Close, but no cigar

Haval’s mid-sized SUV is much im­proved on pre­vi­ous Chi­nese im­ports, but ques­tions re­main

The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - First Drive - PAUL GOVER CHIEF REPORTER paul.gover@cars­guide.com.au

IF you haven’t heard of Haval you’re not alone.

It’s a to­tal tid­dler in Aus­tralia to­day, even if — like ev­ery other am­bi­tious im­mi­grant to land on our shores — it has big plans for the fu­ture.

Haval is an up­scale, SUVonly off­shoot from the ba­sic work­ing-class brand Great Wall, which pri­mar­ily sells utes.

It has been in Aus­tralia since last year with a four-model line up, al­though so far it has man­aged just 286 sales. A new H7, with more of a coupe look than a boxy SUV, is on the way.

De­spite mod­est sales in Aus­tralia, the H6 is cur­rently China’s best sell­ing SUV.

It’s a Mazda CX-5-sized fam­ily wagon with a drive­way bot­tom line of $29,990. To put that in per­spec­tive, the CX-5 starts from $27,890 be­fore on­roads and most of its op­po­si­tion will be more like $35,000 with sim­i­lar equip­ment and the drive­aways done.

That means, de­spite the up­scale am­bi­tions of the group it’s a chal­lenger brand at the bot­tom end of the SUV scale.

As with the other chal­lengers it needs to un­der­promise and over-de­liver, on ev­ery­thing from de­sign and cabin qual­ity to — in­evitably — a five-year war­ranty to give peace-of-mind to peo­ple tak­ing a punt on a Haval.

There are two H6 ver­sions , but both have a 2.0-litre turbo petrol en­gine and front-wheel drive, with a six-speed du­al­clutch gear­box from Ge­trag.

Even the ba­sic Pre­mium — there’s also the fully loaded LUX — gets all-round park­ing radar, a re­vers­ing cam­era, du­al­zone auto air­con, key­less en­try and start, auto lamps and wipers and 17-inch al­loys.

Mov­ing up to the LUX at $33,990 drive­away brings big­ger al­loys, Xenon head­lights, a gi­ant sun­roof and heated seats with fake leather.

But there is no ANCAP safety rat­ing yet and that’s a big ques­tion need­ing an­swer­ing soon, given the poor record of Chi­nese cars in crash test­ing.

ON THE ROAD

I’m not ex­pect­ing much from the Haval. My ex­pe­ri­ence with Chi­nese cars shows they are un­der­done in qual­ity and re­fine­ment, de­spite big prom­ises and mas­sive en­thu­si­asm from a range of brands in­clud­ing Geely, Ch­ery and Great Wall.

And let’s not get started on re­li­a­bil­ity prob­lems at Great Wall, or the as­bestos found in some Great Walls that ar­rived in Aus­tralia.

But the H6 is sur­pris­ingly un­bad. It’s a huge step up from the Mahin­dra from In­dia I drove last year, and even my ex­pe­ri­ence with the Holden Cap­tiva.

The car looks good, the paint fin­ish is good, and the cabin qual­ity — both the ma­te­ri­als and how they fit to­gether — is im­pres­sive. In a blind test with­out a badge the H6 cabin could eas­ily pass for some­thing from a Ja­panese maker.

The H6 also gets along well, is pretty quiet in all con­di­tions, has great air­con and is roomy for my fam­ily.

Are you wait­ing for the but? Well, here it comes.

The tyres on the Haval are plain aw­ful, which means a brit­tle ride, too much thump­ing over bumps, and poor cor­ner­ing grip in all road con­di­tions.

They are from Cooper, an Amer­i­can com­pany with a solid rep­u­ta­tion and a wide range of prod­ucts. I’m won­der­ing if Haval has gone cheap on the rub­ber or made the choice, so I con­tact the im­porter — Terry Smith, a long-time friend — to dis­cover he is also not happy with what Haval has done. He’s even sent some of his peo­ple to talk di­rect to Haval.

Why make such a big deal about tyres? Be­cause they show the Haval peo­ple still don’t know what they don’t know, and that’s al­ways danger­ous in the car busi­ness. The tyres are also a ma­jor dis­con­nect from the rest of the H6 pack­age and ring alarm bells as I won­der what else has, or could, go wrong.

I’m also find­ing the ex­ter­nal mir­rors are way too big, ob­struct­ing my view at in­ter­sec­tions, a space­saver spare is a neg­a­tive and — for some rea­son — the warn­ing lights for the rear seat­belts stay on through­out my test time.

But it’s hard to ar­gue against the car while in the drive­way, or the ex­cel­lent value in the H6 pack­age. Look­ing at how it fits in the SUV scene, it’s def­i­nitely ahead of a Cap­tiva and makes a value case against reg­u­lars with Honda and Nis­san and even Toy­ota badges. It’s not a pace­set­ter or a fron­trun­ner, but it is not as bad as I ex­pected.

VER­DICT

The H6 is not great but I can see peo­ple look­ing at the price and stan­dard equip­ment and war­ranty, then won­der­ing if it’s worth a punt. For me, it’s fine as a value pur­chase and the qual­ity looks good, which is a big step up from Great Wall and its utes that were sharply priced but prone to prob­lems. But the Great Wall his­tory has me wor­ried, and then there are the tyres.

I also won­der how it will go in ANCAP test­ing, par­tic­u­larly as the Ford Mus­tang — a car which I ex­pected to be at least a four-star suc­cess — re­cently got a lack­lus­tre two-star score.

So, al­though the Haval H6 gets sur­pris­ingly close, it’s hard to give it the nod.

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