10 days in the outback driving China’s petrol-powered Toyota Prado rival, the Haval H9 … will it survive?
Words by Bruce Newton
It’s no longer a case of when the Chinese arrive in the Australian new vehicle market, the fact is they are already here. And leading the charge is SUV specialist Haval. Originally established by Great Wall Motors, which also retails in Australia, Haval offers four models here from the compact H2 to the large seven-seat H9. And it’s that model we’re testing here, as there’s been some substantial efforts to Australian-ise this would-be Toyota Prado rival since it first lobbed in 2016.
Here we’re testing the upper-spec (of two) Ultra, which comes with almost all the bells and whistles you could want and retails for under $45,000 (plus on-road costs). We’re not just heading for a weekend away either, we’re off to the desert for 10 days to see what works, what doesn’t and what falls off.
Since its 2016 launch, the H9 has come standard with a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder engine – yep, no diesel. But for 2018 it was uprated from 160kW to 180kW and from 324Nm to 350Nm. The H9 also swaps its six-speed auto for a ZF eight-speeder with paddle shifters. The steering and suspension has also come in for attention from local accessory company, Ironman 4×4, which developed a package including heavier springs, upgraded shock absorber valving and minor changes to toe-in to improve cornering response.
The upgrade also adds blind-spot monitoring, lane departure warning and rear cross-traffic alert, while the Ultra exclusively adds a panoramic sunroof, a heated steering wheel, eco-leather upholstery (um, yep), seat heating and massage in row one, heating in row two and an Infinity sound system. There are also some subtle styling changes inside and out, including a reworked lower air intake to improve airflow to the engine bay. Inside there’s a new instrument panel with larger TFT screen, digital speedo and more detailed trip computer.
The Haval’s front suspension is an independent double wishbone set-up while the rear-end is supported by five-links locating a live rear axle. Steering is via hydraulically assisted rack and pinion.
That’s all traditional off-road fare, but it’s how that combination coped (or didn’t) with rougher roads that led to the local retune. Part of the package is a taller heavy-duty spring that provides a 50mm lift when unladen, so the increased gap under the guards is a bit of a giveaway compared to the old model. But chunkier tyres and a bit of weight soon take care of that. And you know what, the H9 steers and rides quite nicely.
On-road it’s ponderous yet stable – understandable for something 4856mm long, 1926mm wide and 1900mm high. We also put it through some pretty severe backroads, including the endless corrugations of the Finke Road, and it coped with it darn well. There was a bit of float, rear-end movement and the steering wasn’t pin-sharp, but we could live with that. The only real letdown was a cracking sound at speed that came on rough or smooth roads. This turned out to be the plastic escutcheon at the base of the windshield vibrating in a headwind. It was an awful sound apparently prompted by turbulence through the bonnet air vents.
Running on 95 RON unleaded, the intercooled, twin-scroll turbo, 16-valve, variably valve timed (inlet and exhaust), direct injection engine makes peak power at 5500rpm and peak torque at 1800rpm-4500rpm. Haval claims a 10% fuel consumption fall to 10.9L/100km thanks to idle-stop and the new 8HP70 transmission. Combine that with an 80-litre fuel tank and there’s a fuel range of between 600-700km. Sounds like you might need to take some jerry cans.
The engine and transmission proved themselves to be well mated, with that torque peak kicking in so low to providing commendable diesel-like low-down grunt. Trawling round town there is noticeable step-in turbo lag and the stop-start system is pretty brutal – in fact it switched off once when there was still very soft pressure being applied to the throttle. It figured out we were still going and re-fired but it was an interesting moment! The engine also has a soundtrack with a diesel-like rattle, but it doesn’t deliver diesel-like fuel economy, which is clearly a concern when you’re headed outback.
2.0L turbo-petrol inline four-cylinder
Maximum Power: 180kW @ 5500rpm
Maximum Torque: 350Nm @ 1800-4500rpm
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
There’s some specifications here that tell you this is the one Haval in the line-up that really does have off-road capability. First off, the H9 is based on a box section ladder frame. Then there’s the Bosch-sourced permanent 4X4 system, which is an active self-locking and self-proportioning centre diff. The All-Terrain Control System provides six driving modes: Auto, Sport, 4Lo, Sand, Snow, and Mud; the latter three only available in low range. An Eaton locking rear diff, well-tuned traction control and hill descent control add to the package. Approach, break-over and departure angles are 28, 23 and 23° respectively. Fording depth is 700mm and ground clearance is 206mm.
All that means the H9 is capable off-road, in fact more capable than you might expect. Nothing we threw at it phased it. It was happy to amble up and down steep slopes on its long travel suspension without finding itself in difficulty. Underbody protection is good and the air filter is easily accessible.
Haval claims a 2500kg braked towing capacity for the H9. It weighs in at 2230kg, has a gross vehicle mass of 2850kg and a gross combined mass of 5350kg. We didn’t tow during our test but do wonder how the engine would cope with a couple of tonnes on the back and what would happen to fuel consumption. One issue we can pick out is the side-opening tailgate, which will be more difficult to access with a trailer attached.
IS IT SAFE?
The Haval H9 was awarded a four-star ANCAP rating in 2016, let down by inadequate lower leg and chest protection for the driver in the frontal offset test. It was upgraded with additional safety features in 2018, but as it still lacks autonomous emergency braking it has no chance of achieving a five-star rating under ANCAP’s tougher current protocols.Six airbags are standard issue.
There’s spacious room for adults in the first two rows and electrically folding third row seats that offer enough room for small kids. Tri-zone climate control helps keep rear-seat passengers more comfortable. Fold row three and two and there’s a sizable 1457 litres available. Up front, it’s comfortable enough for the driver with a large if flat seat and a generously-sized dead pedal. There’s a nice big digital speedo, with a prominent tacho on the left. At the top of the centre stack there’s an altitude meter, inclinometer, barometer and compass. The wood veneers are pretty loud and a bit naff, yet the plastics are soft to the touch and there’s no real evidence of build quality issues.
In our time on the road with the Haval, nothing broke and only the escutcheon proved an ongoing issue. That’s not what we expected. Sure, we also grew tired of pumping fuel in the H9, but that’s a function of not having a diesel engine. And that’s what puts us off this vehicle more than anything else. No AEB is a blow for round-town driving too. On the flipside, it’s an impressive off-roader that also offers outstanding equipment levels for an attractive price. Bottomline though? You’d still have to be brave to put your money down on a H9 considering long-term reliability is an unknown (although a five-year warranty helps), the dealer network is small and resale values will be a challenge.