The latest SUV from China sur­prises in the rough with a smooth ride, head-turn­ing good looks and a low price.

AL­WYN VILJOEN goes far to find fault with a Chi­nese SUV, and fails

The Witness - Wheels - - FRONT PAGE - • al­wyn.viljoen@wit­ness.co.za

HAVAL is the only Chi­nese car brand to com­pete in the Dakar, in which race the H8 has fin­ished three times in the top 10 in the past five years.

This tells petrol­heads all they need to know about the pre­mium brand from Great Wall Mo­tors (GWM).

Non-petrol­heads will, how­ever, be ask­ing “Ha-who?”.

For them this quick re­fresher.

• Haval is the pre­mium sub-brand of GWM in China, like Lexus is to Toy­ota, AMG to Merc, In­finiti to Nis­san and Ge­n­e­sis to Hyundai.

• GWM last year took full con­trol of its South African sub­sidiary as part of the gi­ant Chi­nese com­pany’s international ex­pan­sion strat­egy.

• Charles Zhao, MD of Haval Mo­tors SA, said South Africa plays an im­por­tant part in Haval’s international ex­pan­sion plans. (This is es­pe­cially nice to know in the wake of an­nounce­ments from Gen­eral Mo­tors, Dodge and Chrysler that they will close their deal­ers in SA next month.)

• Haval is al­ready ex­ported to eight coun­tries apart from South Africa. Now, back to the SUV at hand —

Wheels re­cently re­ported how the H6 passed China’s tough roll-over test, with all doors open­ing af­ter the car was sent tum­bling down a tar road for 100 me­tres.

So we al­ready know the H6 is rel­a­tively safe and now, hav­ing driven this SUV for over 1 500 km over the dirt and tar, I can un­re­servedly rec­om­mend the Haval H6 for any­body in the mar­ket for a com­fort­able, af­ford­able fam­ily van.

Pric­ing for the five mod­els, all of them 4x2, starts at a very com­pet­i­tive R330 k and goes up to R390 k.

The mod­els are avail­able in three trim lev­els — City, Pre­mium and Lux­ury — all with dual-zone cli­mate con­trol, elec­tric/fold­ing side mir­rors with demis­ter, key­less en­try, re­mote au­dio con­trols and auto lights/wipers, elec­tri­cally ad­justable driver’s seat, Merc-style “pleather” up­hol­stery, full Blue­tooth, Aux and USB func­tion­al­ity.

The Pre­mium and Lux­ury mod­els come with six air bags, elec­tronic sta­bil­ity pro­gramme (ESP), hill de­scent and as­cent con­trol and a re­verse cam­era. The Pre­mium adds a sun­roof — not the wis­est op­tion in sunny SA — and a higher qual­ity sound sys­tem.

I drove the Pre­mium, which re­tails for just un­der R340 k, with the twolitre turbo-charged petrol en­gine av­er­ag­ing just over 10 km per litre (9,7 l/100 km) to the Wild Coast and back to Pi­eter­mar­itzburg.

In­side, Audi driv­ers will feel very fa­mil­iar with the but­ton lay­out, but this is not just an­other cheap Chi­nese rip-off.

I was re­ally im­pressed at how well the sus­pen­sion soaked up cor­ru­ga­tions on dirt roads and how no dust seeped into the cabin.

The H6 is sold with ei­ther a sixspeed dual-clutch or six-speed man­ual. I had the man­ual and would have liked a bit longer ra­tios to crawl along the Wild Coast’s steeper bush tracks. The petrol en­gine’s turbo kicks in at just over 2 000 revs, which is a bit high for crawl­ing, but very drive­able on tar, which is where most H6 mod­els will spend their lives and where the flat torque curve en­sures suf­fi­cient power when you want to pass a truck.

The Lux­ury comes with Xenon lights, but I found the Pre­mium’s halo­gen lights very good at night.

In­side the cabin, am­bi­ent strip light­ing adds colour at night, much like the top-end Mercedes-Benz mod­els do these days.

And like the Mercs and the Ford Mus­tang, the H6 projects its logo on the ground next to the front doors when you un­lock the car. In the dark, this impresses ev­ery­one each time, but also helps to show the pud­dles be­fore you step in them.

Af­ter four days of sit­ting in it, I can only sing the praises of the driver seat. At the rear, the bench tilts or folds flat into a bed for the chil­dren with min­i­mum fuss.

If I have to find a fault, it is the space-saver spare tyre that the H6 comes with. Haval’s more ex­pen­sive com­peti­tors, how­ever, have no spare tyre at all, and those who have been in this po­si­tion tell me even fit­ting a space-saver is bet­ter than wait­ing a day for a truck to fetch you from the mid­dle of nowhere and then typ­i­cally an­other two days for the right tyre to be de­liv­ered from the city.

There re­ally is a lot to like in the H6, which ar­guably com­bines all the best de­sign fea­tures from the com­peti­tors in what ev­ery­one I asked agreed is a very at­trac­tive pack­age.

All the Haval mod­els are backed with a five-year/100 000 km war­ranty, a five-year/60 000 km ser­vice plan, and five-year/un­lim­ited kilo­me­tre road­side assistance.

Key specs

Model: Pre­mium 4x2 at R339 900 En­gine: 2-litre turbo Power: 140 kW Torque: 310 Nm be­tween 2 000 rpm to 3 600 rpm Trans­mis­sion: 6-speed man­ual

‘Hav­ing driven this SUV for over 1 500 km over the dirt and tar, I can un­re­servedly rec­om­mend the Haval H6 for any­body in the mar­ket for a com­fort­able, af­ford­able fam­ily van.’

PHOTOS: AL­WYN VILJOEN

The Haval H6 com­bines the best traits from var­i­ous sport utes into a very at­trac­tive pack­age that rides on a sus­pen­sion set-up that just loves those dirt roads lead­ing to hid­den coves on the Wild Coast.

The Haval H6 comes with a space-sav­ing spare tyre, which is not use­ful on Africa’s ru­ral roads, but when a slow punc­ture hap­pens, look for the near­est yel­low Dun­lop fran­chise, where some­one will patch the hole cheaply.

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