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May 18, 2023

Review: 2023 GAC EMPOW 1.5T GE

Chinese carmakers often rely on two playbooks when marketing their cars in the Philippines. The first is to claim that you’re the custodian of a storied European brand, even if the cars you’re selling have nothing to do with said European brand. Second is to leverage all the technical partnerships you’ve gained throughout the years, down to whoever supplies the carpet. Either way, they make for good soundbites, but sadly, don’t often translate to cars which are actually respectable to drive.

That’s where GAC Motor does things different. Although they’ve got more manufacturing partnerships than Taylor Swift has had boyfriends, this Chinese brand at least fully embraces its Chinese heritage. They’ve also realized that chintzy screens and gizmos are nice, but a properly engineered car is even better. And that’s where you’re coming from with the GAC Empow (stylized as EMPOW).

To start things off, the Empow is a looker, and I’m not even on the subject of the Matte Fighter Green paintjob yet. Stripped of its exterior doodads, the proportions are just spot on. Visually, it looks low and squat, appropriate for the sporty compact sedan segment. If anything, the C-pillar does look a bit awkward, but by strategically placing a high-gloss strip there, they’ve managed to mitigate the issue. See? GAC designers know their stuff.

Now, as the top-of-the-line Empow trim, this 1.5T GE does get all sorts of cosmetic enhancements. Listing them all reads like a recipe for fuccboi-ness: the matte paint, carbon fiber trim, yellow highlights (including the brake calipers), and even quad exhaust tips. But you know what? It works. Somehow, GAC managed to tap into the mindset of zillennial gamers, distill what they find awesome in a car, and put it all here. Cheesy? Sure. Timeless? Maybe not. But for a generation used to instant gratification, this car ticks all the right boxes.

One caveat though. The Empow does come with a smart keyless entry system that’s unlike any other I’ve experienced before. It’s not triggered by pressing a small button or holding the door handle; the car automatically opens when you approach two meters (one car width) of either front door. Ditto the trunk. It’s a neat party trick if you drive in a posh neighborhood, but if regularly traverse areas like Tondo? It can be hassle. The system can be turned off via the onboard menu, but doing so will forever require you to fumble for your car keys every time you want to get into the car.

Onboard, the cabin schools any other Chinese car out there, and can honestly even go head-to-head with some of Japan and Europe’s finest. The general layout gives off this strong Mercedes-AMG vibe, especially when optioned with the yellow accents on the seats, dash stitching, seat belts, and steering wheel center marker. If it’s a bit loud, not to worry, because it can also be optioned with more traditional black or red accents. Aesthetics aside, the control scheme here largely makes sense. Like its other Chinese compatriots, the Empow goes for a minimalist scheme. Unlike the others though, they’ve managed to put in physical controls for the infotainment, climate control, and even drive mode selection.

Strip the fluff, and you’ll find the Empow’s interior materials mixed. Areas like the dashboard, seats, center console, steering wheel and shifter are all great; they even managed to embed some nice Easter Eggs here and there. But there are also some not-so-nice areas too like the power window switches, stalks, steering wheel buttons, and interior door handles. They feel solid, but they don’t exude the same sort of polish found elsewhere.

Another thing that could use work in the Empow, is in the area of ergonomics. Individually, the controls all work well—the steering wheel has generous levels of adjustment and so do the seats (they’re comfy and nicely bolstered too). Even the electronic shifter falls within easy reach and is easy to understand and control (kudos goes to GAC for removing the need for a button to go between PRND by moving Park as its own dedicated button). Together, however, I find the driving position off-center. My right leg is slightly canted to the right, and this results in increased tiredness after long drives. The same thing can be said about the infotainment system because it requires extra long arms just to tap the screen.

Regarding the infotainment system, it’s generally easy enough to navigate. There are some mistranslations or misspellings here and there, but at least it comes standard with Apple CarPlay (sorry, no Android Auto here). Likewise, on-board electronics can get a bit iffy. Sometimes the screens (instrument cluster and infotainment) will dim to their night setting, but leave CarPlay in day mode. Same goes for the instrument cluster which will go back to a default screen even when ‘Remember Drive Mode’ is turned on the vehicle setting menu.

