The grand tour, the long haul, the road trip, all names for an extended drive that seems to be becoming extinct in modern Australia. Loading the family into the car and heading off to explore the country we call home has struggled to remain popular in the face of cheap airfares and the appeal of international travel.
For many families, the intervention of Richard Branson is something to rejoice, the thought of being trapped together in a small space for an extended period is the stuff nightmares are made of.
This is a phenomenon that flies in the face of new car sales figures. Australians love their cars and continue to buy them in record numbers.
Despite the convenience offered by Boeing and Airbus, there is still joy to be found in a long drive. Australia is a big place, rich with history that’s packed into small towns that aren’t accessible without the flexibility offered by a car, so when the offer came from Haval Australia to take one of their models on a 3000km journey from Darwin to Adelaide how could I say no?
When an Aussie thinks about crossing the country in a car, either east to west or north to south, more often than not, they turn to Toyota. Now that’s not a personal opinion, it’s a fact that’s anchored in the sales data. It makes sense on many levels, I mean why wouldn't buyers turn to a brand with a strong local history and reputation?
Of course, there is more than one way to get from A to B. This brings me to Haval, the new kid on the block, so to speak, in the local market. They are a brand with a bit to offer. Being an SUV manufacturer at a time when SUVs have overtaken the passenger car as the preferred medium for family transport has them well placed to make an impact.
Now the best way to deal with the elephant in the room is to introduce it. The rumours are true, Haval is indeed a Chinese marque, this in itself has delivered prejudice and unfounded commentary on plenty of internet forums. It’s concerning that I’m old enough to remember the same insight being shared about Japanese and Korean cars, although, back then it was all spoken nonsense well before the rise of the keyboard warrior.
Look at what we currently buy, Asian makers are now the dominant players. Haval has the potential to follow the path already travelled and enjoy success in developed markets such as ours, and a road trip such as this is the ultimate way to assess a vehicle's credentials.
Starting in Darwin, Haval provided a H6 Premium to undertake the trip. I’m familiar with the H6 having had the opportunity to spend a week with the LUX variant earlier this year.
My first impressions were positive. While the H6 competes in the very competitive midsize SUV segment, it does put up a strong case. In Premium specification the H6 can be driven out of the showroom for $29,990.
Things couldn’t have started any better, the weather was remarkable. I needed to remind myself it was still winter, perhaps the Starks have lied to the people of the north.
Walking towards the H6, I’m still a fan of the design. It’s slightly larger than the majority of its rivals which successfully translates into more interior space.
Settling in behind the wheel is easy, getting comfortable takes no time at all. The uncluttered cabin layout gives off a premium vibe. Though a few more storage cubbies would be useful for a trip such as this. The first leg of the drive from Darwin to Katherine is a leisurely 323km. In the context of the trip, it’s a nice way to start and get reacquainted with the H6.
This H6 was equipped with satellite navigation, which is a very handy thing to have in this part of the world. Mobile phone coverage is dreadful rendering Google maps useless.
Getting the Bluetooth connected was a bit fiddly. Shamefully, I had to resort to the owner’s manual for clarification. Once successfully connected, I was ready for takeoff.
It’s not just beautiful weather to get excited about in Darwin, there’s also the absence of the bumper to bumper traffic that is now ingrained into the lives of those who populate Melbourne and Sydney.
The Stuart Highway, named after the explorer John McDouall Stuart, would be where the majority of this trip would be spent. Stuart was credited as the first European to cross Australia from south to north. Running from Darwin to Port Augusta the road covers some 2711km.
Hitting the highway, I’m greeted with a speed sign reading 130, a shocking development so early in the journey. Travelling up to Darwin from the nanny state of Victoria, this was hard to comprehend. After only a few kilometres, it was obvious 130km/h is a comfortable speed to travel at.
While going a bit faster was welcomed, as expected, it did have adverse effects on fuel consumption. Pulling into Katherine, the digital readout was sitting on 11.5L/100km. On the open road, a full tank was giving me a range of around 450km.
Day 2, this was the big one. The GPS was giving a distance of 1183km to Alice Springs. In anyone’s language, that’s a fair stretch to cover in one day. This was going to thoroughly test the comfort and refinement of the H6.
An early start, aided by a vanilla latte (call me a wanker, but it’s a popular drink), provided an opportunity to enjoy breakfast at the famous Daly Waters Pub. What was interesting about this stop wasn’t the meal, it was the examination of the H6 by a number of caravaners. In the hustle to eat and get back on the road, I hadn't noticed the crowd gathering next to the car. The majority were yet to hear about Haval and this was their first interaction with the brand. Interestingly, the feedback was positive.
