YOU HAVE TO ADMIRE THE AMBITION OF HAVAL. THE CHINESE BRAND IS DETERMINED TO SUCCEED WHERE OTHERS FROM THE ANCIENT MIDDLE KINGDON HAVE FAILED.
Haval, with an all-SUV line-up, is in the fight with the right kind of car - after all, our appetite for SUVs of all sizes continues to swell - but can the product cut it?
We spent a week at the wheel of the brand’s smallest model, the Haval H2, to find out. While there are some positives to report, there are also some clear areas where Haval can improve.
Vehicle Style: Small SUV
Price: $30,490 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 110kW/210Nm 1.5 turbo petrol 4cyl | 6sp automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 9.0 l/100km | tested: 8.4 l/100km
The small SUV segment is the most rapidly-growing segment in the Australian new car market, and compact crossovers like the Mazda CX-3 and Honda HR-V are hot property. No wonder Haval wants a piece of that action.
Physically, the H2 is slightly bigger than the segment-leading Mitsubishi ASX and Mazda CX-3, but not quite as large as Nissan’s popular Qashqai (which currently sits at third place in segment sales).
Priced at $30,490 for the H2 LUX 2WD automatic, its value-for-money equation is roughly in line with other small SUVs and crossovers - though it’s not quite as feature-rich as rivals like the CX-3 Akari.
- Standard equipment: Power windows, power-adjustable driver’s seat, heated front seats, keyless entry/ignition, heated wing mirrors, cruise control, dual-zone climate control, reversing camera, reverse parking sensors
- Infotainment: 7-inch colour touchscreen display with AM/FM/USB/SD audio plus Bluetooth audio/telephony. Trip computer in instrument panel.
Say what you will about Chinese cars of the past, the Haval H2 is actually pretty nice inside.
The H2 LUX model tested here is fairly expensive at $30,490 (plus on-road costs), but with soft tan pleather upholstery on the seats and door panels, lots of metallic-look silver highlights and a design that’s clean and handsome, it presents well.
There are lots of soft-touch plastics in here too, certainly more than in the Suzuki Vitara. The harder plastics on the rear half of the centre console look cheap though, and the leather-wrapped steering wheel and much of the centre stack switchgear feels cheap.
There were also loose folds of fabric evident at the base of the A-pillar trim, leading us to question whether that part of the car will remain clothed over several hot Australian summers. Quality control could be better.
The equipment list could be stronger, too. Satellite navigation is absent, only the driver’s seat is power-adjustable and only the driver’s window has an auto-up/down function.
Safety-wise there are no front parking sensors and active safety features like blind-spot monitoring and autonomous emergency braking are similarly not available.
You will, however, find a reversing camera and sensors, dual-zone climate control, electrically-folding/heated wing mirrors, cruise control, keyless entry/ignition, auto-on headlamps and rain-sensing wipers.
Another plus is the sense of space inside the cabin. There’s more than enough room up front and in the back, with a low centre tunnel that permits three (smallish) adults to sit across the second row.
The second row could use more supportive cushioning, but it’s got reasonable comfort for a pair of adults, plus a fold-down centre armrest and adjustable headrests on all three seats.
Boot space is about par for the segment, with 60/40 split rear seats expaning capacity and a full-size spare wheel hiding under the boot floor.
ON THE ROAD
- Engine: 110kW/210Nm 1.5 litre turbocharged petrol inline four
- Transmission: 6-speed automatic, FWD
- Suspension: MacPherson strut front, multi-link rear.
- Brakes: Ventilated disc
- Steering: Electrically-assisted
- Towing capacity: 1200kg braked, 750kg unbraked
The H2’s transmission and throttle mapping really spoils the driving experience, with lazy off-the-line response that’s borderline dangerous, yet unnecessary throttle sensitivity when cruising.
The calibration is terribly inconsistent, with way too much 'curve smoothing' (the dampening of sudden throttle inputs) on heavy applications of the accelerator - like when pulling out of a side street into fast-moving traffic - yet overzealous reactions to minute pedal inputs.
If anything, you’d want the inverse: instant response to demands for big power, but a slacker throttle when cruising to promote comfort. Haval has got it the wrong way around.
The H2’s six-speed automatic leaves plenty to be desired too. It shoots to the highest possible gear at every opportunity, but kickdown performance is sluggish. Were this car naturally aspirated that might be a greater issue, but thankfully the low-end torque of the H2’s turbo 1.5 helps mitigate the problems created by its transmission calibration.
While speaking of that engine, it’s not too bad. It’s no muscle-bound powerhouse, but the turbo 1.5 makes a healthy 110kW of power and 210Nm of torque with a fairly linear power distribution.
Once the transmission and drive-by-wire throttle sort themselves out, the engine delivers solid performance up hills and along highways. It’s thrashy at high rpm, but you’ll rarely need to work it that hard for long periods.
It’s more fuel efficient that you might expect, too. Haval claims the H2 FWD auto drinks an average of 9.0 l/100km on the combined cycle, be our real-world average of 8.4 l/100km comprehensively beat that figure.
It’s slow, though. It may have more torque than HR-V, Qashqai, Yeti or CX-3, but it’s a heavy beast at 1520kg empty.
Noise and vibration suppression needs some work as well. There’s a lot of turbo whoosh that’s evident from inside the cabin that spoils what is otherwise a fairly quiet environment, and the steering column vibrates noticeably when idling at a standstill.
Ride comfort is generally good, but there’s a bit too much firmness over sharp bumps like manhole covers and potholes. It’s certainly no deal breaker though, and the H2 boasts decent roadholding with minimal body roll for an SUV.
ANCAP rating: The Haval H2 has yet to be assessed by ANCAP
Safety features: Dual front, front side, full-length curtain airbags, ABS, EBD, brake assist, stability control, traction control, reversing camera, reverse parking sensors.
RIVALS TO CONSIDER
There’s no shortage of rivals in the small SUV segment, and unfortunately for Haval they all have some form of advantage over the H2 - whether price, comfort, space, technology or driveability.
The H2 is larger than most though, and its back seat is one of the more commodious. It also has an on-paper power and torque advantage, but any benefit there is negated by its extra body mass. So too, the listed fuel economy has it as one of the thirstiest in its segment (though we did better than the claimed figure).
There’s also the fact the H2 LUX is priced within the lower reaches of the medium SUV segment, where you can find the excellent Hyundai Tucson and Mazda CX-5. In the interest of fairness though, we’ll only list the H2’s segment rivals:
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
The good news for Haval is that the majority of the H2s shortcomings - its lazy throttle response, sub-par transmission calibration and jittery suspension - can be solved, and we would expect they will be in the next model iteration) by some rethinking of the engineering and electronic mapping.
And, we have to concede, in LUX form the Haval H2 makes a better buy than the entry-level H2 Premium. The latter, at $26,490 ($24,990 drive-away for a limited time), is certainly overpriced when put up against its peers.
But do we recommend it? Not right now, no.
While there are signs here of better things to come, there are better buys out there with more convincing drivetrains and better tuned to Australian driving conditions. And you will enjoy living with them more (and they certainly carry less risk on resale).
Right now the H2 is at a competitive disadvantage in what is a hotly-contested segment. For a first effort though, it's a lot better than you might expect.