My computer might have been designed by Apple in California, but it was made in China. Same story for my phone. We're perfectly comfortable using electronics or wearing clothes made by Chinese hands, so why aren't we keen to drive their cars?
Since it launched locally in 2015, Haval has faced an uphill battle making the public take notice. It runs with low pricing (that's a given) but perceptions are hard to shake and, thanks in part to past efforts from other Chinese brands, much of the Australian public is wary of what owning a Chinese car might entail.
There's also the unshakeable social currency involved in buying a car. A BMW or Mercedes makes you look successful, a Kia paints you as shrewd and thrifty – a Haval does neither of those things. Only people without pretence are likely to buy a Haval, and there aren't many of them around.
Although it can't necessarily shake its Home Brand image overnight, Haval is determined to prove it builds quality cars. Rather than talking about it, the company threw us the keys to a 2015 H8 with more than 60,000km on the clock.
We gladly accepted, curious to see how it had held up. Here's what we found.
This three-year old H8 has clearly led a tough life. When we collect a car, we note any damage or scrapes. Usually the reports are incredibly detailed: minor dent on lower left bumper, 5cm gash on right front wheel. The pickup form for the H8 just said "all of the car has hail damage and scratches."
There's no accounting for the life the H8 has led, but our tester certainly doesn't look showroom fresh. The paint isn't in incredible nick, either, with a tired, slightly faded look.
Forget about ripped leather or broken plastic, the H8's cabin looks remarkably good for its age. The leather seats have begun to develop a shine, as has the steering wheel, but there are no major creaks, rattles or groans from the cabin over Melbourne's rubbish roads.
The 'wood trim' on the driver door has turned a lovely shade of green after some time in the sun, and the dash architecture itself isn't particularly up-to-date. There are elements of last-generation Audi, Volkswagen and Skoda scattered throughout and, given none of them were particularly convincing in 2015, they're not fooling anyone now.
In a decidedly German touch, however, our car has the buttons for heated, cooled and massaging seats but no heated, cooled or massaging seats to match. As reminders you bought the cheap model go, that's a good one.
Dual-zone climate control works flawlessly – it's colder and faster to work than the system in the Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross we reviewed recently – and the controls all work perfectly. They're also logically laid out and feel okay to use. Gold star, Haval.
The thing that really ages the H8 is the technology. Its central touchscreen is miles behind the competition. It's ugly to look at, slow to use and the fonts bear no real resemblance to those used on the screen between the speedo and rev-counter. The navigation isn't particularly flash, with blocky graphics and a "habit" button for your home address. (Habitat..?)
It beeps at you when there's a speed camera ahead, or when there might be a speed camera, or when its second-cousin-twice-removed told it that one time about a speed camera, but there might not actually be a speed camera. The beeps come when navigation is active, or when the app is closed – and the beeps themselves are the same ones you get when your seatbelt isn't buckled, or you swap drive modes.
This might sound like a minor gripe, but it's proof of the growing role technology plays in our cars. The H8 felt old when it was new, and the low-budget systems haven't aged in the same way a normal double-din or established manufacturer touchscreen would.
The H8 isn't small. It measures 4806mm long, 1975mm wide and 1794mm tall on a 2915mm wheelbase, putting it in the same ballpark as the Ford Territory. It weighs significantly more than a Territory, though: 2.2 tonnes, to be precise.
Power comes from a 2.0-litre petrol engine making 160kW and 324Nm, the latter available between 2000 and 4000rpm. Sounds like a lot, but the six-speed ZF automatic gearbox can't cover for the fact it's a laggy, underpowered old mill hauling a huge car.
In some cars you squeeze the throttle, in the Haval you squeeze, then lean on, then press and finally, with the gap you saw in traffic fast closing, absolutely mash it.
Along with the sluggish in-gear performance, the gearbox exhibits some strange behaviour at low speeds. It almost feels like DSG-style hesitation, but it happens when you roll into a Give Way at about 10km/h. It's like the car stays in fourth as you coast through, and then can't find the right gear when you inevitably want to speed up again, leaving you stranded for a few seconds.
At least it's reasonably refined at highway speeds, settling down and humming away in the background. Just make sure there's lots of empty road ahead when it comes time to overtake.
The suspension does a reasonable job of isolating you from bumpy roads, and it doesn't crash over particularly hard-edged potholes or ruts. It's not the quietest setup though, with metallic clanging noises and thumps coming from the front suspension over speed bumps. It's not a 'the wheels are about to fall off' type of sound, more of a 'we're still learning how to do this properly' noise.
Not a deal breaker, but not the last word in refinement, either.
What does all of that mean for Chinese cars? Good question. There are two ways of looking at our H8 tester: glass half full, or glass half empty.
The optimistic approach says everything disappointing about the H8 was disappointing when it was new. The way it drives hasn't changed, and the interior oddities are all a product of its initial design. With 60,000km on the clock, there are no major creaks, rattles or groans, and all the technology still works as it was initially intended.
That suggests the car was well-built from the factory, and will continue to handle family life. In a purely physical sense, it doesn't feel any more tired than, say, my brother's six-year-old Subaru Outback.
The other side of the coin, the pessimist/onlooker's side, says the disappointing bits will only get more disappointing the longer you own the car. Compared to a Toyota or Mazda of the same vintage, the technology in the Haval feels significantly older. It also drives like a much older car.
Given they're listed in the classifieds for between $20,000 and $25,000 with negligible kilometres, those willing to take the plunge on a used Chinese car are likely getting a well-put-together family car. Just don't expect it to blow you away with a great drive or high-end technology.