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Haval’s latest offering is a confident step in the right direction...

It must irk Chinese car manufacturers no end when the Western motoring press gives a “close, but no cigar” appraisal of its products. But, this long-standing summation is wearing thin as manufacturers such as GWM’s upmarket Haval arm introduce increasingly improved products to our market. The competency of the firm’s mid-tier H2 impressed the CAR team in a recent test, and now the H6 C has moved the game along further still. Although it shares its platform with the GWM H6 that we sampled back in 2014, the H6 C is in every other respect a new mid-range model that ushers in better material and aesthetic qualities, a polished appearance and a turbocharged engine.

There is a propensity, albeit a somewhat unfair one, to search for European styling influences in Eastern cars, and the H6 C is no exception. There are definite hints of Audi Q5 about the nose and tail, while the rakish roofline has something of an Evoque flavour to it. However, to Haval’s credit, these styling elements have been applied in a manner that’s coherent and, thanks to the restrained application of chrome garnish and avoidance of other cosmetic fripperies, tasteful. It’s in the cabin, though, where the advances are especially apparent. While the H6’s interior marked a welcome step up from previous GWM products, the H6 C’s innards represent a significant improvement in perceived quality. Like the exterior, the dash has undergone a transformation that sees the H6’s frog-eyed air vents and fiddly infotainment system make way for a restrained, layered facia that plays host to an intuitive touchscreen overseeing a great-quality audio system.

Although there are a variety of trim types and patinas present, they’re executed in a manner that’s not jarring and the application of soft-touch materials on upper surfaces and a high perceived standard of fit and finish are moving closely towards that of established rivals from Europe and Korea. There are still a couple of quirks present, though. Taller folks will find the driving position a touch too perched, with a nudge of knee against the lower facia. Then there’s the seatbelt warning lamp that blazes red in your rear-view mirror all the time; a lack of one-touch operation for that panoramic roof, meaning that you’ll spend more time with your finger pointed skywards than a late-1970s John Travolta; and some bizarre button placements (the one that changes the mood lighting is adjacent to the hill-descent-control switch) serving as reminders that overall execution still needs a slight polish.

An area where you cannot fault the H6 C is cabin space; there’s loads of it. Things are airy and open up front, while impressive rear legroom and a recline-adjustable seatback meant that the six-footer sit-behind-yourself exercise was bereft of gymnastic contortions. Although the raked roofline (the source of this model’s C, or Coupé, suffix in some markets) doesn’t impinge on passenger headroom, it does squeeze rearward visibility into a narrow piece of glazing and eats into a boot that, owing to a high floorboard and fairly low-set tonneau cover, is hatchback-like in its dimensions.

Anaemic, clunky powertrains have been a perennial Achilles’ heel of Chinese cars, so the 140 kW and 310 N.m developed by H6 C’s 2,0-litre turbopetrol unit is impressive within this price bracket. Although somewhat reedy sounding, the engine is refined, feels strong enough from low down in the rev range and makes light work of overtaking and motorway driving. The standard and eco drivetrain settings are superfluous, doing little other than adding to the chorus of electronic chimes and bongs permeating the otherwise quiet, well-insulated cabin, but sport mode at least adds some urgency to the throttle response, making the H6 C feel a touch punchier. The engine is rather thirsty, though, with our test run returning 10,1 L/100 km.

In general, the engine plays nicely with the Getrag-sourced six-speed dual-clutch transmission, shifting smoothly and measuring ratios well on the move, but off the mark, things are a bit less resolved. There’s a palpable old-school dual-clutch hesitancy when attempting to join quick-moving traffic, with the resultant plunge of the accelerator to get things moving met with a chirp of the front tyres once the powertrain wakes up. A couple of years ago, the GWM H6 gained plaudits for its ride and handling characteristics, and the H6 C has moved the game along yet again, swapping out multilink rear suspension for a double-wishbone arrangement. Given that it rolls on a set of 19-inch rims with 55-profile rubber, the H6 C’s ride is impressively supple and well damped. Although not quite as dynamically polished as the likes of the VW Tiguan and Ford Kuga, the H6 C exhibits respectable body control and the compliant suspension’s resistance to float or directional instability makes it feel pleasingly surefooted.

Even so, it doesn’t always take well to being driven with any degree of gusto. Moderate pressure on the brake pedal – often a necessity owing to the average-rated 3,29-second 100-0 km/h braking time – and braking into briskly negotiated corners is interpreted by the overly sensitive safety systems as emergency manoeuvres, setting the hazard lights flashing with little provocation. The steering is also a mixed bag; it’s pleasantly weighted on the move but turns surprisingly heavy at lower speeds. That, along with a rather broad turning circle, makes the H6 C a little less wieldy around town than we’d like.

Impressive standard specification has traditionally formed the competitive backbone of Chinese cars in our market and the Haval is no exception. Among its number, it counts blind-spot assist; all-round PDC with rear and kerbside camera; keyless entry and go; auto lights and wipers; electric seats; tyre-pressure monitor; dual-climate control; auto-dimming rear mirror; and durable-feeling synthetic leather upholstery. It also has a five-year/60 000 km service plan and extensive warranty.

TEST SUMMARY

Some awkward, although hardly deal-breaking, quirks aside, the H6 C’s virtues comfortably outweigh its shortcomings. The issue of pricing that places it squarely in the midst of very appealing, albeit lesser-equipped, rival offerings and the perceived concerns regarding dealer and servicing network (the latter will be addressed by the establishment of more Haval dealerships locally in the next few months) will likely remain sticking points. Even so, it’s fair to say that products such as the H6 C are moving Chinese cars from fringe-player status to the realm of rapidly improving products that are making established rivals sit up and take notice.

*From the November 2017 issue of CAR magazine

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