Great Wall of China by Haval H9
Yes, we really did drive a Chinese SUV to the Great Wall of China
No, we won’t keep you in suspense. We did not drive the HAVAL H9 to the Great Wall of China in China. Y’know the 8850km-long landmark you can supposedly see from the moon and which traces its history as far back as 220 BC.
Instead, we’re driving the Chinese seven-seat SUV from the South Australian capital of Adelaide to the Flinders Ranges, where you’ll find a 700-million-year-old archaeological wonder called … The Great Wall of China. It’s not only is much older than the Chinese wall, it’s not man-made and it’s also a lot shorter. At a guesstimate, about 8847km shorter.
But getting to it is still a solid and relevant test for a vehicle pitched as a Toyota Prado rival. After all, if there’s one brand you see in the Outback it’s Toyota.
“the H9 shows itself to be a decently sorted handler”
And we’re also taking the Haval into a region where generations of 4x4s and utes have been tested for Australian and global use.
Ford developed the Territory here and Mitsubishi has also done a lot of testing up this way, as has Toyota, which still does a lot of work in this area. It’s a good test to see if the Haval H9 can cut in in some pretty rugged territory.
There’s another factor in all this too and that’s just a play on words. Apart from the obvious Great Wall-China link, Haval is owned by an automotive company named Great Wall Motors (which also sells cars in Australia) and we’re going to the Great Wall etcetera. OK, it’s a dud joke but we thought we’d do it anyway.
What is a HAVAL H9?
So what are we looking at here? The HAVAL H9 is built up from a ladder frame and is powered by 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine which makes a healthy 180kW and 350Nm (on 95 RON). It drives all four wheels via an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission and a permanent high- and low-range 4×4 system.
Obviously, the big deal here is the petrol engine, which lacks the sheer low-down grunt of its turbo-diesel rivals (for instance, the Prado makes 450Nm). HAVAL claims a 10.9L/100km fuel consumption average and that combined with an 80-litre tank delivers a theoretical 700km range.
That sounds a bit optimistic considering the 2250kg kerb weight and it would take a knock if you exploited the 2500kg braked towing capacity to anywhere near its claimed maximum.
If the drivetrain doesn’t read like it’s pitched at an Australian environment, then the chassis is a different proposition. Haval has recognised our unique driving conditions by developing a local suspension tune with off-road specialist Ironman 4×4.
Look, it’s only heavier springs, upgraded shock absorber valving and minor changes to wheel toe-in, but it all helps … and it’s also good PR value as Hyundai and Kia have proved with their local tuning efforts.
And you know what? Once we depart the traffic snarls of Adelaide and get on to the open (bitumen) road, the H9 shows itself to be a decently sorted handler, with a more than acceptable ride.
OK, the steering is a bit approximate off-centre, but there is some weight there. And it really does soak up the hits and thumps our flaky roads deliver.
The engine and transmission are also proving themselves to be a decent combination, with only some tip-in throttle lag slowing proceedings. With peak torque delivered over1800-4500rpm, there is a diesel-ish quality to the delivery.
From the driver’s seat there’s plenty to like too. OK, it’s a flat pew but it’s big, the steering column adjusts for both reach and rake and there’s a sizable left footrest.
Passengers get good room in row two and the kids can cope with row three. Alternatively, fold it all down for masses of storage (that’s our scientific assessment) accessed by a Prado-like side-opening tailgate.
Our top-spec Lux model, which officially retails for $44,990 plus on-roads (but is currently on special for $41,990 drive-away with a seven-year warranty), comes equipped with plenty of gear, including such luxuries as a panoramic sunroof, heated steering wheel, Comfort-Tek eco-leather upholstery (heated in the first and second row), power-folding third-row seats and an Infinity premium audio system.
No, there’s no autonomous emergency braking and yes, the leather looks more like vinyl and the graphics on the media touch-screen are a bit naff. But the trim fits together decently, mostly looks good and is soft to the touch.
The biggest negative at this early stage is the exterior lacks some heft and cohesion compared to rivals like the Prado. It’s not that bad really … and as we’ve pointed out many times before, you don’t see the sheetmetal sitting inside.
The road ahead
Going from our starting point at the historic Adelaide Oval, it’s about a 500km drive to the Great Wall of China. That’s if you take the most direct route up the guts to Peterborough, turn right at Hawker, then into the Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park from the south and out the other side.
But we take a couple of diversions along the way. There’s a run along the wonderful Barachilna Gorge Track, where the H9 – with its 700mm wading depth — effortlessly negotiates a water splash, dodges an Echidna meandering across the road and, later, a blue tongue lizard. How very Australian!
In fact, wildlife seems attracted to the HAVAL. Much later, parked by the side of an Outback track, a beautifully camouflaged Perentie Goanna wanders up, inspects the underpinnings and moseys off. Wonder if he was impressed by Ironman 4×4’s work!
We also get the chance to give the HAVAL’s All-Terrain Control 4×4 system a workout. It allows you to opt for auto, snow, mud, sand and sport modes in 4Hi, or drop into 4Lo. There’s also a locking rear diff.
Going from our starting point at the historic Adelaide Oval, it’s about a 500km drive to the Great Wall of China. That’s if you take
Well, we gave it a bit of a hammering but the H9 took it all in its stride. It scrambled up and over obstacles without fuss and then meandered back down the other side. It really is impressively capable off-road.
Through all this varied running, there’s just one thing really annoying all of us. At speed, on- or off-road, there’s a staccato banging that sounds like the windscreen is going to fall out. We eventually trace it to the plastic piece that sits under the wiper blades at the rear of the bonnet.
It’s being buffeted by the headwind and tapping the windshield glass. So annoying! And such a minor design issue that takes the gloss off so much other good stuff. Fix it HAVAL, please.
The great Great Wall
The turn-off to the Great Wall of China is a few kilometres north of the national park boundary. It’s pretty easy to just drive straight by, with just a small tin sign pointing the way. If you were in a hurry to get to Blinman or Arkaroola you might just blast on by.
But don’t do that, because what you eventually find, after travelling along a dirt road a few kilometres, is impressive.
From a distance it just looks like a long, flat hill rising out of a rolling landscape. But start inspecting the detail and you will notice a narrow line of rock running along the top of the structure.
They are like teeth protruding from gums. Essentially, 700 million years of erosion has washed and blown away all the covering dirt and sediment, leaving the rock exposed.
On this overcast day the uncoloured Outback damps down the spectacle, but its sheer age and weariness can’t be disguised. There’s a majesty here, wizened and decayed, but majestic nonetheless.
Long ago this whole area was under water, covered by an inland sea. Far into the future, the dirt ‘gums’ holding the ‘teeth’ up will erode away and this area will become yet more flat plain, like the country we can see stretched forever northward.
Don’t worry, that’s not happening for a while away yet. So you’ve got time to get out here in your HAVAL and have a look, take a photo and have a laugh at the joke of it all; driving your Chinese vehicle to the Great Wall of China.
But underlying the fun there’s a serious point being made here. The HAVAL coped with all we chucked at it in the Aussie Outback. Nothing fell off, nothing broke and just the one small design flaw was exposed.
As someone probably said when the first building block of that other Great Wall of China was put in place: ‘that’s a good start’. You can say the same about the H9.
How much does the 2018 Haval H9 cost?
Price: $44,990 (plus on-road costs)
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo-petrol
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel: 10.9L/100km (ADR Combined)
CO2: 254g/km (ADR Combined)
Safety Rating: Four stars (2015)
Article excerpt from Motoring.com.au
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 5 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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