HAVAL GOES THE EXTRA MILE
We all know South Africans are a brand-loyal bunch. They respect and admire the brands that have been here for decades. The question is, how do you bypass decades of reputation and prove your product is just as tough? You take them on a 4 500km South Afri
WE’VE been thinking about the Haval H9 for some time now. It represents an interesting leap forward, not just for Haval, but for Chinese brands in general. Their products usually play around in the sub-R500 000 segments where they offer great value, decent build quality and loads of standard kit. This has always been the Chinese way and it has worked out pretty well for some brands so far.
But with time comes brand confidence, which inevitably leads to the introduction of higher-end models which boldly cross that psychological R500 000 line in the sand.
Then the ridicule starts on social media. Our first glance at this strange phenomenon started when we were introduced to the H9 at Haval’s first birthday celebration a few months ago. We published a few snaps of the exterior and interior on our social media, along with some estimated pricing.
Our estimated pricing turned out to be a bit low but still there were loads of negative comments. “That much for a Chinese car? No thanks.” “I’d rather have a Fortuner,” and so forth. Never mind the fact that the H9 was the size of a Prado but blessed with the pricing of a Fortuner.
Still, there is some merit to these arguments. Most of the mainstream manufacturers have been active in South Africa for decades, so Haval has a lot of catching up to do.
In Haval’s defence, it has grown significantly over the last decade or so. Going from those rough first-generation Great Wall products to the H6 and H9 in a decade is an amazing feat. With that in mind, just imagine where it will be 10 years from now...
But that’s a story for 2028. For now, we have an epic road trip with a bunch of Haval’s high-end products and a mission to find out whether said products can be considered as rivals to the big boys.
REACHING OUT TO SOUTH AFRICA
The 2018 Havel Outreach Expedition kicked off in Johannesburg, featuring two H9s, two H6Cs, one Haval H2 and a GWM Steed 5E that served as a support vehicle.
The idea was to travel from Joburg to Cape Town, but via the east and south coasts.
Along the way, Haval would meet up with various South African institutions like the K9 unit at the Kruger National Park to make some much-needed donations.
Before we get into the nitty gritty of the trip, we first need to take a closer look at the cars. First up, the one we know best: the H6C.
Regular readers will know we have a long-term H6C that we live with on a daily basis. Apart from an addiction to 95 unleaded, it’s a splendid SUV. For the low price of R380 000, you simply won’t find anything else that’s this refined.
It’s powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine that develops 140kW and 310Nm of torque.
The H2 used to be the best Chinese vehicle we’ve ever driven… until the H6C arrived at our office. Still, it’s a funky compact SUV with loads of standard kit, perfectly up to the task of dealing with the daily grind.
Finally, the newest member of the family and a conversation starter of note: the H9.
What we have here is a Prado-sized seven-seat SUV that retails for R600 000. Sounds like a lot, until you delve a bit deeper under its robust exterior.
It has everything going for it in terms of rough roading. There’s a ladder-frame chassis with a double-wishbone suspension at the front and a live axle with multiple links at the rear. It has full-time four-wheel drive with an electronic brain that splits the torque between the two axles. You also get low-range and a locking rear differential. Include a few different off-road driving modes and you have the makings of a great off-roader, or at least a list of standard features comparable to its main rivals.
From there it gets a bit more high-tech. When it comes to cars this big, you’d expect to find a V6 diesel or petrol, or perhaps something a bit larger. Instead, Haval went for a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol, similar to the unit found in the H6C. Here it produces 180kW and 350Nm of torque and is mated to an eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox.
Moving inside, we find electronically adjustable leather seats, three-zone climate control, a host of USB ports and a colour touchscreen interface with all of the usual connectivity and navigation. These are just a few of the standard features on what is a generously equipped luxury vehicle. Suddenly R600 000 doesn’t sound that bad.
Before we move on to the trip, we need to address a smallish elephant in the room. Since our time with the H6C started, we’ve received a few enquiries as to why Haval doesn’t introduce a diesel engine. You might be wondering the same of the H9.
The answer is quite simple. Haval is an international company and there’s a huge war on diesel in Europe and America. Diesel simply isn’t as tempting as it once was and it doesn’t make sense to invest millions into developing a diesel mule that only one small market would have interest in.
JOBURG TO KRUGER
For the first leg of the journey, the group of Havals set off to the Kruger National Park to visit its K9 unit. Impressed with all the great work this unit has done to combat rhino poaching, Haval made a R10 000 donation.
The work these dogs do is rather impressive. They are free-roaming and active in areas where poachers tend to hang out. Once the team receives notification that poachers are in an area, the dogs are unleashed. Their job is not to kill but rather to detain and obstruct until backup arrives. “The 2018 Outreach Expedition is our way of giving back to a market that has welcomed the Haval brand with enthusiasm.
“We’re invested in this market and, as a company, we know it’s important to show our appreciation and support in return,” said Charles Zhao, managing director of Haval Motors South Africa.
KRUGER TO SHELLY BEACH
One of the main reasons a mainstream brand remains popular is the size of its dealer footprint. No point getting an SUV if it’s a hassle getting it serviced once a year.
This is easy enough if you live in the city, as we found out after getting our own H6C serviced at Haval Centurion.
