There’s a completely new brand of SUV called Haval coming to South Africa, which is nice. But if you buy one, be prepared to hear the C-word. A lot.
Haval is Chinese, a part of the Great Wall Motors (GWM) group. While some early models were badged “Great Wall Haval”, it’s now a standalone SUV brand. “Early” is a relative term for a company that was only founded in 1990. But the range now includes the small H2, the large H8 and the off-road-style seven-seater H9.
Haval’s newest model is the mid-sized H6, which is currently China’s number one SUV of any size and consequently the fifth-largest-selling SUV in the world. Haval has already sold a million H6s in China. Maybe that doesn’t mean much to us because it’s China, but a million is still a lot.
Anyway, as of last year, all things GWM and Haval in SA are being handled by a factory-owned distributor. It’s relaunching the GWM ute here in November and has committed to tackling our burgeoning SUV market in 2018 with Haval.
Exactly when? now, some Thorp dealers have started to stock the new Haval, and this is great news for the brand, I know it makes me feel better buying a new car from a established dealer network.
The ?Chinese car industry is where Japan was 40 years ago and Korea 20 years ago: desperate to expand internationally but finding out that what works for the home market doesn’t necessarily resonate elsewhere. The Japanese learned quickly, the Koreans very quickly. Expect the Chinese to develop at an exponentially dizzying pace.
South Africa is small-time by Chinese domestic standards. But it’s regarded as an important market for Haval, which has clearly stated ambitions to expand globally, including Europe and the United States. The H6 is the first model from the Chinese maker that has been developed with the rest of the world in mind.
Haval is desperate for some international cred. For example, vice president of design is a bloke named Pierre LeClercq, who was formerly head of BMW M design. He had quite a lot of input into the H6, although his first standalone effort is a new model called the H7, which we’ll also see in 2018.
The big question is how far the H6 takes Haval towards international standards of styling, dynamics and quality. That’s a really big question if you’re familiar with old-school GWM utes.
Let’s get that out of the way first: on the testometer, I reckon the H6 is 75 per cent of the way towards big-time SUVs like the Toyota RAV4, Kia Sportage and Mazda CX-5 (the trio at the top of the class in SA at the moment).
No, really. It looks good, is powered by a modern 145kW/315Nm 2.0-litre direct-injection turbo-petrol engine with six-speed dual-clutch transmission (DCT), the chassis can handle fast corners and the quality is impressive: excellent paintwork, tight fit and finish.
What might put you off? Putting aside the fact that Haval is an unknown (for us) brand from China, the H6 still suffers from a slightly cheesy interior, weird-looking/feeling dashboard plastics and a couple of dynamic quirks that we’ll get to in a minute. It’s also not quite up to latest practice with active safety and driver-assistance equipment: you get blind-spot monitoring, but there’s no sign of camera-based technology like autonomous braking or adaptive cruise control. For Haval, that next-level stuff will likely come with the H7 and possibly also the updated H8/9 models later this year.
?Haval makes much of the H6’s power and torque. It has 38kW/128Nm more than a RAV4 2.0-litre, for example. Impressive, although the performance doesn’t exactly knock your socks off, because the FWD H6 still weighs in in excess of 1.7 tonnes. Still, the engine is willing and the DCT smooth.
The chassis is well-controlled and capable. Not as engaging as a CX-5, but no apologies necessary either.
The worst aspect of the dynamic package is the steering, which has been made unnecessarily heavy in an effort to replicate sportiness (they’re not the same thing). Yet it’s still inconsistent-feeling and worryingly slow. It actually creates an impression of early understeer, which is not the case with this chassis: the H6 turns into corners quite nicely, it’s just that you’re winding on lots of lock and not getting a lot of feedback.
Oh, and if you dare to turn the wheel while you’re still braking (even lightly) at open-road speeds, you get a warning blast from the hazard flashers, apparently suggesting that your driving style is about to propel you off the road in a ball of flames. It’s hilarious. Then annoying.
The cabin switchgear is simple, the quality of assembly excellent and the styling clean, although there’s an excess of blingy silver trim that isn’t terribly convincing. But you know how each automotive brand has its own “new-car smell”? It’s to do with the process used to extract the plastic mouldings used for the interior. Well, GWM has always had a rather sharp aroma and unfortunately the H6 has it too. Bad enough to make you think twice about parking in the sun. It goes away with age, by which time your sinuses will have had a good clear-out.
Pricing for the SA market is very good. But when it comes to Rands and marketing sense, Haval faces a quandry: price it too low and that simply reinforces the perception that it’s a substandard product. Too high and potential buyers will be put off when it’s unproven and smells a bit weird.
So here, if you were looking at a Toyota RAV for R391 000 or Mazda CX-5 for R420 000, you might think R329 000 is in fact a really good price for what the Haval has to offer and might have you over looking the C-word and possibly the Extra bling.
The entry H6 Premium model gets parking sensors front and rear with camera, tyre pressure monitoring, keyless entry/start, dual-zone climate control, rear-seat ventilation outlet and seven-speaker audio system.
The flagship Lux steps up from 17-inch to 19in wheels and gets panoramic sunroof, pseudo-leather seats, power-adjustable heated front seats, gas-discharge headlights and a passenger-kerbside camera. Nice seven-inch touchscreen on both, but curiously no sat-nav: the older system with local mapping that’s fitted to the H2, H8 and H9 isn’t compatible with the newer electronic architecture of the H6.
Pricing and Warranty
The Haval H6C, like its smaller sibling the Haval H2 is backed with a 5-year/100 000km warranty, a 5-year/60 000km service plan, and 5-year/unlimited km roadside assistance.
2.0T MT City 4X2 – R329 900
2.0T MT Premium 4X2 – R339 900
2.0T MT Luxury 4X2 – R359 900
2.0T DCT City 4X2 – R359 900
2.0 DCT Premium 4×2 – R369 900
2.0 DCT Luxury 4X2 – R389 900