China’s biggest SUV producer, Haval may not be a household name in Australia yet, but the brand is setting itself up to become one.
With lofty aspirations of eating into the massive market share enjoyed by Toyota and its broad range of SUVs, Haval hopes that sharp value will be the key with loaded equipment lists and low prices underpinning its updated flagship H9 4x4.
The task ahead is no small one, with Haval having sold just over 700 cars in Australia last year, while Toyota moved almost 16,000 of its LandCruiser Prado models alone.
Vehicle Style: Large 4x4
Price: $41,990-$45,990 driveaway
Engine/trans: 180kW/350Nm 2.0-litre 4cyl turbo petrol | 8spd automatic
Fuel Economy Claimed: 10.9 l/100km
To help bring a competitive edge to the H9 for 2018 Haval has updated its big SUV with subtle changes including minor styling revisions inside and out, fresh 18-inch alloy wheels, and a new automatic transmission shifter.
Beneath the surface Haval has been more thorough with a revised versions of the brand’s own 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine getting an output boost from 160kW and 324Nm to 180kW and 350Nm.
The engine also mates to a new eight-speed automatic in place of the previous six-speeder for improved driveability and fuel efficiency.
Blind spot monitoring and lane departure warning systems are now standard, joining a decent safety suite that includes curtain airbag coverage for all three rows.
Haval’s full-sized wagon currently holds a sub-par four-star ANCAP safety rating, something that may change if the four-wheel-drive is re-tested in the second half of the year.
Having already strengthened passenger leg protection and switched to 18-inch wheels to make the car more stable in a crash, Haval will soon offer an improved safety suite including autonomous emergency braking, active cruise control and forward collision warning systems not currently available in right-hand-drive models.
As a two-variant range the entry-level H9 Lux trim, kicks off with a decent list of upscale features including an 8-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation, a reversing camera, three-zone climate control, and smart keys as standard.
Moving up to the higher-spec H9 Ultra model adds a panoramic sunroof, premium stereo, adaptive headlights and more.
To reinforce Haval’s position as a value offering the local arms has dropped the price of both H9 models by $6000 for 2018, bringing it to $40,990 plus on-road costs in standard form, or $44,990 for the fully-loaded Ultra.
Customers who get in quick can take advantage of launch pricing that brings the duo down to $41,990 and $45,990 drive-away, making it one of the most affordable seven-seat four-wheel-drives on sale.
Climbing into an Ultra for our test drive, the focus on value is evident in swathes if glossy fake wood and faux leather trim that hint at luxury without being the genuine article.
The central touchscreen lacks intuitive smartphone connectivity, the sat nav system’s “points of interesting” menu speaks to something lost in translation, and spoken turn-by-turn instructions come from a unnervingly slow-speaking digitised voice which Haval’s Australian operation fought to silence.
Our test example’s cabin execution was passable, marked down by an ill-fitting plastic seatbelt surround that came loose from the back seat.
While that is disappointing to see, Haval’s five-year warranty should have niggles covered well into the future.
Accommodation in the rear is reasonably spacious, with air vents and power outlets to all three rows (including a household 220 volt power point in the boot) likely to be welcomed by families.
We’re less impressed by a split/fold arrangement biased toward left-hand-drive markets that pushes kids in the third row to exit on the driver’s side, potentially into the path of traffic.
Haval has also unfortunately decided to follow the Toyota Prado’s lead with a side-hinged tailgate, although unlike the Toyota Haval’s doesn’t include a spare wheel but can still be finicky to unlock and lacks power-opening assistance like a top-hinged tailgate might have.
Occupant accommodation is good in the first row, where reasonably comfortable driver and passenger seats offer heating, cooling and massage functions rarely found at this price point, along with a comfortable driving position and wide, if thinly bolstered padding.
Haval has responded to Australian feedback from its Australian customers by adding a digital speedometer and scaling back the barrage of electronic beeps that used to fire up when you adjusted systems such as cruise control functions.
ON THE ROAD
Most vital to the H9’s chances of success are the new, more powerful engine tune and beefed-up auto which improve straight-line performance while improving fuel economy.
Official fuel figures for the H9 dropped from 12.1 to 10.9 l/100km as a result of the driveline revisions, though the car still requires premium unleaded petrol and its 80-litre tank is no match for the massive cruising ability offered by the Prado and its 150 litre fuel capacity.
Disappointingly Haval has no plans to introduce a diesel engine in the H9, though a petrol hybrid option may arrive in the medium-term.
The driveline feels a little breathless in the real world, kicking down through the gears where a torquier motor might commit to a single ratio. Its whooshing engine isn’t the last word in refinement and our test example exhibited a distant rattle on part throttle sensitive owners may struggle to tune out.
Haval’s multi-mode drive system works well, giving access to driveline settings optimised to tackle a variety of surfaces. We also like the standard rear differential lock and hill descent control systems that performed well in off-road testing at Victoria’s Werribee 4x4 proving ground.
There, the H9 took everything in its stride - creek crossings, 45-degree climbs, rocky descents and slippery moguls. We’re confident the Haval can handle anything you might ask a family four-wheel-drive to do.
TMR VERDICT | OVERALL
Although its pricing suggests the H9 is configured to take aim at ute-based seven-seaters such like the Isuzu MU-X, Mitsubishi Pajero Sport, or Ford Everest, Haval says the Toyota Prado shapes up as a natural rival to the H9.
With the Prado range starting from around $15,000 above the Haval in basic, fleet-spec form, and the top-end Prado Kakadu at nearly double the price of the H9 Ultra that might seem like an odd fit, but compare the H9’s equipment and interior presentation and the two are much closer than pricing alone suggests.
While Chinese automakers may be starting from a low base in terms of reputation, it’s clear that Haval is fighting to change that perception and when consumers demand that new brands discount their wares to get a foot in the door, Haval has listened.
Hopefully Haval’s take on Prado-like space, four-wheel-drive ability, and features with cut-price value meets the expectations of Aussie buyers, but for rural buyers the lack of a diesel engine and the question of long-term reliability might still cause some hesitation.