To prove its dealer network is expanding, the second leg of the trip included a quick stop at Haval’s brandnew Shelly Beach dealership. According to the friendly salesmen, they’re flogging between 20 to 25 cars per month, which is something they can definitely be proud of considering how rough things are going with the economy.
After the corporate gig, it was time for another round of charitable action.
Further down the road, Haval donated equipment and supplies to the Wylie House Child and Youth Care in Durban. This particular care centre has been around for 70 years and works with girls between the ages of three and 18. It relies on donations for around 40% of its expenses, which is basically taking care of young girls who have been neglected, abused or abandoned.
Not content with doing just one good deed, Haval also donated some sports gear to the Marine Surf Lifesaving Club.
All the while, all the Havals are soldiering on quietly, comfortably and without hassle in the background, waiting their turn to show what they’re really made of.
SODWANA, AND SOME DUNES
Finally, we had the opportunity to get down to business with the H9. And not on some Grade 2 off-road trail either but on soft beach sand at Brakkeduine in Sodwana.
As mentioned earlier, the H9 has a few different driving modes to choose from, including Sand mode.
To succeed in these conditions, a car needs several things: a powerful engine, a fast gearbox and a throttle that’s easy to modulate. The H9 ticks all these boxes and then some. We were
impressed with the engine mapping and easy throttle operation.
After proving to us that sand mode actually did what it aims to do, we were wondering what it would be like in the same conditions with low range engaged. There are still some of us who prefer off-road the old school way, after all.
After messing around in low range with the traction control switched off, we reached a verdict: while obviously different in how it goes about doing the job, it does it extremely well either way. Whether you rely on the electronics, or the mechanics, the H9 soldiers on like a champ. Between all the media and off-road gurus in attendance on the day, no consensus could be reached on which way was the best.
It’s nice to have the option to choose, however.
While it’s good to know the H9 can cope with sand, there isn’t really that much sand in South Africa to potter around in. Its ability to cope on a tough 4×4 trail is more important.
Just outside East London, we finally had the opportunity to engage low-range for some proper rock crawling.
Before we get to that, however, a few observations from the trip down. The roads there aren’t known for being in the best condition, but the H9 handled them admirably. In fact, it feels very Prado-ish in the way it goes about its business. You can see the conditions are tough through the windscreen, but behind the wheel you’re cocooned in a nice, comfortable little nest.
Arriving at the start of the 4×4 trail, we had a choice between relying on the driving modes, or the old school low-range first gear method. Obviously, we settled for the latter.
The H9 had no problem crawling up and over the various obstacles, which was even more impressive after we found out that it was still running on its standard tyres. There is loads of mechanical grip, more than enough wheel articulation and a decent amount of ground clearance. The H9 crawled everywhere without scraping its large belly, while the small engine provided ample power the whole way.
THE WINDY CITY
After a short 300km stint, the convoy arrived in Port Elizabeth. On the way, we encountered a few bad roads but nothing the H9 had to worry about.
After a few rough days, not a single squeak or rattle had developed, and the clouds of dust had yet to make any progress towards gaining access to the interior.
While in Port Elizabeth, Haval handed over a brand-new vehicle to Tom Swartz.
Aged 41, Tom shot to local fame after winning Survivor South Africa 2018. After toughing it out for 39 days to win the title of sole Survivor, Toms says he is looking forward to the luxury and comfort of his new car. Tom hails from PE and it was clear that he’s become something of a local hero.
After 4 500km, 15 days and 10 stopovers, the convoys of Havals reached the Mother City. The final stop was at Cape Agulhas, the southernmost point of Africa.
It may seem like an easy adventure to some of you but it proves a point as far as Haval is concerned. It answers all of the questions people keep on asking about Chinese brands and it proves they’re tough enough for African conditions.
When it comes to the H9, we’re suitably impressed. It’s an extremely competent and luxurious vehicle, which retails for a reasonable amount of money. One thing we noticed, however, was the optimistic trip computer. According to it, we were doing around 13l/100km but after refuelling and using the distance travelled, we worked it out and it was over 17l/100km. That’s not exactly frugal, but on par with most petrol-powered rivals.
In fact, from behind the wheel – and we can’t believe we are actually writing this of a Chinese vehicle – it feels a lot like, erm, a Toyota Prado.
And that says a lot about this new Haval.
Above: The Haval H9 doesn’t look out of place, even in a typically African setting such as this. Its size in comparison to the ferry gives you some idea of how large it is. Below: With full-time four-wheel drive, low range and useful driving modes, the H9 was always going to be a capable off-roader.
Top of page: A fleet of Chinese cars winding down the N2 towards Cape Town. Above, top to bottom: The interior of the H9 is as plush as can be and features every gizmo the modern consumer demands. Haval’s colour palette goes extremely well with an African sunset.
Opposite: The H2 and H6C offer lots of car at an extremely competitive price. They aren’t the most capable SUVs when it comes to off-road, but for finding a nice spot from where you can watch the sun set, they are quite handy. Above: We found the H9 to be a highly competent off-roader in sandy conditions. Whether relying on the ‘Sand’ mode, or using low range, it pulls through nicely. Above right: We gave the H9 a tough time on the Outreach Expedition but it kept on asking for more. Right: Exiting the Kruger Park at the Phabeni Gate.