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Forget Chinese-vehicle prejudice - this wagon is a class act

We knew the Chinese vehicle invasion would gain momentum and the new Haval H9 is an example of much better quality machinery.

haval h9 luxHaval is a new SUV brand in the Australian market place, but follows the less than spectacular effort by Great Wall, Haval’s parent company, to market utes in Australia.

Legal wrangling with Ateco, Great Wall’s former Australian-market distributor, wasn’t an ideal background for Haval’s 4WD market initiative Down Under. The acrimony forced Haval to set up its own operation in Australia.

Given the Great Wall background we had mixed feelings about the Haval project, until we spent some time with the new H9. At launch in 2016 this vehicle came in Premium specification, for $46,490 and in Lux, for $50,990.

After a week’s testing the 2016 Lux version we’re sure the H9 would have success in the Australian market if the powertrain produced better fuel economy – and so it did, with 2018 upgrades (see below).

Forty-five to 51 grand for a Chinese-made 4WD wagon may sound like a lot of money, particularly when the brand is virtually unknown, but the production quality, fit and finish, and the equipment list pit the Haval H9 Lux against the top-shelf Prado, Grand Cherokee and Exceed wagons, and the Europeans: all of whom list for 70-100-percent more money.

haval h9 luxThe principal downside is, unfortunately, an important one: the engine. Haval has used its two-litre, turbocharged petrol four to power the 2.2-tonnes-empty H9.

There is a new diesel in the company’s engine lineup – the Great Wall GW4D20 two-litre, 140kW/ 410Nm turbo four – but it’s not available in the Haval range.

The company has stated that it has no plans to fit a diesel engine and believes that the future of ‘green’ wagon engines is petrol-only, with petrol-hybrid powertrains on the near horizon. We suspect they’re on the right track, as diesel compliance becomes more difficult in the future.

“The R&D experts at Haval have declared the future for the company is with turbocharged petrol engines,” said Haval Motors Australia chief marketing officer, Tim Smith.

“In the very near future that will be complemented by a mix of hybrid, plug-in hybrid and electric powertrains.”

The Hybrid Haval H9 is expected to be released in 2021, on a brand new platform.


The first Haval H9

First up, let’s cover the 2016 vehicle’s powertrain shortcoming, because everything else was first class.

On paper, the little long-stroke petrol donk was up to the task, with 160kW and 324Nm, but while performance was good if the engine was revved, its 95 RON economy wasn’t very good, even when the vehicle was lightly loaded. We couldn’t get better than 14.8 litres per 100km, in mainly rural driving.

We shudder to think what it would have consumed towing a heavy caravan.

haval h9 luxThe 2016 H9’s main transmission was a ZF six-speed auto and the two-speed transfer case was from Borg-Warner, with a 2.48:1 low-range ratio.

The H9 has a full ladder-frame, rectangular-section, boxed chassis; a double-wishbone front suspension and a live rear axle with five-link location. That’s a strong, towing-friendly design.

Speaking of towing, the H9 comes with a European-style rear cross member that’s pre-drilled and tapped to accept a bolt-on ‘donkey-dick’ tow ball and a European-pattern, 14-pin electrical plug is already fitted.

There are 14-pin to seven-pin conversion connectors available and a bolt-on towbar can be supplied, but Haval motors says the ball weight is still limited to 100kg.

The H9’s underbody is clean and there’s a steel protection plate under the sump and transmissions, and a composite cover under the 80-litre fuel tank.

Our 2016 test vehicle was an H9 Lux model, with 18-inch wheels, but the Premium model had 17s, for which there’s a wider choice of bush-capable tyres.

The test vehicle’s Coopers looked OK, but they didn’t have good grip on wet bitumen.

Ground clearance and off-road approach, departure and belly angles were fine for off-road work, but the side steps – removable, thankfully – were a severe limitation.

The 2016 test Haval H9 seemed very well made, with even panel gaps all around, double door seals and a tastefully fitted interior. The grey-finished imitation wood highlights were a tad ‘plasticky’ but quality of the interior matched that in the equivalent SUVs from Europe, Korea and Japan.

Bonuses over its competitors were front, powered, memory seats with aircon ventilation flowing through the punched leather upholstery and there was also a massage function that improved comfort on long drives.

The second row seats split 60:40 and access to the third row was easy. The third-row seats were best for sub-teens, but had the advantage of powered folding.

