2016 HAVAL H9 review
Robert Pepper’s 2016 HAVAL H9 review with pricing, specs, ride and handling, safety, verdict and rating.
In a nutshell: The H9 is a value for money, medium-sized, off-road-capable seven-seat 4WD that stands fair comparison with Japanese equivalents.
2016 HAVAL H9 Premium
PRICE : $46,490 (+ORC) WARRANTY : 5 years / 100,000 km SAFETY : ANCAP NOT yet TESTED ENGINE : 2.0L 4-CYL TURBO PETROL POWER : 160kW @ 5500 rpm TORQUE : 324 Nm @ 2000-4000 rpm TRANSMISSION : 6-speed Auto DRIVE : Torque on demand 2WD / AWD / 4WD / low range BODY : 4856 mm (L); 1926 mm (W); 1900 mm (H) TURNING CIRCLE : 12.1m Wheelbase : 2800mm GROUNd CLEARANCE : 185mm * : APproach / RAMP / DEPArTURE ANGLES : 28 / 23 / 23 Wading depth 700 Mm TARE WEIGHT : 2250 kg SEATS : 7 TOWING : 2500 kg braked / 750 kg unbraked, 100KG TBM FUEL TANK : 80 litres SPARE : FULL-SIZE ALLOY THIRST : 12.1L/100km ADR81/02 combined cycle FUEL : 95RON PETROL
* The specifications claim 206mm, the owner’s handbook says 185mm so we measured it and found 225mm under the rear differential and 185mm under the front bashplate. We are using the lower figure.
It doesn’t matter how good the HAVAL H9 is (yes, HAVAL is all caps) because a certain ill-informed and closed-minded segment of the population is never going to give the car a chance simply because it is Chinese. Earlier generations of these people never gave the likes of Korean manufacturers a go either, and before that they were close-minded about the Japanese.
So imagine there was a Japanese badge on this car…
…and you’d say the styling was modern, but unexciting, or at least that was the general reaction of people we spoke to about it. After they’d finished asking what the car actually was, at least in the cases they noticed it was made by an unusual manufacturer.
So who is HAVAL? The company says it’s a Premium Chinese SUV maker, so at first glance, you may think that means the company wants to take on the likes of Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Land Rover and Porsche. Not the case. A spokesman told us that:
“We don’t plan to take on the European luxury SUVs. We can’t see a buyer in that set looking at anything from Asia. We see natural competitors as the Koreans. The premium relates to the Great Wall set-up. Great Wall is Chairman Wei’s Toyota, HAVAL is his Lexus.”
HAVAL may see its natural competitors as Koreans, but seeing as Koreans are now competing with Japanese (certainly on merit if not always in the minds of the average Aussie) then it’s fair to say the H9 is competing against the likes of Prado and Pajero. The statement also clarifies the Great Wall/HAVAL relationship. Once directly related, they are now separate companies, but under one owner. Here in Australia, the brand is simply trying to establish a presence and there’s no talk of sales targets or anything ambitious.
HAVAL offer three cars (more on the range here), and our test car is the H9, which is the largest of the HAVAL range and the only model designed for off-roading. We have the Premium model which is the base spec, above which is the Lux. Our test was over 10 days, and incorporated city commutes, off-roading and use as a seven-seater to transport the family.
The H9 is Prado/Pajero sized: it’s 4856mm long and 1926mm wide, vs 4900 / 1875 for the Pajero (with tailgate mounted spare) and 4930 / 1885 for the Prado (again with tailgate mounted spare).
By the way, it’s pronounced Hav-al, as in gravel. Not Ha-val.
Room & practicality
The H9 is a practical vehicle. There is a large glovebox and centre console, although the latter does not have a USB port or cooling. There are two 12v-sockets up front, one of which is an actual cigarette lighter, the doors have pockets and there’s a sunnies holder in the roof. There is no abundance of storage spaces, but the basics are done well enough. The dual drinks holders are large and manage not to get in the way of anything when bottles are in place.
