Chi­nese have a lash

There are use­ful fea­tures on the city SUV, a def­i­nite im­prover — but the mi­nuses out­weigh them

Herald Sun - Motoring - - ROAD TEST - RICHARD BLACK­BURN CARS­GUIDE ED­I­TOR richard.black­burn@news.com.au

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.

DE­SIGN

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.

ABOUT TOWN

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.

PER­FOR­MANCE

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.

VER­DICT

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.

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