Quite surprising to be delighted by the Haval H9 SUV
About half an hour after driving the new H9 away from Haval New Zealand headquarters, I found myself thoroughly delighted with the whole experience.
So I had to wonder: was it because this was a great fit-for-purpose SUV, or because it was Chinese and I like vehicles that are a bit weird and make other people screw up their faces?
It’s probably an equal measure of both, so bear with me as you read on.
What’s a Haval?
It’s the premium SUV brand of China’s Great Wall Motors and the company has great hopes of export success outside the domestic market. The H9 is the third Haval to be launched in NZ, the most up-to-date and yet also the most old-school.
Well, this H9 is a significant update of a model that’s been around since 2014.
It’s got more comfort/convenience and safety technology than the smaller H2 and H6 models, and the overall quality and interior fit/finish is quite a bit ahead of its smaller siblings.
” this H9 is a significant update of a model that’s been around since 2014.”
But it’s also a very traditional ladder-frame-chassis 4WD off-roader, rather than a FWD crossover like the H2 and H6. It’s also very large: nearly two metres tall, with a seven-seat cabin.
Think of the H9 as Haval’s Toyota Land Cruiser Prado then.
That’s certainly how Haval thinks of it, if the exterior styling cues are anything to go by. There’s a lot of Prado there, with a bit of Mercedes-Benz GLE bling thrown in for good measure.
Mind you, the cheapest Prado you can buy is $70,990. The H9 starts at $43,990 and even our extravagantly equipped Ultra version is $47,990.
The powertrain is fairly forward thinking though: this might be a 2230kg separate-chassis SUV, but it’s powered by a small-capacity turbo-petrol engine driving through an eight-speed transmission. It’s not short on power, with 180kW, and the torque output is impressive with 350Nm at 1800-4500rpm – but it’s well down on the likes of a diesel Prado’s 450Nm if you really are thinking of heading off-road.
On the sealed stuff, the powertrain is quite sprightly and the ZF-sourced gearbox a particularly smooth operator. Short first and second ratios (with one eye on off-roading) help with the lively launch feel.
So it delivers six-cylinder performance, but having to push 2.3 tonnes of SUV along means the turbo-four sometimes has six-cylinder thirst. The Combined figure of 10.9 litres is not brilliant and our test average of 11.8 litres even less so.
The H9 has double wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension, but it’s no corner-carver. Like any proper off-roader, it can get a bit wobbly when the speeds rise. But it’s no worse than a Prado in that respect and might even be better.
The H9’s safety tech includes blind-spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and lane departure warning. All good stuff on a vehicle of this size, but what it doesn’t yet have is autonomous braking, which will prevent it getting beyond its current four-star ANCAP crash-test rating. It’s coming this year, apparently.
If you are keen on the rough stuff, the H9 has an All Terrain Control System (ATCS) that allows you to select Auto, Sand, Snow, Mud and “4L” configurations, complete with locking rear differential. Since we’re using Prado as a benchmark (pretty sure Haval did), here’s now the approach/departure angles and ground clearance compare: 28/23deg and 206mm for the H9 versus 31/25deg and 215mm for the Prado. Both can wade through 700mm.
So the Chinese car is in the ballpark, but what it can’t really do is tow. At least not tow the kind of weight Kiwis might expect a vehicle of this type to handle: the braked rating is 2500kg, which is okay but not outstanding.
There’s been a real effort to make the H9 look classy inside. There’s little that’s genuine among the leather-look and wood-look trim, but it’s actually pretty swish and tasteful all the same. The Ultra gains gas-discharge headlights, a panoramic glass roof, heated steering wheel, heated seats for the first and second row, three-zone air conditioning and a pretty decent Infinity-branded sound system.
The Ultra also gets ventilation and massaging functions for the front chairs, which are accessed via a slightly confusing sub-menu in the main touch-screen. Nice though.
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.
It’s a pretty decent school-run or weekend-sport machine, with a spacious second row and occasional third that’s split 50/50. It does stumble with last-row entry, since the middle seat only folds for that purpose on the right-hand (road side).
Perhaps it’s lucky that those small enough to be comfortable in that back row will also probably be happy to clamber over the middle seatback or even out the tailgate – which is an old-school side-hinged affair that’s a pain in busy carparks, but is at least mounted on the correct side for right-hand drive.
So yes, my delight is arguably out of proportion to the H9’s talents.
But not entirely unjustified.
It has its issues, but the H9 is a genuinely good thing beyond merely being a cheap thing (although it is also that).
The elephant in the room is the inevitable concern about reliability and depreciation.
Can’t really speak to the former at this early stage, although the H9 is a known quantity in Australia in its previous incarnation and you do get a five-year/100,000km warranty. Heavy depreciation does seem likely, but at this price you’ve at least got a decent head-start on the capital-versus-cost-of-ownership equation.
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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