NEW H9 ULTRA ROAD TEST REVIEW
Improved Chinese seven-seater is cheaper and better than before
It has taken decades for South Korean car makers like Hyundai and Kia to mature from cheap-and-cheerful to first-choice brands for new car customers.
On the strength of the latest update to the Haval H9 – the company’s flagship seven-seat four-wheel drive – Chinese brands look set to accelerate that progression.
While hardly a household name, or challenging the established SUV players, Haval is working double time to improve its products in response to customer feedback without compromising its affordability. In fact, the H9 is safer, more efficient, more powerful and packs more gear than before yet is cheaper than last year’s model – which is a compelling reason to convince buyers to trust the new brand.
What do you get
The H9 is available in two model grades, Lux and Ultra, with prices starting from $40,990 (plus on-road costs), which is a $6000 discount over last year’s models and cements its position as the most affordable seven-seat SUVs in it class by a significant margin.
When you take in the generous level of standard equipment, which includes three-zone climate control, sunroof, smart keys and an 8.0-inch colour touch screen with navigation, reversing camera and Bluetooth connectivity, it’s value for money equation is elevated higher.
We’re testing the range-topping Ultra, which for an extra $4000 adds a full-length sunroof, heated leather seats for the front and middle row with ventilation and massage functions for the driver and passenger, as well as a higher-grade Infinity audio system.
Key to the H9’s recent upgrade is the addition of active safety features such as blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning and rear cross traffic alert as well as larger 18-inch alloy wheels, a revised instrument cluster with a digital speedo and mild styling changes to the front grille.
All Haval models are supported by a five-year,100,000km warranty with roadside assistance and a service price menu.
“HAVAL is working double time to improve its products”
There’s a lot to like about the H9’s cabin, even though it lacks the kind of design flair found in European and Japanese alternatives.
The overall dash layout is simple but effective with the centre console dominated by the large touch screen and an extruding chin piece below for the ventilation controls. The screen is crisp in its resolution and the Bluetooth connection is quick and easy, but the system lacks smartphone mirroring like Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and there are some quirky English translations in its menu.
Most of the materials look good, and the overall build quality is solid but the fake wood highlights are fairly chintzy.
As for the rest of the package, the front seats are comfortable, the driving position has plenty of adjustment and a commanding view of the road while all occupants are treated to decent headroom even with the panoramic sunroof.
Those in the middle row are treated to decent legroom and separate ventilation controls but access to the third row is compromised by the smaller portion of the 60:40 split fold opening to the kerb side.
Bootspace is limited in the seven-seat configuration but generous as a regular five seater, although the side-opening tailgate is heavy and cumbersome to open.
Under the Bonnet
The H9 is powered by a 2.0-litre turbo charged four-cylinder petrol engine that produces healthy outputs of 180kW and 350Nm and drives a part-time four-wheel drive transmission via a new eight-speed automatic gearbox.
The small capacity engine isn’t as grunty as turbo diesel offerings in rivals such as the Toyota Prado, and as a result it feels a little underwhelming – and sounds whoosh under acceleration – having to push around more than two tonnes of old-school metal, particularly in heavy traffic.
The new gearbox helps makes the most of the torque it has with a broader spread of ratios, and it is reasonably intuitive and smooth in the way it shifts even if the entire powertrain isn’t as refined and polished as more established players.
Engaging its four-wheel drive system for off-road driving is simple, with six different modes in its All-Terrain Control system that tailors the engine’s responsiveness, the gearbox’s ability to hold gears longer and switch over to low-range cogs and activate the rear differential lock depending on conditions.
Haval also claims the H9 can two up to 2500kg with a braked trailer.
How it drives
Chinese brands like Haval have come a long way in a relatively short period of time in terms of improving driving dynamics.
The H9 is still no match for the best in its class as far as comfort, handling and overall refinement are concerned, but the recent upgrade brings it closer than before.
It’s still an old-fashioned body-on-frame four-wheel drive, which means it lacks the car-like dynamics of more modern SUVs with vague steering, plenty of body roll in the bends and suspension that slaps over big bumps.
On the flipside, it has excellent off-road credentials with generous ground clearance and wading depth that ensures it will tackle the toughest terrain without too much trouble.
The Haval H9’s trump card is its sticker price. The recent upgrade brings more gear, better safety and lower fuel consumption for even less than before, which is rare these days, and cements the H9 as a genuine bargain against its direct competitors.
It’s not the most sophisticated seven-seat SUV out there, but you get a lot of car for the money. And that will be appealing to adventurous families looking for a big car with plenty of equipment that can take them off the beaten track every now and then.
Facts and Figures: 2018 HAVAL H9
- Engine: 2.0 litre turbo-petrol producing 180kW/350Nm
- Transmission: Eight-speed auto
- Safety: Four stars
- Warranty: 5yrs/100,000km
- Origin: China
- Price: H9 LUX from $41,990 drive-away, H9 Ultra from $45,990
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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