Haval’s luxury packed off-roader is a point of difference
After driving across some of Australia in Haval’s value-packed 4×4, the H9 shows it offers an off-roader with a difference.
The world is a rapidly changing place and so too is the automotive industry. In particular, the off-roading and four-wheel drive scene is seeing new options galore. Sure, stalwarts like Toyota remain an omnipresent brand, but as prices creep up and technology only slowly rolls along, newcomers with big budgets for R&D and keen to make their mark (and a following) with more luxury packed and technology-filled offerings stand up.
One such off-roader is from Haval and it’s a surprise packet that feels more luxurious than offerings from the aforementioned competitor. Indeed, Haval comes from China and that market has not been a heavyweight in Australian showrooms (yet), but we’d be remiss to ignore the fact that this is one of the world’s largest automakers and one which has made serious strides. And in its home country of China, Haval is the biggest seller of SUVs by a country mile.
Following in the footsteps of other Asian brands like Kia and Hyundai, it has poached key talent from some of the world’s top carmakers. This includes the former head of Mercedes-Benz’s nine-speed automatic transmission, Ford’s former NVH boss and an engineering and dynamics specialist formerly of Volkswagen. These blokes join other key talents that have joined from the likes of Lamborghini and Toyota.
We’re familiar with the Haval H9, a rival to the likes of the Toyota Prado and Ford Everest. Toyota is a very well known product, and Ford a popular choice. But starting at $42k driveaway and positioned as an off-roader packed with luxury, the Haval offers something the others don’t – premium off-roading on a budget.
For many, there’ll be set thoughts on what the Haval H9 is like before they see it. And while we were not sure exactly what to expect when we first jumped in one, it wasn’t this.
The interior of the Haval H9 has benefitted greatly from styling improvements with updates. There are tweaks in look and feel with a new digitally-augmented dashboard and large touchscreen infotainment. Behind the steering wheel, the analogue speedometer is less noticeable, thanks to the digital readouts and screen with graphics.
In the top-spec model, there’s also the soft Comfort-Tek leather-style seats which is so close to leather that I guarantee you won’t tell the difference; the entry-level Lux gets a cloth trim, and it’s quite practical and robust for touring long kays.
There’s plenty of soft-touch materials and quality plastics with a fit and finish that’s right up there (and beyond) with anything from any other manufacturer car you’d drive across the desert. The design of the dashboard feels modern and, if I had to call it, I’d suggest it looks and feels more European than Asian.
In the centre stack, it’s all button-heavy, which is something of a bonus when trying to select options while driving along bumpy roads. And there are separate controls for the climate with the H9 offering tri-zone (three zone) climate control and vents in the roof for the benefit of all three rows.
Now to that 8.0-inch infotainment screen. It looks good, it’s easy to read, and seems resistant to glare which is a really good thing when you’re hurtling across country Australia with the huge panoramic glass roof open on the top-spec Ultra variant (1178x505mm); the LUX gets a ‘normal-sized’ sunroof.
Climbing into the H9 is easy and the seats are comfortable and absolutely up to the job of longer stints behind the wheel thanks to decent under-thigh support and decent length in the base of the seat. Now here’s something else you don’t find in many off-roaders – massaged seats. The massage function for both driver and passenger is standard on the Ultra and is a superb touch you don’t ever find on a vehicle costing $40k. Maybe a Mercedes-Benz S-Class for the High Street, but that’s a seriously expensive piece of kit.
The steering wheel offers both tilt and reach adjustment and while it doesn’t extend a long way back (though far enough), the driver’s seat offers plenty of movement so drivers of all sizes should be able to get comfortable behind the wheel. There’s great vision right around the vehicle’s glasshouse, even when travelling with a full car. The reversing camera offers dynamic guidelines too, which move as you turn and reverse.
Of course, this is also a seven-seater, and there’s plenty of leg, foot, head, shoulder and elbow room back in the second row (where the seats are also heated). Even with three in the back, there is plenty of room to sit comfortably, thanks to slide adjustment and even reclining action if you want a comfy snooze. Plus, there are rear air vents and pockets on the back of the front seats.
For the third-row where the smaller kids sit, the rear seats fold and slide forwards for access. The gap is easy enough for even adults to get through.
The third-row also has electric adjustment as a nice touch to the premium appointments elsewhere (on the Ultra; manual on the LUX). The seats fold flat into the floor too so the boot opens up into a bigger space.
Naturally, there’s not a huge amount of boot space when all three rows are in-use but that’s the same with just about every seven-seat SUV on sale. Drop the third-row flat into the floor and there’s a large 747 litres of storage space.
Now we are talking wax lyrical about the interior and appointments in the Haval H9 and that’s for a good reason – it’s packed full of luxury and is particularly impressive given the price point of this car.
However, we’re not ignoring what is one of the most important factors when heading off the sealed path, and that is reliability. But we’ve been tinkering with Havals for years now and even drove across the Simpson Desert in a H9. It made it without a sweat, without a creak and took us in relative luxury.
The engine has been tweaked for more power and better fuel consumption since its last update, too, and a proper German ZF eight-speed automatic transmission has been bolted on. It’s made a big difference with the shifts at high or low speeds, on- or off-road, being both smooth and precise.
The engine is a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder and power is up from 160kW to 180kW at 5500rpm and from 324Nm to 350Nm of torque from 1800-4500rpm. For the grease monkeys, the key tweak to improve output was to up the compression ratio from 9.6:1 to 1.0:1. As mentioned, an eight-speed automatic has been bolted onto the engine, allowing the H9 to sprint to 100km/h in just over 10 seconds.
The H9 is comfortable on bitumen and feels even better on dirt roads. Offering low-range, it is also capable on tricky terrain with Auto mode using the All-Terrain Control System which allows you to scroll from low-range to Auto and then into specific modes, like Snow, Mud and Sand. Wading depth is 700mm, so that’s plenty enough for many river crossings, which we’ve done in it.
For a brand trying to build a following, the H9 is packed full of luxury and brings a solid base for extended touring around Australia. We know, because we’ve driven in some of the most challenging environments, and this is certainly a model to look out for.