If you’re like me, you won’t have a clue what the Haval H9 is when you first glance one on the road, let alone where you can get your hands on one of these elusive beasts.
As it turns out, Haval is a big deal – at least in China – where the brand has been the biggest producer of SUVs since its first model rolled off the production line in 2002.
You will be familiar with Haval’s parent brand, the infamous cut-price Chinese carmaker, Great Wall. So just think of Great Wall as Toyota and Haval as Lexus – at least that’s the vision of company chairman, Wei Jianjun, who took over the reins in 1990 as a 26-year-old.
Jianjun is a now multi-billionaire who’s not to be messed with. Outside the company’s headquarters stand two engraved pillars, one that lists the company’s failures, and the other, employees who were found to be corrupt.
More daunting still, all new hires are expected to undergo a month of military drills with instructors from the People’s Liberation Army –the gruelling process repeated if they are promoted to senior management level.
This cruel and unusual punishment seems to be working - total sales in China hit 662,471 last year and the brand has now expanded its reach to 11 countries including Australia, Bolivia, Chile, Dubai, Iraq, Malaysia and Russia.
In fact, Haval opened its doors in Australia for the first time late last year, despite a raft of embarrassments faced by it’s Great Wall parent in recent times, including a national recall of 10,217 V200 diesel utes over a potential problem with the fuel filler neck.
But the Haval business model is different. The company has set up shop in Australia as a direct factory concern, independent of the Great Wall business, thereby cutting out the middle man on this occasion.
To date, the Chinese carmaker has launched three petrol-only SUV models in Australia: H2 and H8 in both two- and all-wheel drive, and the range-topping H9, which gets four-wheel drive exclusively using a two-speed transfer case.
Haval also has plans to launch the H6 early in the third quarter this year, while the H7 will be unveiled at the Beijing motor show next month and here by the end of 2017.
The entry-level H2 is a compact SUV available in both two-wheel drive and all-wheel drive versions (no auto with all-wheel drive) – all of which are powered by a 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbocharged engine with price points between $26,490-$30,990 plus on-road costs.
Next in line is the H8, a medium-size five-seat SUV with a 2.0-litre turbo-four petrol engine priced from $41,990-$48,990 and also available in 2WD and AWD. All variants are paired with a six-speed automatic transmission as standard.
The range-topping and larger H9 uses the same 2.0-litre/six-speed auto drivetrain as the smaller H8, but adds two more seats and is priced from $46,490 for the Premium and $50,990 for the top-shelf Lux.
The H2 competes in the same segment as the much lauded Mazda CX-3 and big-selling Mitsubishi ASX. The entry-level CX-3 starts from just $19,990 for the 2.0-litre Neo petrol manual 2WD and rises to $37,690 for the top-spec 1.5-litre diesel CX-3 Akari AWD.
The Mitsubishi ASX range kicks off with the 2.0-litre petrol LS 2WD manual from $24,990 and tops out with the 2.2-litre diesel XLS 4WD auto for $35,990.
It’s a slightly better pricing proposition for the H8 (though it’s only a five-seater), which goes up against tried and proven seven-seat players like the Kia Sorento priced from $40,990 for the 3.3-litre Si petrol 2WD and $55,990 for the top-of-the-tree 2.2-litre Platinum CRDi AWD auto.
Haval calls the H9 its serious 4x4 model, a result of its ladder-frame chassis and dual-range transfer case set-up with various off-road driving modes. It’s similar in size to the Toyota Prado, which kicks off at $60,990 for the 4.0-litre GXL petrol and climbs to the 2.8-litre diesel Kakadu priced from $83,490.
On the face of it, the H9 is certainly a tempting proposition, if only by the sheer level of standard equipment on board. Clearly, Haval is out to dazzle prospective H9 buyers with a vast array of electronic gizmos and creature comforts.
Then there’s the pricing. It undercuts the well-established brands by some margin and that’s against entry-level rivals – most of which offer far less equipment. But whether that’s enough to convince prospective buyers to take a punt on a brand new and totally unproven Chinese brand, only time will tell.
That said, I don’t mind the styling, even if it is does borrow certain cues from one or two prestige German marques, like Mercedes-Benz for instance. The bonnet in particular looks similar to the ML63, particularly with those pseudo air vents boasting chrome accents.
There’s more than a bit of Toyota incorporated in this Haval design too. In fact, the entire side profile looks similar to the Prado and the rear looks a bit awkward despite the practicality and robustness of its single swinging rear cargo door – just like the Prado.
It also looks to be well-assembled, with tighter shut lines than many rivals already mentioned. Even the paint job appears to be beautifully lustrous with zero imperfections. I’m also a big fan of the sidesteps – they’re decently wide, practical, and tastefully integrated into the door sills. So far, so good.
As expected at this price point, the H9 Lux is equipped with a contemporary lighting system including LED daytime running lamps along with adaptive 35W Xenon headlamps.
With dimensions of 4856mm long, 1926mm wide and 1900mm high, the Haval H9 is a proper seven-seat SUV, with more-than-generous rear-seat leg, head and elbow room. Even third-row passengers are afforded decent leg space (700mm), with the added benefit of electrically controlled individual seats (up and down).
