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 cut-price Toyota LandCruiser Prado clone.
Priced at $45,990 drive-away, 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 middle-row 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 turbo diesel would be a more natural fit but diesel is a dirty word in China so it's no go.
The driver's seat has a flat, extendible 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.
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, lane-departure 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.
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 eight-speed 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 9-10L/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.
Nearly everything else I buy is from China, so why not my new 4WD?
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.
ISUZU MU-X FROM $50,100
Based on the D-Max one tonner, and with the same frugal, torquey 3.0-litre turbodiesel/six-speed automatic/dual range drivetrain, M-UX has a five-year warranty, seven seats and five-star 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.
VERDICT 3 STARS
Maximum truck for the buck, but it's got the wrong engine up front. Diesel might be on the way out in cars; in big, heavy 4WDs, though, it's still the best option.
HAVAL H9 ULTRA
WARRANTY/SERVICE $2660 for 5 years; 5-year warranty
ENGINE 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo petrol, 180kW/350Nm
SAFETY4 stars, 6 airbags, blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, rear cross traffic alert, no AEB
SPARE Full size alloy