Chinese have a lash
There are useful features on the city SUV, a definite improver — but the minuses outweigh them
IT’S A good thing Australia’s newest vehicle brand specialises in SUVs, because it has a mountain to climb.
Haval (pronounced as in “gravel”) follows half a dozen Chinese brands that have come, seen and failed to conquer the local market. Hamstrung by poor quality, bad crash test results and at one stage a recall involving deadly asbestos, the world’s biggest car industry has found Oz a tough nut to crack.
The H2 is a small city-styled SUV that is roughly the same size as a Mazda CX-3 or Honda HR-V. It’s the smallest and cheapest of a three-vehicle launch line-up for Haval.
If Haval is worried about a lack of badge credibility locally, you wouldn’t know it. There are five badges on the car, including one on the grille, two on the rear windscreen pillars and two on the rear end. If that’s not enough, there’s one on the steering wheel and another on the gearshift. And to make them really stand out, the silver writing is mounted on a bright red backing panel.
The rest of the car is conservatively styled, with simple graphics and a plainlooking but functional dash. Overall it looks well put together and the designers have used soft-touch materials where many rivals would use hard plastic, including the rear doors and armrests.
Headroom is generous in front and rear alike but the cargo space is not huge, hampered by the full-size spare under the floor. Rear vision is limited thanks to thick rear pillows and a narrow rear windscreen. There are some oddities, too, including a thumbwheel control on the steering wheel that doesn’t do anything. We found the odd quibble with the finish of the cabin too — there was a crease in the fabric of the windscreen pillar that needed fixing.
As an introductory deal, buyers can get a two-tone exterior colour scheme with black or ivory roof, matched with a two-tone interior. After December 31, it will cost $750.
The H2 is a mixed bag in the city. The suspension generally copes well with corrugations and potholes, providing a comfortable ride on most surfaces, but the turbocharged engine needs revs on board to make meaningful progress.
This becomes irksome around town, particularly in the manual we drove. Roll around a corner into an uphill stretch of road and you’re almost better kicking back to first gear than waiting for the turbo to spool up. It also occasionally makes a disconcerting humming sound, as if suspension or engine components are harmonising.
The Haval is also a bit light on for driver aids, apart from a reversing camera and sensors. There’s no satnav and no blind spot or lane departure warning. Automatic emergency braking isn’t available either. There is, however, an annoying “parking aid” that supplements the visual parking guidelines on the rear camera with a voice that tells you how to park the car.
ON THE ROAD
It may look like an off-roader but the H2 is ill-equipped for venturing off the beaten track. Ground clearance is just 133mm, compared with 155mm for a Mazda3 and 220mm for the Subaru XV. All-wheel-drive is available but our test car drove only the front wheels.
The H2 feels competent enough on the highway, where the engine, once it has found its sweet spot, is impressively refined save for that occasional hum. Sound suppression overall is as good as many in the class, although coarser surfaces induce some tyre roar.
The H2’s steering is less than precise, though, and it will wander on the highway, calling for regular inputs from the driver. Try to take a corner at speed and the H2 will lean on its tyres until they quickly squeal for mercy. In the wet the tyres are skaty.
The 1.5-litre engine is slowspinning and has a very limited band of useful power (between about 2000rpm and 4000rpm). Drive it in the sweet spot and it feels strong, drift out of the comfort zone and it’s either sluggish or buzzy.
The manual gearbox is relatively fuss-free, although the gear lever has a bit more travel than most would like. Official fuel consumption is poor for this class of vehicle at 9.0L/100km (and it takes premium unleaded only). We managed close to that in heavy traffic, though.
The Chinese car industry is definitely improving and the H2 has some endearing features. But unfortunately they are outweighed by the negatives. The price is not sharp enough and the equipment list isn’t long enough to overcome concerns about safety, quality, the limited dealer network and resale.