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September 12, 2021

Review: 2021 GAC GS8 320T GE Sports 4x2

GAC Motor may have entered the Philippine market back in 2018, but circumstances meant that my first taste of what the brand offered came three years later. With little in the way of expectations, what could this brand offer to the Filipino consumer? Well, let’s find out by giving their flagship SUV, the GAC GS8 a spin.

Before that though, a short history lesson. GAC Motor isn’t just some Chinese brand that sprouted out of rural rice fields or something. The company is actually 66 years old, and currently has partnerships with five global car brands—Stellantis (formerly known as Fiat Chrysler), Honda, Isuzu, Mitsubishi, and Toyota—more than most Chinese automakers. This has helped GAC produce the Trumpchi brand (derived from chuánqí 传祺 or to give luck or fortune) where the GS8 belongs to. Despite spotting numerous Trumpchi badges around though, it’s never marketed as such outside of Mainland China in large part because the name’s too close to a rather unpopular former American president.

Onto the GS8 itself, it seems GAC Motor’s experience in joint-venture partnerships has paid off handsomely here. The build quality is easily one of the best I’ve ever experienced in a Chinese car, and the fit and finish is at par with more traditional brands from Japan or Korea. Panel gaps are consistently small throughout, and the doors themselves open and close with a nice, soft thump. The only exception is the tailgate which is hard to open and close, but that’s down to the oddly positioned release button than the car’s actual build quality.

Despite being called a “Chinese Land Cruiser,” the GS8 is actually closer in both size and positioning as the Honda Pilot. Still, I’d tip my hat off to the design team for creating a look that’s both clean-cut and imposing. The use of straight, horizontal lines gives it width, and even better, a strong visual impact typically missing from other Mainland offerings.

As a unibody SUV, there are no step boards, but ingress and egress is fairly easy for the first two rows. However, for the third row, it requires you to stretch your legs out a bit. This is alright for the long-legged or the flexible, but if you’re a middle-aged, overweight motoring journalist, it could be a bit of a problem.

Inside the GS8, there’s ample space across all seat rows. The second-row features an adjustable recline, and even slides fore and aft for added flexibility. The third-row is cozier, but it’s livable even for long drives. And for those who plan to haul stuff, both the second and third of seats fold flat creating a long continuous cargo hold.

Generally, interior design is where the GS8 lags behind. The inclusion of a 10-inch touchscreen display infotainment system notwithstanding, the layout is a generation behind the more contemporary offerings in the market. The button-heavy layout and even the individual stalks, buttons, and switches themselves carry a strong sense of déjà vu—particularly when compared side-by-side to the 2016 Honda Pilot. The use of color here, particularly the burgundy highlight on the dashboard and doors, is well-executed, but the lack of plush-feeling plastics doesn’t justify its rather shocking P 2.088 million price tag.

In terms of on-board electronics, the GS8 is filled to the brim with it. Again, the infotainment system is a worthy talking point in that it’s friendly to use and does come with Apple CarPlay and Baidu CarLife as standard. Apart from that, it’s got powered vented/cooled front seats, light-sensing LED headlights, rain-sensing wipers, a three-zone climate control, and a panoramic sunroof. With the exception of a power tailgate, it’s the full package. However, it’s worth noting that some controls have an obnoxious delay in them. It’s obvious enough when scrolling through the in-car settings and menus, but simpler controls have them too such as the rear wipers. This reduces some features like the camera-based lane departure warning to a mere nuisance. Because it activates and deactivates at what seems like random times (it also exits CarPlay mode unexpectedly), I ended up turning the system off altogether.

Equipped with a tilt/telescopic steering wheel (heated, mind you), getting a comfortable driving position is easy-peasy. The large windows and mirrors also afford good visibility throughout the vehicle, though GAC Motor is considerate enough to fit a 360-degree camera with a decent resolution to help when maneuvering in close quarters.

In terms of powertrain, the GS8 goes against the flow by opting for a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder unit instead of the formulaic turbocharged 1.5-liter preferred by pretty much everyone else. In theory, this should result in better driving performance, at least in a straight line. Sadly, because of its pedestrian outputs—199 and 320 Nm of torque, and a hefty 1,840-kilogram curb weight, its on-road manners is reduced to a mere “okay.” The engine does have some zing, but you need to dig deep to find it. Even then, the accompanying gruff note makes the experience not worth it.

