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

Leisure Wheels (South Africa) - - ADVENTUREDRIVE - Text com­pi­la­tion: Ger­hard Horn Pho­to­graphs: Haval SA

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.

THE CARS

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.

EAST LON­DON

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.

CAPE TOWN

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.

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