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The Haval H9 is China's answer to an array of large off-roaders like the Toyota Prado, but at a fraction of the price.
Compared to the standard car, the metallic green H9 Premium (from $46,490 before on-road costs) prototype adds heavier springs, upgraded shock absorber valving and slight changes to the toe-in setup.
The prototype is the result of a collaboration between Haval Australia, Ironman 4x4, and Haval's global R&D engineering team.
With the suspension upgrade, the company claims the H9 offers significantly improved manners on the road, with ride and cornering performance the main focus.
Other than that, the H9 features the same running gear as the regular H9, which is powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine.
Developing 160kW of power at 5500rpm and 324Nm of torque between 2000 and 4000rpm, the H9 sends drive to a selectable 4x4 system via a six-speed automatic transmission sourced from ZF.
However, later this year the facelifted MY2018 H9 will arrive, with a revised 180kW/350Nm version of the 2.0-litre turbo, along with a new eight-speed ZF automatic, which not only cuts acceleration from 0-100km/h down from some 13 seconds to just over 10, but also drops fuel use from the current car's 12.1L/100km combined claim to 11.0L/100km.
The vehicle on test, though, is the pre-facelift model, so our main point for assessment will be the H9's ride and handling on the retuned suspension system.
We sample the Ironman-tuned Haval H9 over about 100 kilometres of urban roads and country highways in and around Darwin, Northern Territory. Unfortunately, we didn't get any time to try it off-road – the water crossing image below was supplied by Haval.
A mix of tighter city streets, mild bends, and rough roads provides an indication of how a locally-tuned H9 behaves on Australian roads. And, considering how high the Haval rides and its ladder frame chassis, the retuned off-roader rides surprisingly well around town and on the highway.
It exhibits very little of the wallowiness and body lean normally associated with vehicles of its type, and irons out road imperfections with impressive composure.
Like the standard car, the H9 is well-suppressed from road and wind noise at speed. It offers a level of cabin refinement that is impressive, not just for a new brand car, but also for the class.
The seats are also comfortable, and the driver's position is nice and high - giving a commanding view of the road ahead.
It would be interesting to see what the MY18 updates do to help the H9's powertrain and transmission combo, as the 2.0-litre turbo petrol can feel a little underdone at times, especially when just about all of its rivals employ torquier turbo-diesel engines – something the Chinese market isn't really a fan of.
With the extra grunt, new transmission and upgraded cabin promised by the facelifted model, the H9 could be a viable choice for city-dwelling families who do off-road getaways and light towing on the weekends. The locally-tuned suspension adds even more appeal.
Note: Haval H9 Lux interior shown
Like it or not, the Chinese brands are getting better and better. Haval is definitely one of, if not the brands, leading the charge.
Hopefully, like the Korean brands, the company can implement a local tuning program that gives it a real point of difference among rivals – because as this H9 shows, it would be really beneficial.