Auto review: GAC raises style quotient with new 'budget-Bentley'

Is GAC GS8 GX 4WD a luxury vehicle without the ‘label’?

By George Kuruvilla

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Published: Tue 6 Feb 2024, 6:31 PM

Last updated: Wed 7 Feb 2024, 2:38 PM

A new wave of Chinese vehicles keeps hitting Middle Eastern shores every now and then. They are finding sales success mainly because they are cheaper than comparable models from incumbent segment leaders i.e. Japanese and Korean brands. They are feature-laden, and more importantly, ready stock is available at their dealers. But what happens when they go beyond utility when they breach the boundaries of the luxury segment?

This week we review the second generation GAC GS8 GX 4WD to answer that. For those who missed “Season One” or shall I say the first generation, know that the GS8 is a near-full-size SUV from the Chinese brand GAC, which stands for Guangzhou Automobile Group Co., Ltd.

Fun Fact

The GAC brand operates as Trumpchi in the Chinese domestic market.

Design and aesthetics

If you’re looking to purchase a family SUV that is big, chunky, and has a certain amount of bling, the GAC GS8 just maybe it. Don’t want to take my word for it? Have a look at the pictures for yourself. With a stature as imposing as a Toyota Land Cruiser (4,980mm l x 1950mm h x 1780mm w) and oodles of style to complement its size, the GS8 isn’t something you can ignore. The body panels are very slab-like but somehow, they come together very elegantly, and the chrome-enriched details help keep its distinction from its peers and those a few price brackets above it. It has a sizeable grille decorated with a V-motif (created by strips of chrome) and the LED lamps that GAC called ‘Eyes of the Conqueror’ sit in the clear housing like precious gems in a showcase. Even the rear is capable of drawing attention with its H-shaped LED lamp clusters. Then there’s the floating roof effect up top and the sophisticated 20-inch multi-spoke wheel design down below to complete the look. There isn’t much you can hate about the GS8, except maybe the faux trapezoidal exhaust tips, which I admit is nitpicking. Just based on looks, this is a vehicle that many people would like to own whether it serves as a family vehicle or for business. Kudos to GAC for raising the style quotient in the segment!

It’s not just big on the outside; this is a proper seven-seater SUV! The two front rows can easily accommodate six-footers and the third row can easily fit two kids. Big families are welcome. You can even make front seat adjustments from the second row to create airliner seating accommodation – like in a proper luxury saloon.

And I’ll guarantee you that you will love the interior. It is a big jump from the last generation, which in terms of aesthetics was chic, but conventional. This though, is modern, sophisticated, and very tastefully executed. If I were to pick out my favourite features, I’d start with the two-tone upholstery. The black quilted leather of the seats has so much detail, it feels artisanal (although it’s made in a factory) and it combines with the green upholstery on the door trims and centre console and the satin finish trims to create a rich ambience. It truly feels like a bargain Bentley in here. Then there’s the gigantic 14.6-inch infotainment screen which is colourful and has good resolution. The digital buttons did work fine, but they could have included a few physical buttons too. Ironically the instrument screen is only a seven-inch size, which has been cleverly disguised as a much larger screen.

And one can’t ignore the chunky 3-spoke steering wheel wrapped in perforated leather and the large toggling shift lever that comes with almost a sparkling effect. They look good to the eye and feel good to the hand.

Specifications

Body type: 7-seater; 5-door mid-size SUV

Engine: Front-engine; turbocharged 2.0-litre inline 4-cylinder; all-wheel drive

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Peak output: 248 PS@5,250 rpm - 400 Nm@1,750 – 4,000 rpm

0 to 100kmph: 8 seconds (estimated)

Top speed: 180kmph (drag limited; estimated)

Fuel economy: 12.5kmpl (claimed)

Price: Dh169,900

Powertrain and performance

Expectedly, like almost all other Chinese vehicles, this too comes with a turbocharged 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine. On paper, the 248 PS of peak power and 400 Nm of top torque (a 10 Nm bump over the previous generation) feel adequate. On the road, the GS8 came across as responsive both on the speedy highways and in the start-stop traffic of the city streets. While cruising, there is some delay in the kick down from the Aisin 8-speed auto, but once it does, the acceleration feels lively. It doesn’t seem fair to quote 0 to 100 sprint times for such a vehicle, but I’d say it's around eight seconds, give or take. If you’re looking for a bigger engine, know that there isn’t a V8 or V6 option here and that’s acceptable when you take into consideration the kind of purpose it was designed for, which is family and luggage hauling.

With the use of independent McPherson Type suspension up front and the multi-link beam arrangement at the rear, ride comfort is kept compliant with luxury vehicle standards. The GS8 easily coasts over road imperfections and speed humps too. The cabin remained quiet allowing for casual conversations without having to scream over the other - many thanks to the insulated glass in the windshield and front windows. Also helping with the ride is the rather long 2,920mm wheelbase. This also allows it to retain composure along long sweeping corners. However, the chassis is not tuned for quick directional changes usually involved in sprinted drives.

As for the process of speed retardation, the GS8 does come to a stop with sure-footedness and linearity, courtesy of the stopping power of disc brakes all around. But I suspect that with the SUV loaded up with all seven passengers and their luggage, more braking power may be desired.

Also to be noted is the faulty fuel gauge, I observed that when the indicated range dropped from 600km to 300km only a single bar had dropped. It certainly needs some minor recalibration. On the positive side, the GS8 even with power going to all four wheels is relatively frugal and the 65-litre tank is good to last you a few days if not a week.

Features and functionality

The GS8 is a large utilitarian vehicle, with plenty of seating and luggage configurations. With all rows up, there is still space for a suitcase and backpack in the boot. With the use of the electric controls, you can drop the third row in about 10 seconds, which isn’t too bad. And you can fold the second row similarly with the touch of a button. As for passenger climate comfort, it does come equipped with a decent functioning tri-zone zone air conditioning system.

All Chinese cars generally shine in the technological department and the GS8 is no different. It does come with a head-up display, a 32-colour ambient light system, phone mirroring capabilities, and a wireless charger. The base car comes with an 8-speaker system which can be upgraded to a 10-speaker Alpine system. And I can report that the latter worked perfectly fine to keep my eardrums entertained.

It comes also with a whole host of safety features like automatic parking, airbags everywhere, seat belt tensioners, hill hold and hill descent control, adaptive cruise control and lane departure features, TPMS, and ISOFIX fixtures for child seats in the rear. But the highlight would have to be the 540-degree camera. In total, there are 27 features or so, but who’s counting?

Good - Imposing looks; cabin comfort; features; space and overall utility

Bad - Tough competition; faulty fuel gauge; questionable residual value and reliability

Editor's rating- 7.5/10 stars

Verdict

In a world of rising expenses, where lattes are priced as high as business lunch rates from a decade ago and once-humble Mercedes C-Class starts at about a quarter-a-million dirhams, only the one-dirham karak and Chinese cars remain value purchases for the middle class.

The GAC GS8 is the affordable alternative for those yearning for a Land Cruiser-sized vehicle with city-bound driving routines. At Dh169,900 the GAC GS8 isn’t cheap but it still manages to undercut its American, Korean and German rivals by a bit, and you get a lot of ‘car’ for that money in terms of space, technology, and comfort. And let’s be honest, even while residual value and reliability quotients are still to be determined, vehicles like the GS8 are starting to make the ‘Made in China’ tag look appealing.

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