here's why 01

Being the underdog newcomer in this popular category, should you go and consider the GAC GS3 Emzoom? While we did a brief sample of this sporty-looking SUV in China, this time around we spent a few days in this Salt Lake Blue GS3 Emzoom Premium R to really see if it is worthy for Malaysian roads.

Design – Sharp outside, sensible inside

Review: GAC GS3 Emzoom - The Omoda 5 needs to firm up its defenses, here's why 02

WTCA – a subsidiary of the Tan Chong Group – offers two variants of the GS3 Emzoom in Malaysia:

  • 1.5T Exclusive – RM 118,900
  • 1.5T Premium R – RM 128,900

Just like its predecessor, the second-generation GS3 is fully imported from China (CBU) but local production (CKD) has already started in Segambut. Prices for the CKD units have not been announced yet but WTCA's representative says that it will be lower than the CBU ones.

Those who pass by the Segambut plant might notice the entrance now has an Emzoom sitting on the podium instead of a T32 Nissan X-Trail. In some markets, the GS3 Emzoom is simply called the Emzoom and that is what I shall call the SUV from here on out.

Review: GAC GS3 Emzoom - The Omoda 5 needs to firm up its defenses, here's why 03

The Emzoom lacks a rear wiper but that isn't an issue frankly

Compared to the GS3 Power, the Emzoom’s design is striking and very in-your-face. The sharp-looking SUV grabs attention and the top-of-the-line Premium R dials up the sportiness throughout.

Orange trims are thrown at the front grille, the roof rack (which seems more for show than support) and the surrounding splitters at the bottom but it is in the rear where the aggro really stands out.

Review: GAC GS3 Emzoom - The Omoda 5 needs to firm up its defenses, here's why 04

The exhaust tips with the valve closed (top) and opened (bottom)

Sitting on the roof is a spoiler with the third brake light positioned in the middle like a Formula 1 car and then there are the tailpipes. Centrally located, the twin exhaust tips are not just for cosmetics like the roof rails. They are connected to the powertrain and show off the coolest feature of the Emzoom, the exhaust valve.

That is valve as in singular as only the right valve opens and closes at the push of a button on the steering wheels but still, these Civic Type R-inspired tailpipes give the Emzoom more proper street cred than its rivals. We will get back to the actual performance capabilities of this SUV but let’s move into the interior first.

Review: GAC GS3 Emzoom - The Omoda 5 needs to firm up its defenses, here's why 05

Stepping inside the Emzoom, you are greeted with shades of blue that match our unit. However, this blue-tinged upholstery is standard no matter which exterior hue you choose so there is no personalisation options for other colours.

That wild colour and the equally wild patterns are the only thing extra for the Emzoom’s interior. A 10.25-inch touchscreen infotainment and a 7-inch fully digital instrument cluster are the only screens you get inside and that's a good thing.

Review: GAC GS3 Emzoom - The Omoda 5 needs to firm up its defenses, here's why 06

Beats fiddling through the touchscreen any day

Easy-to-operate-while-driving traditional buttons that control the single-zone automatic air-conditioning grace some much-needed familiarity in this age of modern minimalism.

Plenty of modern cars, especially from China, suffer from over-reliance on touch screens, which you can't operate without taking your eyes off the road. With the Emzoom, there is some balance of a unique and original exterior design mixed with a familiar, ergonomic interior.

But that's enough about getting acquainted with the exterior and interior. With all those fast bits and an exhaust pipe with an adjustable valve, does the red R badge stand for race or razz?

Performance – Quite the poser

Review: GAC GS3 Emzoom - The Omoda 5 needs to firm up its defenses, here's why 07

Both variants of the Emzoom are powered by a turbocharged 1.5-litre 4-cylinder engine that produces 177 PS and 270 Nm. That torque figure is the highest in its class with power sent to the front wheels via a 7-speed wet-type DCT.

Getting the SUV off the line though requires some getting used to as the throttle feels eager no matter how gently you press it. It feels like it wants to unleash all of that 177 PS every time you prod the throttle, even as you are about to leave the parking lot.

