My what a difference a year can make. Experts say a year is a long time in show business, it’s also a long time in vehicle manufacturing.
The last 12 months have been important in the evolution of SUV maker Haval. 2017 saw the brand achieve 710 sales which doesn’t sound like much but it represents an increase of 150 per cent.
Haval also notched up its first 5-star ANCAP safety score. Breaking this duck was an important step in improving buyer confidence.
Confidence is what Haval is trying to establish in the minds of buyers. Australians have a history of being suspicious of unfamiliar names. Japanese and Korean car makers have had to work through such issues before reaching the promised land of acceptance and eventual desirability.
The Australian new car market is a very complex beast, as a consequence of being so overcrowded the level of competition across all segments is intense.
Cracking the Australian market was never going to be something that could be done quickly. When starting from scratch, the process of brand building requires a great deal of patience. For Haval there’s the added pressure of Australia being its first attempt to compete in a developed market.
Now Haval does things differently. This is a manufacturer that is proactive in seeking and incorporating feedback to improve its cars. Haval shows a degree of agility at a production level that larger mainstream manufacturers either can't or won't match.
The 2018 Haval H9 brings all the brand’s values into a very comprehensive package. From the outset, the updated H9 is Haval’s most compelling SUV to date.
The H9 range has been repositioned to broaden its potential audience. Firstly, there has been a significant price reduction. The Lux variant has become the entry-level H9 and is now priced at $41,990 while the top-spec Ultra comes in at a very competitive $45,990 – remarkably, those prices are drive-away.
It’s not just a case of a price cut, specification levels have been greatly improved meaning the value equation is now impossible to ignore.
The most important changes to the 2018 H9 come under the sheet metal. The 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine has been retuned and now develops 180kW and 350Nm (up from 160kW and 324Nm). An increased compression ratio means peak torque is now available from 1800rpm.
Diesel fans who are unwilling to compromise won't find any joy here. Haval has its future heading towards petrol-electric hybrid technology. Diesel is on the nose in plenty of markets, especially Europe, so investment in outgoing tech just isn’t feasible.
Paired to the engine is a new eight-speed automatic transmission from ZF. The German transmission specialists supply gearboxes to many of the big names including Maserati, BMW and Jaguar Land Rover.
The new drivetrain does the job in a very convincing manner. It’s far more responsive and much stronger at low speeds. The extra two ratios make a great deal of difference when taking off.
As a result of the new drivetrain, fuel economy has also been improved. The official combined fuel consumption rating is now 10.9L/100km – down form 12.1/100km.
Haval claims modest improvements have been made to noise, vibration and harshness levels. In the initial stages of the drive, it was easy to conclude the H9 remains a very refined SUV, the cabin is well insulated from tyre and wind noise.
The H9 has something of an identity issue, it could easily pass as a seven-seat family car to ferry the troops around town, alternatively, it could be a genuine off-roader to satisfy even the most demanding adventure seeker.
The 2018 H9 still utilises a ladder frame chassis to provide the foundation of its off-road ability. It’s a well-proven base for large off-roaders. There’s also an Eaton locking rear differential and low range gearing is available courtesy of a BorgWarner transfer case.
In an interesting move, Haval has moved away from Cooper tyres, instead choosing to employ Kumhos with a softer sidewall to improve comfort over rough roads. The H9 does do very well on corrugated surfaces, for such a large car it’s a very smooth ride.
Haval selected the Melbourne 4x4 proving ground at Werribee for us to subject the new H9 to a detailed off-road assessment. In looking over the facility, my first thought was we were going to need a bigger boat, oops I mean SUV!
In all seriousness, this is terrain that should be designated for a LandCruiser 70 Series.
Unbelievably, in showroom specification, the H9 smashed through the course without any issues. The majority of obstacles could be negotiated without engaging low range. The All Terrain Control System (a clever dial on the centre console) could be left in the Auto setting for the majority of off-road situations.
The improvement in low down torque meant that most climbs could be conquered with the tacho hovering around 1500rpm.
The H9 has always featured plenty of wheel articulation and that was on show again throughout this test.
Climbing each of the property’s steep embankments was effortless. Then there is the H9’s hill descent control – its calibration is perfect. The H9 crawls down steep trails with the control of a Shane Warne leg break.
The H9 wasn’t troubled by any surface and waded through parts of the Werribee River with a depth somewhere between 500-600mm with ease.
Despite the rough terrain, the H9 remained composed and proved itself capable of going toe to toe with rivals from Ford, Mitsubishi, Toyota and Isuzu.
Drivetrain aside, Haval has also spent some time sharpening up the exterior and interior of the H9 to bolster its appeal.
The front gets a new grille, bumper and fog lights to freshen things up. An Adaptive Front Lighting System (AFS) has also been included. Adaptive lights turn in sync with the steering wheel and automatically corrects the beam’s height on undulating roads.
Inside the cabin, occupants are greeted by a new dashboard and console. The highlight of which is a greatly improved instrument cluster that now mixes digital and analogue displays. It’s very easy to read and in a first for Haval, the gauge cluster now incorporates a digital speedo.
The overall cabin ambience has a decidedly premium feel. Material choices are impressive with plenty of soft-touch surfaces that offer a quality tactile experience. Nothing indicates this is a car from a brand with limited experience in developed markets.
Every switch, button, dial and stalk promotes those much-desired feelings of solid build quality.
There is plenty of space, especially if you’re riding in the second row. Pleasingly, all rows get air conditioner vents to provide the necessary comfort during an Australian summer – it’s hot down here, just ask the nearest professional tennis player.
Both H9 variants are well equipped, the base model Lux comes equipped with push-button start, sunroof, tri-zone climate control, 8.0-inch touchscreen with satellite navigation and a 10-speaker audio system – not bad for an entry variant.
Stumping up the extra $4000 for the H9 Ultra brings a panoramic sunroof, eco-leather seat trim, front seats that are heated and cooled with a two-stage massage function (worth every cent!), an Infinity sound system and electric-folding third-row seats.
Family buyers will note the H9’s additional safety tech, lane change assist, lane departure warning system, rear cross traffic alert and a driver fatigue monitor are all standard.
The outgoing H9 received a four-star grading from ANCAP, however, Haval tells us as a result of that test the footwell has been re-engineered to better protect those in the front.
Autonomous breaking will be added later this year, at which point Haval will request a re-test to hopefully secure another five-star safety rating.
Haval will support the new H9 with a five year/100,000 kilometre warranty. Service intervals are set at 12months/10,000km after an initial service after six months of ownership.
Haval has equipped the H9 with all the attributes to capture the attention of family buyers and weekend warriors. Then there’s the price. The repositioned price of the H9 means it needs to be considered, it would be remiss of any buyer to rule a line through it without having a look.
The new H9 is an example of how things should be, take an already strong offering and make it better. The 2018 H9 is Haval’s most comprehensive SUV yet, it’s generously appointed, comfortable to drive and capable if you want to get some mud under the arches.
2018 Haval H9 Specifications
Price from $41,990 drive away Engine 2.0L In-line four-cylinder, turbocharged petrol Power 180kW @ 5,500rpm Torque 350Nm @ 1,800 – 4,500rpm Transmission 8-speed automatic Combined Fuel Consumption 10.9L/100km Performance 0-100km/h 10.8 seconds Tank Capacity 80L Length 4,856mm Width 1,926mm Height 1,900mm Wheelbase 2,800mm Kerb Weight 2,230kg Ground Clearance 206mm Turning circle 12.1m Wading depth 700mm Service Intervals 12-months or 10,000km – after initial 6-month 5000km service Warranty five year/100,000 kilometre
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