2018 HAVAL NEW H9 REVIEW
How cheap does a Chinese SUV need to be before people buy one instead of a Toyota?
The Japanese giant has a firm grip on rugged corners of the new car market, with machines such as the HiLux and LandCruiser attracting thousands of customers every month.
Having sold little more than 700 cars in Australia last year, Haval, the SUV arm of China’s Great Wall outfit, hopes to steal some of those sales with its own spin on the popular LandCruiser Prado.
Haval updated its four-wheel-drive H9 for 2018, introducing a raft of changes for its flagship model.
Subtly revised styling inside and out includes fresh 18-inch alloy wheels and a new automatic transmission shifter.
More importantly, the brand’s own 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine has been beefed up with power outputs rising from 160kW and 324Nm to 180kW and 350Nm, changes helped by the switch from a six-speed automatic transmission to a new eight-speed unit.
Blind spot monitoring and lane departure warning systems are now standard, joining a decent safety suite that includes curtain airbag coverage for all three rows.
Haval’s full-sized wagon currently holds a sub-par four-star ANCAP safety rating, something that may change if the four-wheel-drive is re-tested in the second half of the year. Having already strengthened passenger leg protection and switched to 18-inch wheels to make the car more stable in a crash, Haval will soon offer an improved safety suite including autonomous emergency braking, active cruise control and forward collision warning systems not currently available in right-hand-drive models.
In any case, the car is decently equipped in regular H9 Lux trim, offering an 8-inch touchscreen with sat nav, a reversing camera, three-zone climate control and smart keys as standard.
A high-spec H9 Ultra model adds a panoramic sunroof, premium stereo, adaptive headlights and more.
Better still, Haval cut the price of both H9 models by $6000 for 2018, bringing it to $40,990 plus on-road costs in standard form, or $44,990 for the fully-loaded Ultra.
Customers who get in quick can take advantage of launch pricing that brings the duo down to $41,990 and $45,990 drive-away, making it one of the most affordable seven-seat four-wheel-drives on sale.
Climbing into an Ultra for our test drive, the focus on value is evident in swathes if glossy fake wood and faux leather trim that hint at luxury without being the genuine article.
The central touchscreen lacks intuitive smartphone connectivity, the sat nav system’s “points of interesting” menu speaks to something lost in translation, and spoken turn-by-turn instructions come from a unnervingly slow-speaking digitised voice which Haval’s Australian operation fought to silence.
Our test example’s cabin execution was passable, marked down by an ill-fitting plastic seatbelt surround that came loose from the back seat.
While that is disappointing to see, Haval’s five-year warranty should have niggles covered well into the future.
Accommodation in the rear is reasonably spacious, with air vents and power outlets to all three rows (including a household 220 volt power point in the boot) likely to be welcomed by families.
We’re less impressed by a split/fold arrangement biased toward left-hand-drive markets that pushes kids in the third row to exit on the driver’s side, potentially into the path of traffic.
While we’re whinging, the enormous side-swinging rear tailgate can be finicky to unlock, boot space with the power-folding third row in place is stingy, and the lack of a powered tailgate option doesn’t gel with convenience features commonly found in 2018.
Things are better up front, where reasonably comfortable driver and passenger seats offer heating, cooling and massage functions rarely found at this price point, along with a comfortable driving position and wide, if thinly bolstered padding.
Haval listened to customer feedback when adding a digital speedometer function to Australian-spec vehicles and scaling back the barrage of electronic beeps that used to fire up when you adjusted systems such as cruise control functions.
But the most significant changes surround the more powerful engine and beefed-up auto which improve straight-line performance while improving fuel economy.
Official fuel figures for the H9 dropped from 12.1 to 10.9L/100km as a result of the changes, though the car still requires premium unleaded petrol and its 80-litre tank is much smaller than what you might find in a Prado.
Haval does not plan to offer a diesel engine in the H9, though a petrol hybrid option may arrive in the medium-term.
The driveline feels a little breathless in the real world, kicking down through the gears where a torquier motor might commit to a single ratio. Its whooshing engine isn’t the last word in refinement and our test example exhibited a distant rattle on part throttle sensitive owners may struggle to tune out.
But Haval’s multi-mode drive system works well, giving access to driveline settings optimised to tackle a variety of surfaces. We also like the standard rear differential lock and hill descent control systems that performed well in off-road testing at the Werribee proving ground.
There, the H9 took everything in its stride – creek crossings, 45-degree climbs, rocky descents and slippery moguls. We’re confident the Haval can handle anything you might ask a family four-wheel-drive to do.
And it will do it all at a discount.
While it may be priced closer to ute-based seven-seaters such as the Isuzu MU-X, Mitsubishi Pajero Sport or Ford Everest, Haval says the Toyota Prado shapes up as a natural rival to the H9.
Priced around $15,000 above the Haval in basic, farm-friendly form, the top-end Prado Kakadu costs more than twice as much as the H9 Ultra when you start comparing like-for-like equipment.
If that isn’t enough of an incentive to consider a Chinese SUV, what else could be?
HAVAL is a specialist manufacturer of premium SUVs and is the No.1 SUV brand in the world’s largest automotive market and has been for the past 15 years. In 2017 Brand Finance valued HAVAL as the "world's most powerful SUV brand" ahead of Jeep and Land Rover. With over 4 million customers, last year HAVAL was the world’s 10th largest SUV manufacturer outselling Mercedes, BMW and Mitsubishi SUVs. Our success is due to a combination of commitment, passion and listening to our customers. We utilise the best features, safety and technologies from around the globe to produce world class SUVs.
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