MPUMALANGA – Recently, we were invited to join Haval South Africa on its 2019 Outreach Expedition, this year set in the beautiful province of Mpumalanga. Arriving at Nelspruit Airport, the group of motoring journalists was greeted by a convoy of various Haval SUV offerings, as well as a GWM bakkie. 

I was shown to an H9, Haval’s range-topping seven-seater. The air-conditioned cabin of the H9 I was driven in certainly provided welcome relief from the hot Mpumalanga sun, while the nicely sorted suspension kept the potholes and unkept roads from unsettling passengers. Our first destination was the newly opened Haval Mbombela dealership, where we were able to experience first-hand how the Chinese automaker deals with its existing clients and potential customers.

It was clear to see the SUV manufacturer certainly puts an emphasis on the happiness of its customers. A fair-sized group of current Haval owners mingled with potential buyers, while two excited individuals awaited delivery of their brand-new vehicles. While the new Haval owners got acquainted with their vehicles, festivities came to an end and I was able to experience the H9 as a front-seat passenger on the way to the overnight accommodation. With this being my first time in the large SUV, I was rather impressed by the amount of front and rear legroom, as well as by the comfortable seats. The air-conditioned front pews worked well with the effective massage function, allowing for a relaxed journey to our last stop for the day. 

On the second leg of our journey, we set off on Mpumalanga’s beautiful sweeping roads, sampling various Haval SUVs, including the new H6 1,5L Turbo Luxury variant. Having already driven an H6 C on numerous occasions, it was the H6 and H9 I was most keen on experiencing. The H6 is powered by a 1,5-litre, four-cylinder turbocharged engine, coupled to a six-speed manual gearbox. Peak power of 105 kW is generated rather high in the rev range (at 5 600 r/min) while maximum torque of 202 N.m is spread broadly from 2 200 to 4 500 r/min. In town driving, there's quite a bit of turbo lag, but as with many small-capacity turbo engines, this can be mitigated by tactical gear changes.

At the national limit, managing this becomes slightly trickier, where sudden steep inclines require the driver to drop a few cogs prior to the inevitable struggle up a hill. The gearbox, while light in its operation, is notchy and at times requires some force when selecting the appropriate cog. The steering is light, especially compared with its slightly more dynamic stablemate, the H6 C. While the H6 takes a more laid-back approach to covering distances quickly, it rides rather well, soaking up the rough surfaces and potholes that cover many of Mpumalanga’s roads. In keeping with its more comfort-oriented nature, the Luxury trim level I sampled was packed full of features, including electrically adjustable front seats, cruise control, a reversing camera and a few other niceties. For just R284 900, the H6 luxury represents good value for money, especially in terms of how well equipped it is. 

After the H6, I slipped in behind the wheel of the H6 C. Since we have one in our long-term fleet, I am fairly familiar with what is arguably the most stylish Chinese car currently on sale. When I first drove an H6 C, I was impressed by the fine quality of the interior. Soft-touch materials are plentiful, the synthetic leather is soft and the buttons are beautifully damped. Never having the opportunity to drive one down winding roads and sweeping bends, I was pleased by how this SUV inspires confidence through corners. The steering has a meaty feel that allows for spirited driving, something I never thought I’d say about a Chinese SUV.

In a straight line, the H6 C isn’t necessarily a slouch either, with 140 kW of power and 310 N.m of torque allowing for pretty brisk in-gear acceleration. Examining our November 2017 test figures for the H6 C will show this vehicle recorded a time of just 3,13 seconds from 80 km/h to 100km/h. Not bad for a car that weighs 1 750 kg. While the 2,0-litre turbopetrol is clearly capable, it’s worth pointing out this comes at the expense of fuel economy. Our long-termer H6 C is currently averaging 10,82 L/100 km, not particularly frugal for a four-cylinder vehicle. 

Eventually, it was my turn to drive the H9, the largest SUV currently offered by Haval South Africa. Powered by the brand’s 2,0-litre turbopetrol engine, the H9 produces 180 kW and 350 N.m of torque. A wonderfully smooth eight-speed gearbox from ZF allows for suitably quick and seamless gear-changes, even in manual mode. The driving position is commanding, providing a great view of the road ahead. Weighing well over two tonnes, it's rather surprising to feel how positively the four-cylinder unit responds, heaving this heavy SUV along with the authority of a bigger engine.

Like the H6 C, the biggest downside of a small turbopetrol engine in a vehicle this size is the high fuel consumption. The H9 we tested in our December 2018 issue recorded 12,60 L/100 km on our fuel route. In my view, the H9 would certainly benefit from a turbodiesel engine, already the main choice of propulsion across the segment in which it competes. Around corners, there is a fair amount of body roll, but nothing too alarming nor out of the ordinary, particularly considering the H9 is a body-on-frame SUV. Aside from all the bells and whistles, the large SUV comes as standard with plenty of safety equipment.

The last vehicle to drive was the GWM Steed 5E Double Cab. Stepping out of the H9 and getting behind the wheel of the bakkie was a great reminder of just how far the Chinese manufacturer has come with regards to the driveability of its current vehicles. The Steed 5E felt old, shaking and vibrating its way down the road. While it may be well equipped, it isn’t the easiest vehicle to drive and requires the pilot to adjust his or her driving style to suit the character of the powertrain. GWM has previewed a new bakkie that apparently uses the same platform as the H9 SUV, with a more modern design inside and out. Perhaps this newcomer will sit more comfortably within the range.

The 2019 Haval Outreach Expedition was a wonderful experience, affording me not only the opportunity to explore Mpumalanga and all of its natural beauty, but also to sample most of the Haval range. It’s incredible that just a couple of years ago Haval was a virtual unknown in South Africa. Now, the brand's vehicles are gaining greater favour as each month rolls by. I’m excited to see how the brand grows, especially as it expands its model range here in South Africa.



FAST FACTS

Model: Haval H6 1,5T Luxury
Price: R284 900
Engine: 1,5-litre, 4-cylinder turbo
Power: 105 kW @ 5 600 r/min
Torque: 210 N.m @ 2 200 - 4 500 r/min
0-100 km/h: n/a
Top Speed: 180 km/h
Fuel Consumption: 8,50 L/100 km (claimed)
CO2: 200 g/km
Transmission: six-speed manual
Service Plan: 3-year/45 000 km
Model: Haval H6 C 2,0T Luxury Auto
Price: R399 900
Engine: 2,0-litre, 4-cylinder turbo
Power: 140 kW @ 5 200 r/min
Torque: 310 N.m @ 2 400 - 3 600 r/min
0-100 km/h: 11,01 seconds (tested November 2017)
Top Speed: 190 km/h
Fuel Consumption: 10,10 L/100 km (tested November 2017)
CO2: 223 g/km
Transmission: six-speed dual-clutch
Service Plan: 5-year/60 000 km
Model: Haval H9 2,0T AWD Luxury
Price: R599 900
Engine: 2,0-litre, 4-cylinder turbo
Power: 180 kW @ 5 500 r/min
Torque: 350 N.m @ 1 800 - 4 500 r/min
0-100 km/h: 10,40 seconds (tested December 2018)
Top Speed: 190 km/h
Fuel Consumption: 12,60 L/100 km (tested December 2018)
CO2: 254 g/km
Transmission: eight-speed automatic
Service Plan: 5-year/60 000 km