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An experienced car reviewer rarely goes to the launch of a new model without even the vaguest idea of what to expect. This week was one of those happy exceptions.
The Haval H6 is the first of a “new generation” of vehicles from the Chinese brand, which consistently ranks as its home market’s top-selling maker of SUVs, but which has barely made a dent in the 12 months since it launched in Australia.
Pitched as a rival for the Mazda CX-5, Hyundai Tucson and Toyota RAV4 among many others, the Haval H6 represents a sizeable leap for a brand that is learning hard lessons at a rate sure to alarm established players from Japan, Korea and even Europe.
The H6 is the company’s most popular model around the world, and its enormous scale at home makes it the world’s fifth biggest-selling SUV (claimed). Australia won’t add much scale, but it will do a lot for Haval’s brand image, if the car proves a hit.
Right off the bat, the Haval H6 makes an impression. It sports a handsome shape designed by the man responsible for the original BMW X5, Pierre Leclercq. It’s not groundbreaking, nor is it derivative, and the proportions and silhouette are sophisticated.
Ditto the contemporary cabin with Audi-style toggle, gear-lever and buttons on the transmission tunnel, a large touchscreen, lovely leather steering wheel and well-bolstered seats. Original it is not, but the effect is endearing, down to the Volkswagen-aping felt-lined glovebox and heavy ‘thunking’ doors.
Dig a little deeper and you’ll find signs of excellent quality, with damped buttons, chunky switches and some decent materials, all screwed together consistently well. There are still some cheap-feeling plastics scattered about, but overall it’s a well-sorted environment.
Two specification levels are available, the base Premium and the flagship Lux, priced respectively until December at $29,990 drive-away and $31,990 drive-away (technically the RRPs are $31,990 and $34,990, but you won’t pay that). Both come well-equipped.
Read our full pricing and spec breakdown here, but in brief the Haval H6 Premium gets 17-inch alloys, blind-spot monitoring, six airbags, parking sensors, rear-view camera, keyless start, 7.0-inch screen, Bluetooth/USB, climate control, privacy glass and rear air vents.
The Lux adds 19-inch alloys, a massive panoramic sunroof (with a flimsy cover that’s inadequate for Australian summer), nice faux leather, a bigger sound system, kerbside camera and self-levelling headlights. Satellite-navigation will be added in December and retro-fitted to existing vehicles free of charge, though it’s a notable miss for now.
Note, ANCAP has not yet tested the car's safety credentials, though it offers all the requisite equipment. We hope to see it crashed in a lab soon.
Haval has been criticised for the price and value equation of its existing H2, H8 and H9 models, but the H6 strikes closer to the mark, priced against the base Tucson, Tiguan, Sportage, CX-5 and others with some extra kit to woo prospective buyers across.
The H6 also offers a good back seat with more space than rivals, comfortable reclining seats with ISOFIX anchors, rear vents, reading lights, rear heating (in the Lux) and nice materials in the door trims. Strip away the badging and you’d be flummoxed as to the car’s origins.
Considering the dimensions of the car are a standard-for-the-class 4549mm long and 1835mm wide, and that the 2720mm wheelbase is about par, the packaging is commendable.
The cargo area is also capacious, and the carpet floor, and the hooks and handles, are of decent quality. This is where some rookie brands cut corners, but Haval hasn’t. The back seats fold fairly flat, though there’s nowhere to store the cargo cover. Under the floor is a temporary speed-limited spare wheel.
But these tests are the easy ones to pass — even earlier Haval models had competitive cabins. It’s the driving experience where the company needs to make up ground. The H6 shows some positive signs of doing just that.
Under the bonnet is a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine with 145kW at 5200rpm and 315Nm at 2000rpm that uses a claimed 9.8 litres per 100km of fuel on the combined loop (our quick launch drive yielded 11.5L/100km, which is thirsty for the class).
Standard is a six-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission sourced from Getrag, sending torque to the front wheels. Like most base medium SUVs, the Haval H6 is FWD only for now. The Chinese-market AWD version has a manual gearbox only, so nobody would buy it here.
The H6 shows excellent rolling response, though the engine has a slightly gruff note under load and isn’t the most responsive off the mark, on account of the fairly hefty circa 1700kg weight of the car. The DCT felt relatively decisive, though we’ll need more wheel-time in urban surrounds soon to be sure.
Among Haval’s staggering 33,000 engineers (yes, really) are clearly a few who know how to do suspension calibration. The H6 absorbs and rounds off sharp inputs well, with well-controlled compression, while the damper force and spring rates are sufficient to make the car recover quickly and smoothly from undulations and high-speed hits.
Both control and ride comfort are both very decent in most conditions, though past eight-tenths you’ll get some body roll not found in the likes of the Tiguan and Tucson. This is exacerbated by the odd electro-assisted steering, which feels artificial and overly resistant on centre for our tastes.
While we’re on the subject of things we don’t like, we’ll mention to overly intrusive ESC (the parameters in the software should be loosened), and the way the hazard lights come on automatically under hard braking or hard cornering. Or even medium cornering. It’s a safety feature that may be needed in China, but spirited driving in Australia is ruined by it.
NVH levels (bar those from the engine under load) are good, with very little wind noise from the large mirrors, and little tyre roar either, especially on the Premium’s smaller alloys. The hard compound Cooper tyres should have good longevity as well.
From an ownership perspective, the Haval H6 will come with a five-year/100,000km warranty and five years of roadside assistance, along with capped-price servicing. That should give some surety, though don’t expect great resale value.
To conclude, then. Haval is expecting big things from the H6. Remember, the medium SUV market is fertile ground for conquest, since it has the most volume, is growing the fastest and has the fewest competitors.
Is the Haval H6 quite up to par with the Mazda CX-5, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage and company? Not quite. But what is clear is the big step up it represents for the brand, and that alone should keep the established players on their toes. We err towards caution on launch reviews, but a future 7.5/10 isn't out of the question.
This is the first Chinese vehicle I could conceivably recommend being worth a considered test drive. Some new model launches surprise you indeed…