In the second row there are two usefully large seatpockets on the back of the front seats, big door pockets, and a fold-down centre table with drinks holders and a little storage compartment. The pockets are made of net, which is brilliant because otherwise you forget what’s been left in there.
Air-conditioning vents are provided in the second row, as are two grab handles. The car has a total of 12 which must be a record, and all are robust so the infirm shouldn’t have any problems getting in, and the big sidesteps help there too. Both top grab handles in the second row have hooks for clothes hangers.
The second row seats are 40:60, and unfortunately the 60 is on the kerb side, so wrong side for us right-hand-drive countries. At least the 40 split seats have a handy one-touch lever at the top which slides the seats forwards and tilts the seatback for easy access to the third row, and an agile 13-year old had no problem bouncing in and out. Both parts of the second-row seats can be slid backwards and forwards, and the angle of the seatback adjusted. There’s a reasonable amount of legroom in the two outer seats, but as usual with cars the second row middle is much less comfortable. The second row also gets its own air-con controls.
Two good points are that the outer second row seatbelts are height-adjustable, which is very important for small children, and the middle second row seatbelt is connected to the seat, not hanging from the roof where it gets in the way as in so many other SUVs. More praise for the three child restraint points which are halfway down the back of the second row seats, easy to access and out of the way. Little things like these are the first indication that HAVAL are not only avoiding the lazy mistakes of their Japanese competitors, but they are finding little improvements here and there too.
Into the third row and here we find a 50:50 split which folds nicely down into the floor and locks into place. It is easy to set up and fold down, just pull on a tab and the job is done. Once inside, there is actual headroom, another 30mm or so for me and I’m just under 6ft. Legroom is of course lacking, but there are much more cramped seven-seaters on the market. There are air-con vents and drinks holder each side, something not all such vehicles bother with. A negative is that there is not a lot of room behind the third row for luggage – this is no LC200, it’s a smaller vehicle. I’d lose a bit of third-row legroom as an exchange.
The cargo area has four strong and sensibly positioned tie-down points, and there is a cargo blind. A good point is that there is a lock function on the tailgate, so if you open it in high winds or on a slope it’ll stay open. The side-opening tailgate is no longer the current style – compared to a lift-up design the side-open needs space to open, and offers no rain protection. However, it is possible for shorter people to open and close it, and it stores tools nicely.
As a 7-seater 4WD the H9 is up to the mark. It does not reach the heights of say the Discovery or XC90, or even vehicles like the Kluger, but compared to its Japanese off-road-oriented equivalents like the Pajero and Fortuner the H9 is a step ahead, and it’s not bad compared to Prado. The only major drawback is the fact the 60:40 split is on the wrong side, but it is hardly alone in this sin so I’d rate the interior average to above average – which sounds negative, but it’s actually putting the car in the top half of its segment.
There are also no quality concerns. Everything works as it should, nothing fell apart, there are no unsightly gaps or any reason to think this vehicle is anything other than hard wearing. Our test car ticked over 10,000km during our test of over 1500km, and I know that car has spent many days touring off-road (about 6000km, according to HAVAL) which only served to reassure that this car is built well.
On the inside
The interior designers haven’t made any major mistakes. There’s faux wood but it doesn’t look too tacky, the colours aren’t exciting but are consistently used and balance each other. The main buttons for operating things are large, and have a lovely tactile feel so you know when they’re pressed. Only the heat/cooling controls are the fiddly up/down buttons rather than a simple dial… why oh why do carmakers inflict this on us?
The 8-inch touch screen is easy to use, quick and responsive. Satnav works well enough but isn’t the most intuitive on the market, but it has a surprising range of roads including some 4WD tracks. It will read you text messages in what is easily the worst sounding voice on the market, all slow and robotlike, and there’s no quick reply option. There is a little bit of poor translation work – “Senser”, “Points of Interesting” and “Air Condition” for example, but nothing that can’t be understood.