Continuing along to Alice Springs made one thing very clear. The refinement of the H6 is significantly better than the Hyundai Tucson, Mazda CX-5 and Toyota RAV4. Travelling at 130 clicks, the H6 didn’t shake or rattle and road noise was low. The well-insulated cabin is a quiet place to be while chewing through the miles. The Chinese place a premium on passenger comfort and this is an area where the H6 will win some fans.
The 17-inch alloy wheels wearing 225/65 R17 tyres added to the ride quality. The Stuart Highway is relatively smooth, but the few small bumps and numerous cattle grates across the road dividing the expansive cattle stations were easily ironed out by the well-tuned suspension.
After a few minor detours, including a stop at the acclaimed 'Devil's Marbles' for a quick photo opportunity, where the striking red of the car stood out against the dry tones of the landscape, the hotel at Alice was reached with the odometer reading 1215km for the day. Pleasingly, the Haval’s great seats are very supportive meaning I was able to avoid any backache.
Day 3 was somewhat sad, crossing the border into South Australia signalled the end of the 130km/h speed limit. The signs were now reading 110. Despite this being the state that supplies us with overpriced submarines and Christoper Pyne, the landscape remained beautiful.
For a good three hours, the only disruption to the drive was a mob of kangaroos and a lone emu. Care needed to be taken, an alarming number of carcasses littered the roadside.
Heading to Coober Pedy I came across something I hadn't seen before, a Toyota LandCruiser on the back of a tow truck. A rare sight indeed. Fearing nobody would believe me, I had no choice but to take the photo.
It was a straightforward 692km run to Coober Pedy. Another dot on the map with plenty of history to experience.
The final stage of the journey was into Adelaide, a leg of about 850km. I wasn’t sure how welcome I would be, after all, I wasn’t driving a Tesla.
Reducing the speed saw the natural improvement to the consumption figure. The final leg returned a much-improved 9.3L/100km. Parking the H6 at Haval’s Adelaide dealership gave me the chance to tally the trip, overall, 3078km was what it took to cross the country from north to south.
A trip like this provides plenty of time to think and reflect. When it comes to Haval, they are vying for attention and sales in some of the new car market’s most competitive segments. In the face of such competition, how does a new brand crack the code? Does Haval need to offer some cut-priced showroom bait to establish a customer base? These are some of the questions that can run through the mind of a motoring enthusiast on a long drive.
It comes down to patience and finances, building a solid reputation in the new car market is a time-consuming and expensive undertaking.
Haval has bravely avoided stripped out models that are pitched only on price, they are not the cheapest. The H6 is under enormous pressure from aggressive discounting by the Korean brands. Perseverance, continued product development and exposure via a larger dealership network are needed. Haval is well aware of the challenges and is already expanding and strengthening their local portfolio.
Two things were crystal clear at the conclusion of this trip. Firstly, long road journeys shouldn’t be an activity confined to older generations. Long-distance touring might not be as cool as it once was, but it provides the best way to see and explore our vast country and culture.
Secondly, Haval SUVs are well made. Don’t believe the ‘it’s made in China so it must be no good’ line. The majority of forum jockeys who have strong opinions haven’t driven any of Haval’s models. Where a product is made isn’t the ultimate factor in determining quality. In some areas, such as refinement and ride quality, Haval is more than competitive.
Including this trip, I have now had the opportunity to spend the best part of 5000km behind the wheel of Haval SUVs. I am yet to get out of one underwhelmed or feeling the mountain is too great for them to climb. I’ve been fortunate in this regard. I would encourage potential buyers to find a dealer that will allow a proper test drive. Insist on more than the quick 15 minutes around the block that dealers of many brands still consider acceptable.
The H6 is driveable and comfortable while presenting a strong value for money argument. It will get you from one side of the country to the other, so it will more than likely cover the daily commute and the trials of kids in the back. The H6 requires buyers to look beyond the badge to find the substance. For those who do, pleasant surprises await.
2017 Haval H6 Premium Specifications
Price from $29,990 drive away Engine 2.0L 4 cylinder inline turbocharged petrol Power 145kW @ 5200 Torque 315Nm @ 2000 Transmission 6 Speed dual-clutch automatic Combined Fuel Consumption 9.8L/100km Tank Capacity 70L Length 4549mm Width 1835mm Height 1700mm Wheelbase 2720mm Ground Clearance 170mm Service Intervals 12-months or 10,000km – after initial 6-month 5000km service Warranty five year/100,000 kilometre
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