HOT WHEELS

PER­FOR­MANCE HATCH­BACKS GO HEAD TO HEAD

Herald Sun - Motoring - - FRONT PAGE - BILL McKIN­NON

Haval, the big­gest car com­pany you prob­a­bly know noth­ing about, is China’s lead­ing SUV man­u­fac­turer. As with ev­ery­thing else about China, that means it’s big on a scale that’s dif­fi­cult to com­pre­hend.

SUV sales in the Mid­dle King­dom topped 10 mil­lion last year, out of a grand to­tal of nearly 29 mil­lion new ve­hi­cles. Amer­i­cans, by com­par­i­son, bought 17.3 mil­lion. We bought 1.18 mil­lion.

Haval’s H6 mid-size wagon was China’s most pop­u­lar SUV in 2017, with 506,000 sales. The to­tal num­ber of SUVs sold in Aus­tralia last year was 466,000.

Haval only set up shop here in 2015 and as with other Chi­nese brands it’s found the go­ing tough be­cause our mar­ket, though rel­a­tively small in over­all num­bers, is so di­verse and com­pet­i­tive. A cheap price alone won’t cut it, be­cause you get more car, or SUV, for your money here than just about any­where else in the world.

VALUE FOR MONEY

That’s cer­tainly true of Haval’s 2018 H9, a seven-seater 4WD best summed up as a cut­price Toy­ota Landcruiser Prado clone.

Priced at $45,990 drive­away, the top spec H9 Ul­tra has a stan­dard equip­ment list wor­thy of a $100,000-plus ve­hi­cle that in­cludes heated and cooled front seats with a back mas­sage func­tion, an ex­tended sun­roof, heated steer­ing wheel, In­fin­ity au­dio, three-zone air, heated mid­dlerow seats, power-op­er­ated rear seats, eight-inch touch­screen in­fo­tain­ment with nav­i­ga­tion and seam­less Blue­tooth and 18-inch al­loy wheels.

The cabin looks blingy and lux­u­ri­ous, but the test car had an as­sort­ment of plas­tic on plas­tic chirps, siz­zles and squeaks in the dash.

Haval has sourced qual­ity me­chan­i­cal com­po­nents from spe­cial­ist sup­pli­ers and H9 has the hard­ware ex­pected in a se­ri­ous 4WD wagon, in­clud­ing a lad­der frame chas­sis, live axle rear/in­de­pen­dent front sus­pen­sion, per­ma­nent four-wheel drive, a ZF eight-speed au­to­matic, Borg Warner dual-range trans­fer case and Ea­ton lock­ing rear dif­fer­en­tial. Bosch sup­plies a switch­able trac­tion con­trol sys­tem for dif­fer­ent sur­faces.

The en­gine is Haval’s own 2.0-litre turbo petrol. A tur­bod­iesel would be a more nat­u­ral fit but diesel is a dirty word in China so it’s no go.

COM­FORT

The driver’s seat has a flat, ex­tend­able cush­ion and is rea­son­ably com­fort­able. The back­rest mas­sager gives you a de­cent knead­ing and is great if you get a sore back on long drives.

Mid­dle-row pas­sen­gers sit on a firm, fore-aft ad­justable 60/40 split bench with vari­able back­rest an­gle and plenty of legroom. Air con­di­tion­ing, roof vents, USB and 12-volt out­lets make it a pleas­ant, well-sorted place to travel for kids or adults.

Two back stalls are fine for kids and to raise or lower ei­ther seat re­quires only the push of a but­ton. Roof vents are also pro­vided.

Boot space is shed-sized but Haval has opted for a Prado-style side-hinged tail­gate which is clumsy and in­con­ve­nient, es­pe­cially in tight spa­ces or with a trailer be­hind.

SAFETY

Haval has now made struc­tural changes to the front end to im­prove H9’s four-star ANCAP crash test per­for­mance, while au­to­matic emer­gency brak­ing will shortly be added to the al­ready stan­dard blind-spot mon­i­tor­ing, lanede­par­ture warn­ing and rear cross-traf­fic alert. The com­pany is about to get the H9 retested and is hope­ful of a five-star re­sult.

Cur­tain airbags ex­tend to all seat rows.

DRIV­ING

The 2.0-litre turbo is tuned to mimic a diesel load lug­ger, in­clud­ing ex­ces­sive tur­bo­lag from rest. Once rolling, it’s flat­tered by the eight­speed auto and de­liv­ers stronger per­for­mance than it has a right to in such a heavy wagon, but it toils hard and the price can be an epic thirst.

The best you’ll do on the high­way is 910L/100km; hit a few hills and that will rise to 12-13L/100km. De­spite au­to­matic stop/start and an Eco-mode, 13-15L/100km is av­er­age around the ’burbs. In traf­fic, that can rise to 17L/100km. Premium is rec­om­mended.

As for Haval’s claimed 2500kg max­i­mum tow­ing ca­pac­ity, well, yeah, it will do it, but any tur­bod­iesel will be more ef­fi­cient.

Var­i­ous driv­e­train modes in­clude sand, snow and mud. Low-range means what it says and the H9 is a gen­uine off-roader. Its main lim­i­ta­tion is a rel­a­tively low 206mm of clear­ance.

The Haval has more se­cure road­hold­ing and tighter con­trol over body move­ment than the un­der­damped Prado and less body roll in cor­ners. It’s not over­sprung, ei­ther, so ride com­fort is ex­cel­lent, with min­i­mal body shake and bump-crush­ing com­pli­ance. Sure, the steer­ing is overas­sisted and im­pre­cise, the brakes only ad­e­quate and the Kumho Cru­gen tyres mar­ginal in the wet, but that’s par in this class, where they’re all tanks. This is a pretty tight, tidy tank.

HEART SAYS

Nearly ev­ery­thing else I buy is from China, so why not my new 4WD?

HEAD SAYS

A Prado GXL au­to­matic will cost me an ex­tra $18,000. This has heaps more gear as stan­dard, han­dles bet­ter and is a fair dinkum 4WD too.

AL­TER­NA­TIVES

ISUZU MU-X FROM $50,100 Based on the D-Max one ton­ner, and with the

same fru­gal, torquey 3.0-litre tur­bod­iesel/sixspeed au­to­matic/dual range driv­e­train, M-UX has a five-year war­ranty, seven seats and fives­tar ANCAP. TOY­OTA FOR­TUNER FROM $44,590 Smaller than H9 and Prado, but with seven seats. Based on the HiLux, with a 2.8-litre tur­bod­iesel/six-speed auto/dual-range driv­e­train. Misses out on driver as­sist safety fea­tures and only three-year war­ranty.

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