Comfort is guaranteed by way of well-cushioned seats upholstered in soft-grain leather with sufficient bolstering for the vehicle’s performance level. There’s also ventilation for all three rows and heating for second-row passengers, as well as three-zone climate control air conditioning.
The front seats offer additional comfort (at least in this spec) with both heating and cooling and eight-way electric adjustment with massage function and extendable seat bottoms.
Both rear-seat rows fold virtually flat, which frees up a useful 1457 litres of carrying capacity and there are storage compartments throughout the cabin, as well as a 220V outlet.
Up front, it’s a reasonably clean dash, with large dials and easy-to-use switchgear - some of which are brushed metal (similar to Mercedes-Benz) that look quite smart. There’s plenty of stitched leather too, but I’m not a fan of the faux wood trim that adorns the dash, console and doors – it’s just not premium. The same goes for the plastics, which also look, feel and smell a bit cheap for a brand with first-class aspirations.
Central to the infotainment system is an 8-inch touchscreen of average resolution, but at least it’s relatively intuitive and importantly, quick and easy to pair with smartphones. There’s a second digital display between the twin main analogue instrument dials for a variety of information like tyre pressures, drive modes, average fuel consumption, but disappointingly misses out of the one really essential readout – current speed.
For off-road adventures, there’s a letter-box-size monochrome readout sitting atop the dash that shows altitude, barometer, direction, angle of climb and decent and outside temperature.
The extensive equipment list is definitely a strong point for the H9 and includes front and rear parking sensors, reverse view camera, keyless entry and start, satellite navigation and a better-than-average ten-speaker sound system to those previously mentioned.
While the H9 misses out on all manner of today’s active safety systems such as radar cruise control, lane departure warning, blind-spot monitoring and full-stop auto braking, it does get six airbags including full-length curtain for all three rows and a pair of Isofix anchors for the second row.
Hit the start button and there’s none of that familiar clatter you might expect from an off-road capable SUV of this size. Like most brands serving the Chinese market, diesels aren’t popular, so the H9 borrows the same 2.0-litre turbo-four petrol engine from the H8, which makes 160kW of power at 5500rpm and 324Nm between 2000 and 4000rpm.
It’s not nearly enough for a vehicle that tips the scales at 2250kg (no surprise), which means you tend to drive around in Sport mode with your right foot flat to the floor most of the time. That said, it’s unusually refined and relatively quiet in its effort to haul such bulk. Put that down in part to the H9’s sweet-shifting ZF six-speed auto transmission and the software behind it.
You get paddle-shifters, but I couldn’t get them to function, regardless of which driving mode I selected. Clearly they won’t work in auto mode, but then again I also tried using them in the manual setting to no avail.
The inherent repercussion of this kind of driving style is of course heavier fuel consumption than Haval’s claim of 12.1L/100km – and that’s on a recommended diet of premium 95 RON fuel. Over the week we averaged 15.5L/100km on the combined cycle.
Should you choose to tow the maximum 2500kg braked trailer, I’d suggest fuel consumption would be far greater, while forward progress, far slower without the benefits of a torque-rich diesel under the bonnet.
Ride comfort is certainly better than I expected from a Chinese SUV using a robust ladder frame chassis. Put that down to a suspension system incorporating a double-wishbone set-up at the front, and a multi-link unit down back. While large speed humps are barely noticed inside the cabin, sharp edges aren’t dealt with effectively enough. Overall though, it’s pretty good.
For a large SUV, the Haval H9 doesn’t feel like driving a vehicle of its size. The steering is relatively light and reasonably direct, so it never feels unwieldy, even over tight twisty suburban roads. Body control is also kept in check.
Off-road, we’ve already established it’s a capable bit of kit with its Borg Warner dual-range transfer case and variable drive modes, (click here to read the review), but warranty periods and service schedules are of crucial importance for such an unproven brand, so Haval offer a package that includes 5 years/100,000 warranty, 5 years roadside assist and five years service price guarantee.
For the H9, scheduled servicing starts at 6 months/5000km ($260), 18 months/15,000km ($315), 30 months/25,000km ($370), 42 months/35,000km ($455), 54 months/45,000km ($260), 66 months/55,000km ($435), 78 months/65,000km ($260), 90 months/75,000km ($460), 102 months/85,000km ($370), 114 months/95,000km ($370), 114 months/95,000km ($315), 126 months/105,000km ($260).
I don’t think there is any doubt that Haval is here to stay in Australia, and the H9 proves the Chinese can build a decent SUV that offers solid bang for buck.
There's a solid warranty program in place too, but they’ve still got a lot to learn about the premium SUV segment, and they’ll need to think about a diesel offering if they really want to tempt Australian buyers away from the tried and proven brands in this market.
There aren't many dealers, either: currently only five dealers in Australia – two in Victoria (Berwick and Geelong), one in Sydney (Lansvale), one in Queensland (North Lakes) and one in Perth (Burswood). That list is also set to grow according to Haval Motors Australia, who told CarAdvice they are on track to have ten opened by mid year.
Can I confidently recommend the Haval H9 over the more expensive Toyota equivalent? - probably not, but I'd thoroughly recommend a closer look, if not a test drive, particularly if your needs are great and your budget tight.
Click on the Photos tab for more images by Christian Barbeitos.