Haval has introduced its largest, most expensive model to date. Value is guaranteed, but is there enough substance, too?
If impressive recent introductions in the form of the H6 C and compact H2 have ensured the doorway to sustained market share for Great Wall Motor’s SUV-focused division is open, the arrival of the largest vehicle in Haval’s armoury looks set to – on paper, at least – smash down that door entirely.
Not shy to concede a fair few examples of Toyota’s formidable Land Cruiser Prado were probed throughout the development process of the H9, the final product is one that, from certain angles (especially finished in this white body paint), shares a fleeting resemblance with the Japanese-built product.
Assessed with a tape measure, however, the H9 casts a bigger shadow than the Prado. Standing 1 900 mm tall, measuring 4 856 mm long and spanning nearly two metres, the substantial stance of the H9 is nevertheless relatively well-proportioned thanks to suitably wide wheelarches, moulded runner boards and considered (especially for a Chinese product) use of chrome accenting, including large grille and faux bonnet and fender outlets. The placement of the full-size spare wheel below the body, and not on the rear door, helps to balance the H9’s profile. According to our scales, the 2 391 kg body-on-frame H9 boasts an optimal 50:50 weight distribution, front to rear.
As those exterior dimensions suggest, interior space is particularly generous across three rows of seating and there are impressive levels of versatility at each corner of the spec-laden cabin. Stopping just shy of including an actual kitchen sink in the H9’s standard-spec list (only this Luxury derivative is offered), the most expensive Haval offers heated and ventilated front seats with a massage function, heating for second-row passengers, multi-zone climate control with outlets for all three rows (and the glovebox), a full bouquet of infotainment tech, panoramic sunroof, auto wipers and headlamps, and cruise control.
A nice touch is the added ability to electrically raise the 50:50-split third-row pews from their stowed position in the luggage-compartment floor. With them out of sight and the second-row bench adjusted for maximum (738 mm) legroom, the H9 offers 480 litres of packing space. This figure can be hiked to 600 litres with the second row adjusted all the way forward, or 1 420 litres with the middle row folded flat.
Considering the distinct lack of popularity for diesel fuel in passenger vehicles in Haval’s home market (where it regularly sells more than a million units a year), it’s perhaps understandable – although no less frustrating – we’re unlikely to see a turbodiesel-powered derivative of any of Haval’s SUV products in our market. Instead, the H9 makes use of the brand’s familiar GW4C20A 2,0-litre turbopetrol engine. Tuned in this application to deliver 180 kW and 350 N.m of torque, it’s a powertrain helped considerably by the slick workings of a ZF-sourced eight-speed transmission.
Where the German gearbox can’t help, unfortunately (and where a turbodiesel would be welcome), is providing a tad more urgency off the line, forcing a gap in slow-moving traffic and, indeed, reining in the heaviest Haval’s fuel-consumption figures. Where our 100 km fuel route returned 12,6 L/100 km, some testers saw closer to 17,0 L/100 km while negotiating a more start/stop commute.
Indeed, it’s on the open road where the H9 feels more at home, whether that surface is asphalt or gravel. Capable of towing up to 2 500 kg, the Haval features a BorgWarner-sourced torque-on-demand all-wheel-drive system able to transfer drive to the front wheels in increments of 15, 30 or 50 percent depending on the conditions or which one of the five driving modes has been selected. While a low-range setting multiplies the gear ratios by 2,48, other selectable modes include snow, mud, sand and sport, and each adjusts the throttle response and engine mapping accordingly. Also fitted standard is an Eaton limited-slip differential with a locking function, as well as hill-descent control.
All said, despite sporadic mechanical clunks and churns emanating from its underpinnings and a relatively poor turning circle, the H9 proved more than capable off-road, offering a fair amount of ground clearance (considering the runner boards can’t be removed) as well as decent levels of traction aided by purposeful Cooper tyres. Once again, the fitment of a turbodiesel engine offering a healthy dose of low-down torque in tricky conditions would go a long way to making the H9 more capable.
Resting on a double wishbone front suspension setup, with a solid-axle arrangement at the rear, the largest Haval boasts an impressively compliant ride able to iron out most imperfections. That said, as is the nature of a robust body-on-frame setup, chassis shudder does inevitably transfer into the cabin. Considering the mass this raised suspension is tasked with hauling, a fair amount of body roll is to be anticipated when negotiating anything more than a crawling-speed corner.
Most testers also noted the lifelessness of the H9’s electrically assisted steering setup calls for constant fine adjustments at the straight-ahead position. It’s a trait not uncommon to other vehicles in this class. An area where Haval should look to improve on the H9 package is braking. Certainly, 2,3 tonnes is a lot of metal to halt in a hurry but this test unit’s braking performance (averaging 3,42 seconds and 43,95 metres from 100-0 km/h) dips into the poor category in our books.
While the H9 scored a commendable four-star Australian NCAP crash-test rating, this Chinese brand has also made good strides to avoid potential collisions. On this note, the H9 features both lane-change assistance and cross-traffic alert working in conjunction with rear parking sensors and a reverse camera system. Six airbags are also included.
As we’ve mentioned in previous tests of modern Chinese products, it’s their rate of improvement that continues to impress. While it’s obvious there has been a lot of “mimicking” of some segment leaders along the way, brands such as GWM that are clearly serious about sustained levels of growth have head-hunted industry experts who bring a wealth of experience to the company, and it shows in the products. After sampling the H9, for example, it is little surprise to learn Haval’s current vice president, Fukusato-san, was once the chief engineer for Toyota’s Hilux and Prado projects.
Spacious, capable and lavishly specced it may be, though, two question marks loom over this, the largest and most adventure-focused Haval. While a third question about reliability becomes steadily less relevant the longer the brand continues to grow its reputation and dealer footprint (up to 35 at this stage), a more pertinent concern is resale value compared with rivals which may cost more new but inevitably depreciate at a slower rate. And then there’s the especially sensitive subject of average fuel consumption at a time when the average South African consumer’s purse strings continue to be tightened to their limits.
That said, the H9 offers Prado-like levels of practicality and versatility (with more spec) at a price that’s lower than a Fortuner’s, and this fact alone makes it worthy of an extended test drive...
*From the December 2018 issue of CAR magazine