An even bigger problem is the 6-speed automatic. It’s not well-matched to the engine in that it’s never a willing ally on just about anything. Expect an upshift, it won’t; expect a downshift, it won’t. It has a mind of its own (whatever mode the driver selects), and in all this confusion, you’re left with a car that’s unresponsive. At times, I felt like I was driving Christine—a possessed car from that Stephen King novel. It’s also quite thirsty too with the trip meter registering just 7.04 km/L in light MECQ traffic.

The GS8’s engine performance is a shame, because the chassis is, for the most part, good. Despite the exterior dimensions, it’s easy to drive—far easier than any pickup-based mid-sized SUV you could think of. Steering is well-balanced, and while slow around the middle, is fairly accurate. The ride experience is mixed though. On smoother surfaces, it’s plush, with just a hint of tire noise emanating from its 19-inch Michelin tires entering the cabin. On slightly rougher roads, say those patched up bits on EDSA or C5, it’s still good, managing to absorb those undulating cracks well. It’s only when it goes over the larger, harder stuff where the suspension fails to mitigate those sudden sharp suspension inputs. It’s only at these times where the cabin turns crashy.

With the Trumpchi brand, and the GS8 in particular, GAC Motor is showing that they can apply the know-how they’ve gained from being the world’s contract manufacturer. As of now, the GS8 still lacks the polish when compared to its more established Japanese, Korean, and American competitors, but at least it’s gotten the world to notice their high-quality assembly and fast-improving design. If only they could do something about the prohibitive price tag, then it’ll get more people to notice them for all the right reasons. GAC Motor may not be a household name right now, but they certainly have the ingredients to be.

2021 GAC GS8 320T GE Sports 4x2

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Ownership 2021 GAC GS8 320T GE Sports 4x2
Year Introduced 2018 (Refreshed: 2021)
Vehicle Classification Mid-sized SUV
Warranty 5 years / 150,000 kilometers
The Basics
Body Type 5-door SUV
Seating 7
Engine / Drive F/F
Under the Hood
Displacement (liters) 2.0
Aspiration Turbocharged
Fuel Delivery Direct Injection
Layout / # of Cylinders I4
BHP @ rpm 199 @ 5,200
Nm @ rpm 320 @ 1,750 to 4,000
Fuel / Min. Octane Gasoline / 91~
Transmission 6 AT
Cruise Control Yes
Fuel Economy @ Ave. Speed 7.04 km/L @ 19 km/h,
8.13 km/L @ 27 km/h
Dimensions and Weights
Length (mm) 4,810
Width (mm) 1,910
Height (mm) 1,770
Wheelbase (mm) 2,800
Curb Weight (kg) 1,840
Suspension and Tires
Front Suspension Independent, MacPherson Strut
Rear Suspension Independent, Multi-link
Front Brakes Vented Disc
Rear Brakes Disc
Parking Brake Electric, w/ Auto Hold
Tires Michelin Primacy 4 245/55 R 19 V (f & r)
Wheels Alloy
Safety Features
Airbags 6
Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS) Yes, with EBD
Traction / Stability Control Yes
Parking Sensors Yes, Front & Rear
Parking Camera Yes, 360-degree
Front Seatbelts 3-pt ELR with pre-tensioner x 2
Rear Seatbelts 3-pt ELR x 3 (2nd row),
3-pt ELR x 2 (3rd row)
ISOFIX Child Seat Anchor Yes
Other Safety Features Hill Start Assist
Hill Descent Control
Lane Departure Warning (Camera)
Tire Pressure Monitoring System
Exterior Features
Headlights LED, Cornering
Fog Lamps Yes, Front & Rear (LED)
Auto Lights Yes
Rain-sensing Wipers Yes
Tailgate Manual
Interior Features
Steering Wheel Adjust Tilt/Telescopic, Heated
Steering Wheel Material Leather
Seating Adjustment (driver) Electric, 8-way, Ventilated/Heated
Seating Adjustment (front passenger) Electric, 4-way, Ventilated/Heated
Seating Surface Leather
Folding Rear Seat Yes, 60/40 (2nd row),
50/50 (3rd row)
Sunroof Yes
Trip Computer Yes
Convenience Features
Power Steering Yes
Power Door Locks Yes
Power Windows Yes
Power Mirrors Yes, w/ Fold
Rear View Mirror Auto-dimming
Proximity Key Yes
Climate Control Auto, 3-Zone, w/ Rear Vents
Audio System Stereo
Smartphone Connectivity Apple CarPlay
Baidu CarLife
# of Speakers 10, Harman/Kardon
Steering Controls Yes

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