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Forget Chinese-vehicle prejudice - this wagon is a class act - June 2016

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, isn’t an ideal background for Haval’s new 4WD market initiative Down Under.

The acrimony may prove to be a blessing in the long run, because the impasse forced Haval to set up its own operation in Australia. Overseas vehicle makers who deal through distributors often find it difficult to compete with brands that have local subsidiaries.

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

After a week’s testing the Lux version we’re sure the H9 would have success in the Australian market, if the powertrain produced better fuel economy.

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 forced its two-litre, turbocharged petrol four to power the 2.2-tonnes-empty H9.

There is a new diesel in the company’s engine range - 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 powertrans on the near horizon.


“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.”


2016 Haval H9

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

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

We shudder to think what it would consume towing a heavy caravan. The petrol-hybrid version can't come oson enough.

haval h9 luxThe H9’s main transmission is a ZF six-speed auto and the two-speed transfer case is 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 test vehicle was an H9 Lux model, with 18-inch wheels, but the Premium model has 17s, for which there’s a wider choice of bush-capable tyres. The test vehicle’s Coopers looked like a step in the right direction, 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 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.


On and off-road

Once we adapted to the revvy, thirsty engine we enjoyed driving the 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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