The rear door was a gate-style that gave alternative access to the third-row seats, with easier cargo access than does a split-tailgate type. A full-sized spare wheel fitted under the cargo floor and the hydraulic jack was truck-sized.

Roof rails were standard, but load was limited to 35kg.

There was a low-power, 150W/240V three-pin outlet in the cargo area, but no 12V outlet. Up front were twin 12V outlets and a single USB socket.

haval h9 luxA tilting sunroof was part of the Lux package, as was a console-top air purifier that’s probably handy in Beijing traffic jams.

Cruise control was not adaptive and neither was there anti-collision emergency braking.

The Lux came with Haval’s All-Terrain Control System (ATCS): in ‘Auto’ mode the system adapts to different moderate off-road situations and is designed as a select-and-forget setting; in ‘Sand’ the Bosch Generation 9.0 Traction Control System allows more wheelspin, for increased momentum; in ‘Snow’,
first gear is locked out, to minimise slippage and maximise traction; ‘Mud’ is similar to the snow setting, but slip at one contact patch triggers torque transfer to those with more grip.

For demanding off-road conditions ‘Low’ (2.48:1 low range) is selected and that locks the rear differential as well.


2018 upgrades

For 2018 Haval tweaked the H9 specifications,
with engine changes and a new transmission. The petrol four received a power increase to 180kW and a lift in torque to 350Nm.

The standard transmission was an eight-speed ZF automatic and the combination of the new box and stop-start engine programming has improved fuel consumption radically.

Haval claims a 10-percent economy improvement, but we did better than that in an Ultra test vehicle, averaging 11L/100km from the upgraded 2018 engine and eight-speed auto.

The engine is now so quiet and vibration-free across the normally-used rev range that you need to check the tacho to be sure you’ve turned it off when you pull up!

The exterior has been restyled slightly and the interior has been given a new centre console design, instrument panel and digital speedo.

Upgrades to the Lux model include: new 18-inch alloy wheels, sunroof, electric anti-glare mirror, All-Terrain Control System, electronic differential lock, centre armrest power outlet, blind spot monitoring, rear cross traffic alert and lane departure warning.

The range-topping Ultra model adds the following features: panoramic sunroof; heated steering wheel; Comfort-Tek eco-leather seats with heating, massage and ventilation function; Infinity sound system and heated second-row seats.

Pricing in January 2018 dropped to $41,990 for the Lux and $45,990 for the Ultra.

We confined our 2018 testing to on-highway, because the off-road behaviour of the previous model was already judged excellent and the new engine and transmission can only make it better.

The engine and transmission changes have transformed this vehicle and, in conjunction with price cuts, it’s now easily the
best value for money, seven-seat 4WD wagon in the market.

Our appetite is now whetted for the hybrid model that’s coming in 2021.


On and off-road in the 2016 model

Once we adapted to the revvy, thirsty engine we enjoyed driving the 2016 Haval very much.

The navigation system was easy to use and Bluetooth phone pairing was intuitive. A 10-speaker sound system ticked all the boxes.

Transmission shifting was mostly seamless and, other than for slight vibration at lift-off, there was no driveline coarseness.

The interior was quiet when the engine wasn’t working hard and the H9 handled predicably on all surfaces. We did notice some body ‘drumming’ on sharp gravel-road corrugations.

Braking was powerful and progressive.

Vision all around was excellent and the reverse camera grid lines gave good backwards directions. The system allowed the driver to select reverse parallel park guidance or 90-degree, parking station mode. Reversing was also aided by the left mirror’s dipping action when ‘R’ was engaged.

haval h9 luxThe headlights were better than most SUV beams and cornering lights ignited in accordance with steering wheel movement.

On our dirt-road test circuit the H9 proved a happy performer, with good suspension compliance that was caught out only by severe potholes and ruts. The shock absorbers felt like they had ample rebound damping but insufficient bump damping, so a set of quality after-market shockers would be a good idea.

Off-road the Haval surprised us with its agility, suspension travel and degree of traction. The bodywork didn’t touch ground once and the vulnerable-looking side steps escaped unscathed.

Deep-reduction gearing allowed the petrol donk to idle the vehicle up our test slopes with hardly any tacho movement: very impressive climbing that was up to the Toyota Prado’s off-road ability level.

Hill descent control couldn’t match the H9’s climbing ability on very steep grades, but worked fine on lesser slopes.

Check out the test video:

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