Though the acceleration feels jerky at low speeds, once it goes over that initial stage of uncertainty, the transmission feels smooth, almost responsive even

Review: GAC GS3 Emzoom - The Omoda 5 needs to firm up its defenses, here's why 08

Press the exhaust button on the left to open the taps

The Premium R comes exclusively with the centre twin tailpipes but whether you select default Comfort or Sport mode, you will be treated with growls with even the lightest touch. Open the exhaust valve covers and the growl gets friskier with the only solution to reduce those noises is by selecting Eco mode.

Review: GAC GS3 Emzoom - The Omoda 5 needs to firm up its defenses, here's why 09

During our acceleration test, the Emzoom goes from 0-100 km/h in under 9.3 seconds but it was here that I discovered the SUV comes with a soft limiter of up to 2,500 rpm.

Our tested time is below the claimed 7.5 seconds time. Though the SUV might have a button to turn off traction control that would help to reduce the time, it's probably buried somewhere deep in the menu.

By the fourth attempt, a warning message that the clutch was getting too hot appeared in the instrument cluster but that last attempt was also its fastest.

Review: GAC GS3 Emzoom - The Omoda 5 needs to firm up its defenses, here's why 10

DCTs do not tend to be the perfect transmission when it comes to performance but even after this initial setback, I wouldn’t want to downplay its potential as a cruiser. As you get to higher speeds on the highway, the gear change feels seamless and without even realizing it, you’re cruising past 110 km/h almost effortlessly.

But this performance poser lacks paddle shifters or a manual mode. For a performance-oriented variant, I am surprised that such a feature to play with the gears isn’t offered. It would add a bit of fun when combined with that exhaust valve party piece.

Ride and handling – Comfortable but only just

Review: GAC GS3 Emzoom - The Omoda 5 needs to firm up its defenses, here's why 11

The Emzoom can certainly zoom around but it is not made for performance despite the looks and that exhaust valve feature can get a bit annoying after a while. Take away all that display of edginess and you’d be surprised at how livable this SUV is.

As a daily, going through the usual roads and undulations that Malaysia tosses at you, the Emzoom feels quite pliant but the ride suddenly becomes stiff when going through the speed breakers. Overall though, the Emzoom is still quite comfortable and more so than some peers from China, Japan, and Europe.

Review: GAC GS3 Emzoom - The Omoda 5 needs to firm up its defenses, here's why 12

However, when it comes to driving excitement, the Emzoom can never match the Proton X50 or Mazda CX-3 but it inspires more confidence than the Omoda 5. The Emzoom suffers from a dead steering feel and Sport mode merely adds some simulated weight which didn’t add any improvements to the vagueness.

Body roll feels a bit more apparent too in the Emzoom especially since occupants sit quite high in the SUV.

GAC GS3 Emzoom sound test
Speed (km/h) Reading (dB)
0 46
60 62
90 65
110 69

Taking out our trusty sound meter, it recorded 69 dB at 110 km/h with most of the wind noise coming from the tyres.

Review: GAC GS3 Emzoom - The Omoda 5 needs to firm up its defenses, here's why 13

Base Emzoom Exclusive variant shown

If you don’t like the pretentious performance enhancements, there is the base Exclusive for RM 10,000 less. Still, you will get the same ride and handling experience either way since both share the same engine, suspension, and 225/55R 18-inch wheels.

Features and practicality – Smartly presentable

Review: GAC GS3 Emzoom - The Omoda 5 needs to firm up its defenses, here's why 14

Standard equipment on the Emzoom is plenty including automatic air conditioning, rear air-conditioning, leatherette seats, one-touch power windows, and a 10.25-inch infotainment head unit.

The Premium R variant adds automatic headlights, a panoramic sunroof, ambient lighting, 2 more speakers from the Exclusive’s 4 speakers, a front USB-C port, a wireless charger, and a powered driver seat.

As mentioned earlier in the article, the placement of the infotainment screen and buttons are easy to reach and not as complicated as the Omoda 5.