In terms of space, the Empow’s very generous. Its 2,736 mm wheelbase is huge for a compact sedan, and that easily translates to all the leg and knee room you’d ever need. Remember the weird C-pillar I mentioned earlier? That translates to excellent rear headroom thanks to a formal, square-cut roofline. The rear seats themselves offer nice support and with three proper headrests and three-point seatbelts for all; it’s quite comfy. Meanwhile, the trunk space itself is flat, but there’s a bit of a protrusion from the rear wheel wells. There’s no open button at the back though. The only way to pop it up is via proximity, key fob, or a button on the dashboard.

Dynamically, the Empow has world-class ingredients. Using their new Global Platform Modular Architecture, it features extensive use of high-strength steel in its construction. More than that, it’s got independent suspension all around too. Then, you’ve got a turbocharged engine mated to a 7-speed dual clutch as well. From here, it’s easy for Chinese brands to muck everything up from this point forward, but this time, it’s different. Not only is the resulting car a genuinely good drive by Chinese car standards, but by any car standard for that matter.

Like its exterior, which seems to be heavily influenced by video games, the Empow comes with changeable driving modes that allow you to customize everything from the blower speed to the steering weight to even the behavior of the exhaust valves (yes, it’s actually got them). There’s even a Sport+ mode that remains unlocked until you’ve garnered even XP behind the wheel.

For this drive, I kept everything in Comfort mode for about 90 percent of the time. Here, I already find the experience to be quite solid. The steering is quick around the center, boosting its pointiness—perfect for darting through urban traffic. As you open the steering angle, you’ll find that the Empow trades that agility for stability. If not for the less-than-perfect seating position, this is one effortless highway cruiser. Whatever the speed, or the road surface for that matter, you know that GAC’s putting that platform to good use with a well-balanced ride without any rattles or squeaks. There’s an odd cracking sound emanating from the dashboard, but that’s down to the plastic’s expansion when the weather gets hot. Oh, and unlike so many others out there which feel too floaty or crashy, this one toes the line very well.

The same adjectives about balance could be said about the Empow’s engine. By and large, the turbocharged 1.5-liter 4-cylinder formula is nothing new; after all, it’s a result of tax policy than anything else. However, GAC managed to tune it well enough to fit with the compact’s sporty character. More than just the outputs (168 horsepower, 270 Nm), it has excellent pull especially off the line. Though the locomotive shove tapers above 5,000 rpm, by that time, it’s already reached legal speed limits. Aurally, it’s alright, but there’s some coarseness at higher rpms. The Empow GE also comes with active exhaust valves too. It’s a neat party trick, but my advice is to keep it closed—you won’t want all that engine drone lingering in the cabin for long.

Accompanying the engine is a 7-speed dual clutch automatic. Again, it’s formulaic, but engineers here have done a better tune. It still can’t match the overall smoothness of a torque converter automatic or CVT in stop-and-go traffic, but as a dual clutch, it does well. Some will argue it feels rough or jerky, but I find it’s all about adjusting your pedal inputs. If you’re able to modulate your right foot well, it’s a willing ally with quick, decisive shifts (or you can switch over to Eco mode). It’s also very good at deciding when to hold a gear too, relying instead on the turbocharged engine’s copious torque. On the flip side, give it a quick jab and you’ll catch it off-guard. It’s lazy in that it’ll rather wait for the turbo to spool up rather than go down a gear or two to get some pace going. Overall, mileage is also decent registering 9.09 km/L in heavy urban traffic and 10.41 km/L in light urban traffic.

Priced at P 1.348 million, the Empow 1.5T GE is on the pricier side of the Chinese car scale. But it does come with all the features you could imagine. Its most impressive bit is the standard advanced driver assist system. This includes features like autonomous emergency braking, lane keep assist, and even adaptive cruise control with steering assist and traffic sign recognition. Majority of these systems work as intended, but the lane keep assist feels rough. Instead of smooth steering inputs, it’s generally jerky. Whether that’s a product of the tuning or local road conditions is anyone’s guess. If anything, I wish GAC threw in a fancier gauge cluster, blind spot indicators, an auto-dimming rear view mirror, and a 360-degree camera to complete the package at that price.

All in all, the GAC Empow shows to me just how much Chinese brands have improved. The joke before is that once you strip away all the fancy screens and tech, all the badge and stuff, what’s left is hot garage. While that may be true with other brands, it’s certainly not true here. Sure, the Empow’s got all the fancy toys to lure in buyers who’re interested in that sort of thing, but it also shows a level of mechanical completeness as well. Couple that with a design that’s a fun, and you’ve got a compact sedan that’s sure to put a smile on your face.

