THE HAVAL H9 IS ALMOST A COMPLETE UNKNOWN TO AUSTRALIAN BUYERS. YET, HERE IT IS TO COMPETE AGAINST ONE OF THE BEST-KNOWN 4X4 WAGONS IN THE MARKET, TOYOTA'S PRADO.
What chance has it got, and how do the two converge? Well, the H9 is the same size as the Prado, roughly, it has both high and low 4X4 ranges, and shares the same intended purpose - an up-specced versatile family wagon.
Haval launched in Australia just last year, 2015, and while the brand itself (a division of Great Wall Motors) only came into being in 2001, by 2012 it was China’s number-one selling SUV brand.
Vehicle Style: Large SUV
Price: $50,990 (plus on-roads)
Engine/trans: 160kW/324Nm 2.0 4cyl turbo petrol | 6spd automatic
Fuel Economy claimed: 12.1 l/100km | tested: 13.2 l/100km
Haval defines itself as a premium brand. This partly explains why the pricing for the seven-seat H9 range starts at $46,490 (plus on-road costs), rising to $50,990 (plus) for the up-spec H9 LUX tested here.
However, in point of fact, the H9 LUX is the same price as an entry-level Mitsubishi Pajero GLX manual and cheaper than Toyota’s five-seat Prado GX manual base model - almost 'budget buying' in this segment, then - and a long way below the truly premium pricing of the likes of the Land Rover Discovery or BMW X5.
Compared to the Prado GX and Pajero GLX, however, the H9 offers a much higher level of standard equipment, including a six-speed automatic and sumptuous leather trim, but unlike the Mitsubishi and Toyota there’s no diesel available.
Is it a sensible up-spec budget buy? We took to the wheel of Haval’s range-topper to find out.
Quality: The H9 makes a strong first impression with a sturdy interior and finishes that have a higher-grade look and feel. There are a few elements that jar - the grey climate control buttons are difficult to read during the day, and the dash top digital display looks like a 1990s left-over.
Panel gaps and plastics quality however look quite good, there’s neat double-seam stitching on the seats, and everything you lay your hands on seems well-fitted, and certainly firmly attached.
Although the dash and door trims are rattle-free, the second row seats betray a little movement when unoccupied, amplifying reverberations through the cabin on rough or corrugated roads.
Comfort: There’s more space than you could possibly need in the front seats, and a range of adjustment that includes cushion length along with power adjustable height, tilt, and backrest for the driver.
Front seats also come with heating, cooling, and a simple massage function on the high-grade LUX model - something money can’t buy on any grade of Pajero or Prado.
In the second row the seats can be slid fore and aft, or reclined, there’s width and head-room in abundance, but you’ll need to shuffle that bench back to make the most of the leg-room. It’s not short on space, but given the H9's dimensions, it looks like there should be more room there.
The third row isn’t quite so fully featured, but does include 'power folding', leaving a flat floor. The base and backrest are flat and thinly padded, but if you can convince the middle row to scooch forward, there’s enough room for two adults.
Equipment: Standard equipment in the H9 LUX includes three-zone climate control, leather seat trim, keyless entry and start, powered front seats with heating, ventilation, and massage, an air-purification system, heated outboard second row seats, and a multi-function trip computer.
Infotainment is provided via an 8.0-inch touchscreen that includes radio, CD, Aux in and USB playback, and comes with satellite navigation. Sound reproduction is via a nine speaker Infinity audio system with a subwoofer. An extra $1500 adds the dual rear screens as fitted to this tester.
Storage: Behind the H9’s side-hinged tailgate there’s a slender 112 litres of space behind the third row. With the electrically-folding third row seats stowed flat, that grows to 747 litres, and with the second row folded there’s 1457 litres.
Each door features deep pockets and a bottle holder, the glovebox offers plenty of stash space, but the centre console looks bigger than it is, owing to the air-purifier installed in the lid.
There are two covered storage spaces in the centre stack, open cup-holder up front, cup holders and a rear compartment in the second-row armrest, and a sunglass holder overhead.
ON THE ROAD
Driveability: Make no mistake, the Haval H9 is a big, hulking wagon. To cite the Toyota Prado again, the H9 is 74mm shorter (with no spare wheel on the tailgate) but 10mm taller, 41mm wider, rides on a 10mm longer wheelbase, and with wider tracks front and rear.
It also has a slight weight advantage at 2250kg, however the only engine available in the H9 is a 2.0 litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol. It produces a quite reasonable 160kW at 5500rpm and 324Nm between 2000 and 4000rpm.
The engine itself is a decent unit, but it lacks the torque required to really shift the H9 with urgency - of course, a large 4x4 wagon has no need to launch like a rocket, but a full compliment of passengers and a caravan on the back will really see the H9 struggle.
Which, really, is what the Prado and Pajero are all about - effortless whether loaded, or with a trailer in tow, or empty. It's this shortcoming that exposes the H9 and distances it from others in this segment.
That said, the H9 manages to feel more brisk than the H8 (that shares the same mechanical package), and is slightly more eager from a standing start.
Overtaking does not pose a real problem - but just like any vehicle of this size and purpose, the H9 needs some careful planning before launching out of the lane.
That said, it will readily drop down one or two gears when some extra urge is called for, whether for overtaking, or heading uphill.
