The Haval H9 is the pinnacle of the ambitious Chinese company’s three-strong SUV range, which launched in Australia a few months ago.
As it has with its other models, the urban-focused H2 and the H8 mid-sizer, Haval is promising big things. The Haval H9 is said to be every bit the large, luxurious and off-road-capable SUV — the latter ensured by its ladder frame chassis, proper low-range and diverse traction modes.
Here we test the Haval H9 Lux which, at $50,990 plus on-road costs, sits well and truly atop Haval’s range (above the $46,490 H9 Premium). It is also, for what it's worth, far and away the most expensive Chinese car ever sold here, unless you cheekily include the Volvo XC90.
At this price point, it sits above the mid-range Isuzu MU-X LS-U and Toyota Fortuner GXL, as well as softer seven-seater fare such as the Hyundai Santa Fe Elite. In other words, Haval once again is not relying on being a cut-price contender. It wants to compete on merit.
There’s little doubt the Haval H9 has presence. Like its H8 sibling, there is more than a little Mercedes-Benz about it, from the vaguely GL-Class lines to the knockoff side steps, bonnet vents and silver kickplates.
With dimensions of 4856mm long, 1926mm wide, 1900mm high and a 2800mm wheelbase, it’s about the same size as an Everest. This feeling of spaciousness is carried over into to cabin, which is both vast and well-equipped.
The layout up front, and the build quality (bar the dearth of door seal clips), are both rather excellent. The fascia is clean and simple with a well-integrated 8.0-inch central screen, and the materials — leather, plastic and even the odd bit of faux timber (better than the H8’s) — are all OK. There's also cool blue ambient lighting and lairy red puddle lamps.
There are excellent touches such as the soft-closing sunglasses-holder, plus the Mercedes-esque silver buttons and cruise control stalk. The leather seats may have been a polarising light brown on our test car, but they’re very comfortable and at this spec level have eight-way electric adjustment, are heated and cooled, and even have a multi-stage massage function.
Standard equipment is fairly strong. Alongside those trick seats, you get parking sensors all-round, a reverse-view camera, keyless entry and start, satellite-navigation, a ten-speaker Infinity sound system, LED DRLs, three-zone climate control and an air purification system.
You also get six airbags, including curtains that cover all three rows of seats, plus a pair of Isofix anchors. Haval is shooting for a five-star ANCAP rating. That said, where is the radar-guided cruise control, blind-spot monitoring and low-speed autonomous braking? Not very premium…
Gripes up front are limited. As with the H8, the infotainment screen is not the last word in sophistication, in terms of resolution, while the driver’s instruments are low-rent and lack a digital speedo — a bad oversight.
There is also no DAB+ digital radio, while the reverse-view camera cuts out sound entirely too long, post-operation, and repeats a programmed voice message. Every. Single. Time.
One nifty feature is the separate screen atop the dash that shows your air pressures, pitch and roll angles, the elevations you’re at and the ambient temperature. A bit like a ‘90s Pajero…
Where the H9 kicks big goals is in the area of cabin space. It’s a genuine seven-seater. The middle row offers excellent legroom and headroom even with the sunroof in our tester, as well as outward visibility. The rear seats are also heated, and you get temperature controls for the A/C.
Our tester also came with a pair of flatscreens mounted behind each front headrest (a $1500 extra). Both have a USB input to play media, as well as a shared DVD drive. The kids won’t be bored — especially since rear occupants can control the electric movement of the front passenger seat — just like you can in a Maybach.
Even the third row seats are decent. The middle seats slide fore and aft 60:40 to give you relatively good access, and once ensconced there’s sufficient room even for adults on a brief journey. Each rear seat has adjustable headrests and vents, too, and good outward visibility.
And just like an Audi Q7, you can fold this third row flat into the floor, and re-deploy them again, electrically via buttons. That’s pretty swish.
What’s not so swish is the left-side-hinged swinging tailgate, which is an odd design considering there’s no spare tyre stuck to said door (it’s mounted underneath). Inside the door are tools and a warning triangle.
Like the H8, cargo capacity is quite excellent at 1457 litres, given the rear and middle seat rows fold commendably flat. There’s a 220V outlet back there too, but nowhere to stow the rigid parcel shelf if you whip it off.