2023 GAC EMPOW 1.5T GE

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Bottom Line
Pros Unapologetic styling, good driving performance.
Cons Driving position a bit off, iffy electronics.
TL;DR Fuccboi looks, smooth operator performance.
Year Introduced 2023
Warranty 5 years / 150,000 kilometers
The Basics
Body Type Compact Sedan
Seating 5
Engine / Drive F/F
Under the Hood
Displacement (liters) 1.5
Aspiration Turbocharged
Fuel Delivery Direct Injection
Layout / # of Cylinders Inline-4
Maximum Output (PS @ rpm) 168 @ 5,500
Maximum Torque (Nm @ rpm) 270 @ 1,400-4,500
Fuel / Min. Octane Gasoline / ~95
Transmission 7 DCT
Cruise Control Yes, Adaptive
Fuel Economy (km/L) @ Ave. Speed (km/h) 9.09 km/L @ 19 km/h,
10.41 km/L @ 24 km/h
Fuel Tank Size (L) 47
Dimensions and Weights
Length (mm) 4,700
Width (mm) 1,850
Height (mm) 1,432
Wheelbase (mm) 2,736
Curb Weight (kg) 1,400
Suspension and Tires
Front Suspension Independent, MacPherson Strut
Rear Suspension Independent, Multi-Link
Front Brakes Vented Disc
Rear Brakes Disc
Parking Brake Electronic, w/ Auto Hold
Tires Giti GitiComfort G22 Advanztech
225/45 R 18 V (f & r)
Recommended Tire Pressure (PSI) 32
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, Rear
Front Seatbelts 3-pt ELR w/ pre-tensioners x 2
Rear Seatbelts 3-pt ELR x 3
ISOFIX Child Seat Anchor Yes
Other Safety Features Forward Collision Warning
Autonomous Emergency Braking
Lane Departure Warning
Lane Keep Assist
Traffic Sign Recognition
Hill Start Assist
Tire Pressure Monitoring
Exterior Features
Headlights LED
Fog Lamps Yes, Rear
Light Operation Auto, w/ Auto High Beam
Wiper Operation Rain-Sensing
Tailgate Manual
Interior Features
Steering Wheel Adjust Tilt/Telescopic
Steering Wheel Material Leather
Seating Adjustment (driver) Electric, 6-way
Seating Adjustment (front passenger) Manual, 4-way
Seating Surface Leather/PVC
2nd Row 60/40 Split-Fold, w/ Center Armrest
3rd Row None
Sunroof Yes
Multi-Information Display Yes
Convenience Features
Power Steering Yes
Power Door Locks Yes
Power Windows Yes
Power Mirrors Yes, w/ Fold
Rear View Mirror Day/Night
Proximity Key Yes
Climate Control Dual Zone w/ Rear Vent
Audio System Stereo
Smartphone Connectivity Apple CarPlay
Baidu CarLife
Huawei HiCar
# of Speakers 6
Steering Controls Yes


  1. Very nice. Sir, which do you like better, the GAC Empow or the MG GT Sport?

    1. Without a doubt, the Empow feels like the better engineered car. That said, it's within striking distance already of Japanese compacts like the Altis, Civic, and Mazda3. That's a tough crowd...but I understand what GAC did here. At least it's different (in a very good way).

    2. Sounds like the Japanese automakers have to still keep improving or else they'll get beaten by their Chinese what they're currently doing with electric cars.

  2. Boss Uly, this or the MG GT? Para mapagipunan na, just cuz of the collow im already leaning into the mg but having driven both, which would go for for fun and value? Txs!

    1. This is a bit complicated. As a product, the EMPOW feels like the more complete product over the MG GT. Better build, ergonomics, driving feel. But, it's also P 150K more; so that's something to consider.

      Plus, compared to the rest of the EMPOW line, I'd get the top-of-the-line GE over the GB (mid-grade) and GS (entry-level) just because it feels more complete.

      But, remember that at P 1.328M price tag is already very close to some Japanese compacts, particularly the non-hybrid Corolla Altis GR Sport (P 1.302M) and the Mazda3 (P 1.495M) so that's something you'd have to consider as well.

    2. Battle tested, long lasting, beautiful, prestigous mazda 3

  3. Nice, absolutely makes sense, thanks so much. For me, its either the yellow or the green car at this point. Appreciate the reply as always!

  4. They should've priced this Php1.2M max or at least throw in 5 years free PMS. Until then, stick to better engineered Japs which are not much more expensive.

  5. Good car but needs a better name. Q: What do you drive? A: an ampaw


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