Review: GAC GS3 Emzoom - The Omoda 5 needs to firm up its defenses, here's why 15

Yours truly is 173 cm tall

There are plenty of cubby spaces inside the Emzoom and there are even a couple of extra seat pockets for the rear passengers to store their electronic devices. It is quite spacious in the back too with a healthy amount of legroom and a flat floor that allows ample space for 3 adults in the rear.

The overall interior quality is quite decent with the middle parts of the dash covered in soft blue leatherette trim. The seats are quite comfortable though thigh support is quite lacking for the driver – a common issue that we encounter with many Chinese SUVs.

Review: GAC GS3 Emzoom - The Omoda 5 needs to firm up its defenses, here's why 16

Our unit has a couple of refinement flaws though with an ill-fitting trim piece near the driver display and the speaker grilles on the A-pillar being quite sharp to the touch.

Review: GAC GS3 Emzoom - The Omoda 5 needs to firm up its defenses, here's why 17

Wireless Apple CarPlay (above) and the third-party CarbitLink mirroring for Android devices (below)

The infotainment system comes standard with wireless Apple CarPlay but if you’re an Android user, you are completely out of luck as Android Auto is unavailable. Instead, Android users are directed to use a third-party app (CarbitLink) that mirrors their phone’s display.

Unfortunately, the mirroring function is quite broken – music was played from my phone’s speakers instead of the car’s – and using the mirroring function can drain the phone’s battery quickly.

Review: GAC GS3 Emzoom - The Omoda 5 needs to firm up its defenses, here's why 18

The infotainment system itself is quite smooth as is the 360-degree camera feed which is crisp and clear even at night. That clarity is essential as the Emzoom does not come with blind-spot monitors and instead offers a camera feed just like Honda's LaneWatch.

Outward visibility is quite good though and the blind-spot vision feed acts as an extra set of eyes. However, this feature is only enabled beyond 30 km/h with the standard 360 camera feed automatically displayed when in crawling traffic.

A downside to this is the incessant beeping of sensors surrounding the SUV even if there is a solid few inches of gap between me and the vehicles around.

Unlike other cars where a button to disable the proximity sensors is sometimes physically in place, disabling it in the Emzoom requires scrolling through the sometimes baffling translations in the touchscreen menu.

Fuel consumption – As thirsty as some of its peers

Review: GAC GS3 Emzoom - The Omoda 5 needs to firm up its defenses, here's why 19

After going through 116 km through a balanced (50:50) mix of highway and city driving, the Emzoom returned an average of 10.52 L/100 km.

Those figures don’t quite make the compact SUV a fuel sipper but it is within the ballpark of its closest rivals, the Proton X50 (10.2 L/100 km) and Chery Omoda 5 (11.7 L/100 km).

Conclusion – Give a chance?

Review: GAC GS3 Emzoom - The Omoda 5 needs to firm up its defenses, here's why 20

Though the badge says R Style, the highest-spec Emzoom is called Premium R in communication materials

Compact SUVs are growing in popularity among Malaysian buyers and for many new brands entering the market, launching one with an attractive price can be the golden formula for success. Just look at the number of Omoda 5s there are on the road.

But Chery shouldn’t get too comfortable with its runaway success because the GAC GS3 Emzoom provides an appealing alternative that looks funky but is a lot more bearable as a daily. Sure, the Premium R has some performance-inspired enhancements that are more showy but take all that aside and it reveals some surprises.

Review: GAC GS3 Emzoom - The Omoda 5 needs to firm up its defenses, here's why 21

While its predecessor is best left forgotten, the Emzoom comes out more improved in looks, practicality, and performance. The Omoda 5 has won the popularity contest for now but that might shift once sales of the CKD Emzoom kick off that could see Malaysian go for a change.

CY Foong

Writer

Traded advertising for a career that fits his passion for cars. Enjoys spotting cars during his free time and has a soft spot for Japanese Kei cars but drives a thirsty manual sedan.

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