Haval H9 seven-seater highlights Chinese emerging talent
MORE polish for considerably less price is Haval's pitch for its updated H9. The seven-seat SUV plays on price against the Toyota Kluger and Hyundai Santa Fe.
In reality, the ladder-frame chassis and off-road focus, including a low-range mode, set it against the Toyota Prado and Ford Everest. That's tough competition but Haval has form as the largest SUV manufacturer in China and is determined to make inroads here.
Chief marketing officer Tim Smith knows it is a slow burn - the brand sold 710 vehicles here last year, well up on the 286 shipped in 2016 and largely due to word-of-mouth referral from existing owners.
Smith says building brand recognition and ensuring the business is profitable is still the priority over sales tallies.
Haval says the arrival of a new platform in 2020 - which will accommodate hybrid and pure electric vehicle drivetrains - will boost handling and active driving aids. Lane-departure and blind-spot warnings and rear cross-traffic alert are already standard on the H9 but the next-gen vehicle will add autonomous emergency braking.
Standard gear on the base H9 Lux includes front and rear sensors, reversing camera, satnav, cruise control, tri-zone aircon with vents to all three rows and separate controls for those in the second set of seats, and a 220V power outlet in the back.
The top-spec Ultra picks up a panoramic sunroof, higher quality audio, headlights that turn with the steering wheel, powered front seats with heating and massage settings and power folding third row seats.
Cargo space is marginal with all seven seats in use but rises to 1457L with the second row folded flat.
ON THE ROAD
The obvious questions for any new player are: "Is it safe, is it well-built, is it value for money and is it efficient?"
The answer, mainly, is yes. The H9 earned a four-star ANCAP rating when it was assessed in 2015. The crash-test report noted leg protection for the driver was marginal in the frontal offset crash and the big SUV earned 12.08 out of a possible 16 points.
The panels fit flush and the door seals did a Toyota-esque job of stopping fine dust from entering the cabin, indicating the Haval is pretty well put together.
Measured against the Santa Fe price rival, the H9 can't match the monocoque-bodied SUV for on-road manners but doesn't disgrace itself against vehicles with similarly solid underpinnings - and is dramatically cheaper than those rivals.
A dial controls the various drive mode settings, from snow to sport. Dab a spot of nail polish on the dial to show what you've selected - there's no marking where you've twisted the dial to, necessitating a look at the instrument cluster. Leave it in auto and it does a decent job of differentiating between bitumen and bush driving.
The brakes are good in either situation and hitting the stoppers while turning no longer activates the hazard lights.
Kumho tyres, replacing the previous Cooper rubber, help reduce road noise while still giving decent grip on the more slippery surfaces.
The engine now has more grunt but could do with more again. The ZF eight-speed auto adds two ratios to try to keep it in the sweet spot but fails to disguise the lack of torque.
The throttle still lags when pushing along uphill or hitting the go pedal when rolling up to lights when they turn green.
As the engine has to work that much harder, it chews fuel faster than many rivals - and it needs 95 RON. Bring on the hybrid platform …