In less demanding situations the six-speed automatic isn’t quite so decisive. The lack of torque makes it unsettled and has it flicking between sixth and fifth gears during highway driving.
Around town there’s an appreciable pause in power deliver between gears as well, exaggerating the sensation of sluggishness.
Refinement: Engine noise filters into the cabin easily, and while it doesn’t have the rattle of the diesel, the more load it has to work under, the more vocal it becomes.
There’s also a constant feel of vibration through the firewall, pedals, and steering column. Nothing severe, but not to the standard we've come to expect from modern vehicles.
Road noise on the other hand is very well managed, and wind noise is also kept at bay with the exception of a slight rustle around the wing mirrors.
Ride and Handling: With front double wishbone suspension and a multi-link rear rigid axle, the H9 reveals its off-road bias, however on road behaviour doesn’t suffer terribly as a result.
There’s a touch of firmness over high-frequency ripples, but more often than not the H9 feels fairly soft. There’s a fair bit of early understeer dialed into the handling, capped with exaggerated body roll.
Considering the H9 is as far from a hot-hatch as you’ll find, that compromise isn’t too bad, and even with a full load of passengers the H9 maintains its handling demeanour.
Ultimately though it can feel just a little floaty, even on firm, level surfaces. That said, head off road and the lofty ride height, and softer suspension tune does wonders for traversing rugged terrain.
Like the Prado and Pajero, it has a genuine off-road capability thanks to a dual-range transfer case, with 4H and 4L. We've not given it a full workout off-road, but it doesn't have any trouble clambering up a steep rutted pinch.
Braking: Thankfully the big H9 has a slightly better brake feel than the H8 we tested previously. It feels more secure underfoot across the range from light to heavy braking.
There’s still plenty of front-end dive under brakes though, which can be unsettling, and stopping distances feel long.
ANCAP rating: The Haval H9 is yet to be tested by ANCAP
Safety features: Six airbags (dual front, side, and full-length curtain), height adjustable outboard seatbelts front and rear, front and rear seatbelt pretensioners, reversing camera, front and rear park sensors, driver fatigue detection, tyre pressure monitoring, ABS brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist, stability and traction control.
WARRANTY AND SERVICING
Warranty: Five years/100,000km, including five year's roadside assistance.
Service costs: Haval offers a Service Price Guarantee program, with the first service occurring at 6 months/5000km, switching to a 12 months/10,000km interval after that. Navigation map upgrades are free of charge for the life of the vehicle.
Service pricing starts ranges between $260 up to $460 depending on the service interval, but does not include wear items or brake, differential, or transmission fluids. Consult your Haval dealer for full terms and conditions.
HOW IT COMPARES | VALUE FOR MONEY
Toyota Prado GX seven-seat ($57,490) - To match the seating capacity of the Haval means adding $6500 (that gets you seven seats and an automatic). The entry-level Prado, however, is a long way short on equipment compared to the up-spec H9 LUX.
But the Prado deserves its accolades. It rules this segment with effortless towing, unburstable reliability and killer resale values, plus the rather helpful grunt of its 130kW/450Nm 2.8 litre turbo diesel engine. (see Prado reviews)
Mitsubishi Pajero GLX ($53,990) - The Pajero, despite numerous facelifts and updates, is one of the oldest vehicles in the SUV carpark and it can feel that way on the road. But off-road, the Pajero still has plenty to up its sleeve.
Like the Prado, the Pajero comes with a diesel, but only a five-speed auto. It also features an up-to-the-minute infotainment system with DAB radio, and native smartphone mirroring. (see Pajero reviews)
Ford Everest Ambiente ($54,990) - Ford’s Everest straddles the gap between ute-based SUVs, and the more purpose-built 4x4 wagons. It’s price seems a little high next to Fortuner and Pajero Sport, but with more power, torque, refinement and technology, it’s not hard to see where the dollars are spent.
The Haval H9 has more toys and a really sumptuous interior, but with a grunty engine and serious off-road ability, not to mention a bigger dealer network, the Everest is a safer choice. (see Everest reviews)
Note: all prices are Manufacturer’s List Price and do not include dealer delivery or on-road costs.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
While Haval has received plenty of attention for its pricing, it is simply true that your dollar buys more up-spec features in the Haval than in any other heavy-duty SUV on offer. The interior surprises for its quality leather, feature list and overall fitout.
But, arguably, buyers will be looking for more than this in a heavy-duty 4X4 wagon.
There is no question that until a diesel version joins the range, the H9 will remain something of an also-ran in the large SUV class. Australia’s love of towing a boat, caravan, or pair of dirt bikes makes the 2.0 litre turbocharged petrol four-cylinder H9 look underdone compared to the torque-laden opposition.
And why, in this segment, we can only rate it at 2.5 stars.
Resale and long term reliability also remain unanswered, something Haval should perhaps address with a guaranteed buyback, or assured future value program.
The H9 is a bold attempt at cracking Australia’s bustling SUV market. We like it better than the slightly smaller, softer H8, but it still has a few issues to overcome before we can recommend it as good 4x4 buying.
In this segment, torque, for towing, is high on most shoppers' lists. As is whether they can trust it to do the job. And winning trust, quite simply, is going to take time.
MORE: Haval News and Reviews
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