Walking the talk: 2023 GAC EMPOW Track day – Feature

We’ve written extensively that the GAC brand is undergoing a resurgence in the Philippines, more so that the products they are now offering are true value-for-money vehicles.

Our favorite though has always been the EMPOW sedan, marketed as a sedan that puts the fun back in driving we on multiple occasions have been wowed by the EMPOW’s ability to provide excitement at wallet-friendly prices. However, all our EMPOW experiences have been relegated to public road driving, where we needed to follow the law at all times, meaning we barely scratched the surface of the car’s true capabilities.

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GAC EMPOW Track Day 1

Almost a year into the EMPOW’s launch GAC Motor Philippines decided to host a track day for the media at the Batangas Racing Circuit (BRC). This was our chance to confirm our long suspicions about the vehicle’s true capability, and we relished the fact that the brand was willing to put its money where its mouth was.

We arrived a day early and stayed at the Podium Hotel across the race track, for those who’ve never been, BRC is one of the oldest remaining race tracks in the country. It is also quite the technical track where concentration is needed at all times in order to avoid ‘binning it’ into a wall or worse a stray cow.

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BRC is located literally in the middle of nowhere, no signs of a high-speed race track are present in the area apart from a welcome sign that leads into a small rural back road. After we settled into the hotel for a few hours, we were given permission to walk across to watch the organizers practice the routines and activities for the track day proper set for the next day.

As we walked the few hundred meters, Friday afternoon in the Batangas province set in. The smell of cow pat and freshly cut grass wafted in the air, with the few houses in the area already clinking beer bottles and glasses while the shrieking tones of karaoke singers pierced our eardrums along with the screeching of tires and revving engines in the foreground. A truly rural experience mixed with a heart-thumping track life.

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We arrived at the track and crossed over a rust-filled rickety bridge towards the paddock area where the famous Ramirez racing family was doing the event dry run. We got a glimpse of the GAC EMPOW being driven hard and quickly through a series of activities, as we settled into spectator mode in the main grandstand (that felt like it was made during the Roman empire), excitement for the next day’s activities set in. Tomorrow, we will be the ones putting the GAC EMPOW through its paces.

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Day 2

Still in a deep slumber at around 5 a.m., one of the event organizers thought it would be a good idea to wake up the media using a bell. Creepily walking through the hallways of our hotel shaking the bell and shouting “Wakey wakey”, I honestly thought I was dreaming that until my roommate told me it was happening in real life.

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After a quick shower, we groggily waltzed ourselves to the track for breakfast and briefing for the day’s activities. GAC executives were keen on emphasizing that the track day is for fun and an event designed to prove the vehicle’s capabilities. We were eventually ushered to the waiting area in the pit lane to await our turn to get behind the wheel.

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While waiting for my turn, I noticed the first people who drove get out of the car smiling and grinning as if they experienced something sinister in a good way. Groups of media people huddled together after their run on the autocross and braking test activity, whispering and jovially discussing the GAC EMPOW’s abilities.

My name was finally called and I put on a helmet and bounded myself into the EMPOW, I was instructed to accelerate hard from a standstill and brake after a certain speed. I was amazed that despite me being one of the last people to do the activity the brakes didn’t seem like they were fading or losing feel, a testament to the construction of the braking system.

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After that I was thrust straight into the autocross challenge where weaving through cones showcased the EMPOW’s ability to dynamically drive without barf-inducing body roll, another amazing fact considering this vehicle is mass-produced at an affordable price point. I got out of the car triumphant at the fact that the praises I’ve lobbed on the EMPOW are founded and not just senseless drivel.

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The next activity was the main event, 2 laps of the circuit itself. We would be taking turns once again, with us would be the experienced race organizers guiding us along the treacherous BRC landscape. I set off first in eco mode, where the steering and throttle response were sedate and docile, perfect for city or highway cruising.

As the instructor blipped to sport mode the EMPOW shed its normal driving dynamics, and suddenly the throttle response quicked along with a stiffer steering feel, lastly accompanied by faster gear shifts.

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Just before we entered the final lap of the track, the instructor moved into Sport + mode, this is where the GAC EMPOW truly shined. The response from the 1.5-liter turbocharged 175 PS engine became much quicker, the steering was more weighted and the shifting the quickest it could be. It was as if the GAC EMPOW was let off the leash and it was now eager to show me its true colors.

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Barreling down the main straight I topped out at 160 KPH before slamming on the brakes, I shoved it into the first almost hairpin-like corner without much fuss, I could feel the EMPOW laughing at me, as if saying “That’s all you got?”. I settled into a groove and pushed it more as the track became more technical, Yet the car showed no signs of distress or hardship. It was nimble enough, quick enough, and that throaty engine note sent chills and vibrations down my spine.

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I got out of the car completely amazed at just how approachable the GAC EMPOW is even on the limit, at no point did I feel that the car was out of depth or place within the tight confines of a race track. It felt right at home being driven hard by ham-fisted (and sometimes bewildered) media men and women.

All of this is wrapped up in an attractive eye-catching design, coupled with the practicality of a decent-sized sedan body. Having already established the GAC EMPOW’s normal driving abilities, the on-track performance proved that it is a thinking man’s everyday plaything.

Capable of serving as a faithful, reliable, and dependable everyday servant, but after the responsibilities of life are complete owners can let their hair down and enjoy themselves. The GAC EMPOW won’t only accompany you, it will encourage and indulge you as well.

Pablo Salapantan

Pablo Salapantan

Pablo's first word was probably "Car", and this has developed into a personal passion that has consumed his professional life as well.

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