China's biggest SUV brand, Haval, shows how fast it can learn to impress mature markets. The commendable Haval H9 is a big, capable and well-specified 4x4 that stands every chance of changing a few minds, even if it remains a hard sell against more familiar offerings
Haval is one of several cashed-up Chinese car makers seeking sales success in Australia, alongside the SAIC Group’s LDV and MG nameplates. Given our market is already among the most ‘crowded’ in the world, that’s no easy task.
But vehicles such as Haval’s flagship SUV, the H9, are at the very least worth your attention. This updated model rectifies some issues we had with the previous version, and while it still won’t sell in volume, it’ll help move the dial towards broader acceptance.
Of course, the key is convincing people that such an unknown quantity is worthy of trust. If you can have a low grade Hyundai Santa Fe/Kia Sorento, or a rugged diesel Mitsubishi Pajero Sport/Isuzu MU-X, for similar money, why roll the dice on Haval? Same goes for the LDV D90.
Well perception and reality often don’t align; remember when the Korean brands were a laughing stock? Some of our more ‘experienced’ readers may even remember that time when Australians mocked Japanese cars, too.
The MY18 Haval H9's improvements have been engineered because of local feedback. The company has also cut the price as you can read here, to $41,990 for the Lux version and $45,990 for the Ultra – those prices are drive-away, and spec-for-spec much more suitable than before.
First the engine. There’s still no diesel, and don’t hold your breath. There’ll be a petrol-electric hybrid offering before that happens. For now there’s a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol four, but uprated to 180kW (was 160kW) and 350Nm (was 324Nm) from 1800rpm thanks to a higher compression ratio of 10.0:1.
Those outputs compare to a Kia Sorento 3.5 V6’s 206kW/336Nm, and while there’s no big slab of diesel torque, Haval still achieved a 2500kg braked-trailer tow rating. We also matched its fuel use claim of 10.9L/100km – 10 per cent higher than a Jeep Grand Cherokee 3.6’s.
The engine is now matched to a new eight-speed automatic gearbox made again by German maestros ZF (supplier to BMW and Land Rover, and not cheap) with manual, sports and paddle-shifter modes, in place of the old six-speeder.
The new drivetrain actually does a decent job. The body-on-frame H9 is a heavy beast at 2230kg (kerb), but we got to 100km/h in under 10 seconds. It’s relatively responsive, has a strong mid-range, and good levels of refinement. That better ratio spread also helps low speed pickup.
While the H9 is ostensibly pitched as a family crossover, it’s actually constructed like a Pajero Sport or Ford Everest. It’s body-on-frame rather than monocoque, has an Eaton locking rear diff, and low-range gearing with a Borg Warner transfer case.
This means that despite the relatively sophisticated double-wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension, the Haval doesn’t have the tied-down body control on the straight-ahead, or against cornering loads, of a car-based crossover. Gotta have plenty of axle articulation built in, too…
The softer-sidewall Kumho road tyres (in place of the old Coopers) on small 18-inch rims do give the car a fairly comfortable ride over smaller corrugations – it feels more at home on gravel than tarmac, actually – while the low resistance hydraulic steering makes turning in the city very simple.
On the downside, there’s still kickback through the wheel over mid-corner hits, as well as noticeable bonnet wobbling over corrugations which, while perhaps not a core structural issue, doesn’t help perceived quality. Ditto, the light door handles.
Where the Haval may surprise you is its off-road chops, either in standard OEM spec or with the Iron Man suspension kit. We smashed through the Werribee 4x4 park easily, with road tyres at road inflation, rarely engaging 4L despite what may appear to be a lack of torque.
We clambered up and down 40-degree embankments, waded through 500mm deep rivers, scrambled up a steep scraggly rocky goat path, and even bested a nasty little section called the ‘Widowmaker’. There’s 206mm of clearance, a ton of axle articulation, and good engine response even from a take-off point halfway up a 38-degree sandy incline.
There’s also a dial-operated off-road shortcut tech suite a bit like the Ford Everest’s. There’s the Auto ‘set and forget’ mode, a Sand mode that adjusts the Bosch ESC, Snow and Mud modes, and a 4L low-range gearing mode. Haval has also improved the hill-descent control to keep the car’s speed much slower.
We can confidently say the H9 is ballpark as talented off-road as any number of ute-based rivals like those mentioned.
What we’re not sure about is longevity, although Haval’s five-year warranty may give you some peace-of-mind. Of course, going bush in a car sold by a brand with only 19 national dealers would take some bravery… Your move, Haval.
But for the average buyer it's the cabin that's more important. The H9's dash is a grab-bag of influences, but it looks contemporary and in terms of material quality is on a par with the likes of the Grand Cherokee.
The switchgear, contact points and contrasting material choices are all acceptable, while the damped grab-handles and felt-lined console/glovebox add some class. Tear off that naff wheel badge and you'd fool many into thinking it was from an established brand.
Behind that wheel is a different instrument panel featuring a TFT screen with digital speedo, something the brand says was added to appease Australian demand: our ridiculous revenue-raising speed enforcement policies drive that.
The base H9 Lux variant is pretty well equipped, with a sunroof, cloth seats, front/rear sensors, reversing camera, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert, an 8.0-inch touchscreen, (glitch-prone) satellite-navigation, 10-speaker audio system and three-zone air-conditioning. You also get six airbags including protection for all three rows of seats, and ISOFIX mounting points.
For another $4000 the H9 Ultra adds a bigger sunroof, faux leather seats with heating/cooling/two-stage massaging (!), an electric-folding third seat row like an Audi Q7, ramped-up Infinity audio system and more powerful xenon headlights.
That touchscreen operates relatively well with good graphics, though the sub-menus take a bit of getting used to. There's also no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto yet.
You may recall the old H9 got a sub-par four-star ANCAP crash rating unlike the smaller five-star H2. Haval says it has strengthened the footwell, fitted the aforementioned active safety tech, and plans to add AEB later this year then request a re-test. We shall see...
The back seats are ample, both slide and recline, have reading lights above your head and adjustable ventilation, and the outward visibility is helped by the huge side windows. The second row is actually a great place to pass a few hours.
There's also a pretty spacious third row with airbag cover and air vents, though only the driver's side middle seat allows easy entry. This means it wasn't re-engineered for right-hand drive.
There are tools under the cargo floor and a full-size alloy spare under the car itself, though the right-hand-side opening one-piece tailgate is a clunky in tight car parks.
From an ownership perspective, Haval Australia offers a commendable five-year/100,000km warranty, roadside assistance and 24/7 customer care. Still, it has its work cut out.
There's little doubt the Haval H9 will continue to sell in much lower numbers than more established rivals, however if there's one thing the H9 shows us it's that every new or updated Chinese car shows steady improvement.
The H9 was already impressive, and now it's better again. The kind of early adopters who once bought Kias and Hyundais before they were established may be drawn to the Haval, and the product itself offers a lot of ability and tech for reasonable money.
It's part-urban crossover, part rugged off-roader, and part statement of intent. Would we buy one? It'd be a bold choice. But not a ridiculous one.
- 2.0-litre turbo-petrol engine
- 180kW/350Nm (from 1800rpm)
- Eight-speed ZF auto
- 0-100km/h in 10sec
- Fuel use 10.9L/100km, 80L tank
- Towing capacity 750kg/2500kg
- 4x4 with low-range
- Double-wishbone/multi-link suspension
- 2230kg kerb weight
- 206mm clearance/700mm wading depth