So that’s the cabin. But how does the H9 drive? Better than the H8, actually. The biggest issue we had with the latter was its steering, which is both heavy and slow (too many lock-to-lock turns) — a bad combination. The H9’s setup is lighter and thereby the car is more manoeuvrable, albeit a little wafty.
That said, it’s body control is typical of any separate chassis vehicle, and no worse than a Land Rover Discovery.
The H9 rides on fairly sophisticated double wishbone suspension at the front and multi-link suspension at the rear. Its corrugation absorption is generally excellent, notably at higher speeds, though a hint of sharpness creeps in at lower speeds and over expansion joints and the like.
Probably the most surprising element of the Haval H9 — well, not surprising if you know the Chinese market’s dislike of diesel — is the fact the engine is fuelled by petrol, 95 RON no less. In a segment dominated by diesel (we refer to the off-road-focused rivals, rather than the car-like Kluger/Pathfinder/CX-9 and co.), that feels like a missed opportunity.
The longitudinally-mounted 2.0-litre engine in question is familiar from the H8, and given it’s small in that car, it appears positively tiny in the H9. But it’s a turbocharged unit producing a decent 160kW of power at 5500rpm and 324Nm of torque between 2000 and 4000rpm.
Those numbers on paper seem just fine — not enough to be anywhere near the most powerful or torque-laden in class, but at least respectable. In reality, though, the H9 is almost always underpowered.
With a kerb mass of 2250kg — about 100kg over the H8 — the H9 is a bit of a porker. A power-to-weight ratio of 75kW-per-tonne is not spectacular.
We’d also mention its GVM is 2850kg, meaning the total weight allowed on board is only 600kg. So forget packing seven people and their gear. You can, however, legally tow a 2500kg braked trailer — not quickly.
To its credit, the engine is relatively refined, but your forward progress is stately at best.
This need to ‘work’ the engine means your fuel consumption will blow out beyond the already heavy factory claim of 12.1L/100km (with 95 RON premium fuel) on the combined cycle, into the mid-teens — a figure worse than rivals with far larger, but less stressed, engines.
The six-cylinder diesel engine we hear Haval is working on would utterly transform this car.
As with the H8, engine torque is sent to the rear wheels via a ZF six-speed transmission with a sport mode, that proved relatively intuitive. The H9 comes with a Borg Warner dual range transfer case for off-road work. You switch between 4H, 4L, Auto and Eco modes via a dial.
Off-road work will see you use the electronic all terrain control system. Auto simply uses sensors to adapt to the terrain, while there are Sand, Mud and Snow modes that sport different ESC calibrations, plus alter the torque distribution.
To its credit, the H9 proved relatively capable off-road, dispatching our little course — ascent, descents, rutted tracks, logs, sand, gravel, mud, varieties of camber and moguls — without much fuss. Credit goes also to the excellent Cooper tyres fitted to our car.
The low-range (put the car in neutral first) system works well enough, but the petrol engine lacks the inherent low-down tractability of a diesel. The petrol would also give us pause for thought before water crossings were tackled.
The H9 also gets a hill-descent control system, but it doesn’t have speed modulation and tends to operate at a higher clip than we’d like.
Haval claims an approach angle of 28-degrees, and departure angle/ramp-over angles of 23-degrees. There’s also 206mm of ground clearance.
Would we take a Haval off the beaten path over, say, an Everest or Fortuner? No. Those cars are diesel-powered, and are supported by a wider servicing network. But at least the H9 is no poser — it’s capable.
Capable is a decent word for the H9, in fact. In this tester’s opinion, it’s the best of Haval’s three-model range. The cabin is spacious, the design is powerful, and the engineering underneath has some level of capability.
Then again, it’s also underpowered, thirsty and lacking in some features — notably of the active safety variety — that’d we’d like to see specified on any vehicle calling itself premium.
And given the massive level of competition out there, would you really drop $50K on a relative unknown? We wouldn’t, no. But the story here is the same as with the H8 — Haval as a brand has nothing but upside, and the H9 shows that this Chinese contender is nothing to turn your nose up at.
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