The steering wheel is tilt/reach adjustable and the driver’s seat has enough adjustment for most people to be comfortable. All four windows are one-touch, and the second row windows disappear right into the door, as opposed to leaving some glass poking out.
The interior lights are soft, low-power LEDs and there’s four in total, plus various internal footlights and exterior puddle lights, and the sidesteps are lit so the car doesn’t lack for light at night. There’s also customisable functions for lights on after engine off.
The H9 does nothing wrong, and much right, but it is a mark of the car that there are little points which could so easily have been made better. Example – there’s no way to tell on which side of the car the fuel filler is (it’s on the left), giving lie to the myth that the little fuel pump icon always has the pump on the side of the fuel filler. At least the release button (it still has one) is easy to find and won’t be accidentally pressed.
Other examples; the cruise control stalk is also entirely obscured by the steering wheel, as is the light control, and the shifter hides the 4WD mode selector so you can’t, at a glance, easily see what mode you’re in. The top display has barometer, elevation, inclinometer and heading but for some reason, not the time. The little lights to indicate whether something is on or off, for example recirculation, are too small and dim to be viewed in bright sunlight, and the main screen itself is also angled too flat so it is prone to visibility problems in direct, harsh sunlight. Perhaps the most annoying for me is that Bluetooth phone calls come via a smallish speaker near the driver rather than the stereo system, and there’s no voice control.
We’d like to see an update to the car that addresses these points, most of which are easy to fix. Nevertheless, as it is none of these issues are dealbreakers, most cars have similar drawbacks and in general they could be worked around with familiarity. This leaves the H9’s interior as entirely workable and comfortable, if not luxurious.
Performance, ride and handling
Around town: The H9 is an easy car to drive around town. Visibility is good all round, and we particularly like the big wingmirrors which are reminiscent of the Pajero. The two-litre petrol turbo is responsive and quiet provided it doesn’t work too hard, although even around the ‘burbs the car is a touch under-powered. Handling is not sharp, as is often the case with this class of vehicle, but it’s good enough. The ride is very comfortable with the exception of the way the car deals with mid-sized bumps such the small ledges when a pothole has been fixed – here we find the suspension momentarily struggles to maintain composure due to poor mid-speed damper rates, but the inherent balance of the car ensures the disruption is more felt than actual. The six-speed automatic is intelligent, the engine is quiet and the overall experience could even be described as quietly smooth – it is easy to forget how fast you’re traveling. One minor annoyance is a slight vibration when moving off (possibly specific to this vehicle, and perhaps tailshaft related) and the change to second gear isn’t as smooth or quick as it might be. There is an Auto HOLD feature which applies the electronic parkbrake at rest, and automatically releases it when the car moves off. This is useful for stop-start traffic, but is irritatingly noisy in operation. There is the now-obligatory waste of space that is an Eco mode too. The H9 has quite a number of idiosyncrasies. One is that when the low fuel light comes on you get a big warning on the dash and there’s no way we found to acknowledge the warning and go back to the odometer or anything else. Another is that the reverse camera takes a fraction to long to come on line after you select reverse, and it stays on after you select drive. Headlights are good, with adaptive lights that “look” around corners at low speeds.
On the open road: There is a sport mode but that doesn’t do much other than change shift points. It does not transform the H9 into an X5, but that’s ok, that’s not what the car is about. Handling is, for this class of car, absolutely fine and the automatic does a very good job of maximising what little power it has, but there will be regular occasions when you’ll be wanting more grunt than the 160kW available.
You can take control of the gears yourself via paddleshifts or by moving the gearshift, which is unfortunately one of those still retaining the push forwards-shift up method rather than pull back. The HAVAL is also the only paddle shift car I have ever driven where you cannot tug on the paddles to quickly change up or down a gear when in normal Drive mode, you need to flick the shifter across to manual mode and then you can change gears yourself. This isn’t a huge problem, but it is another HAVAL idiosyncrasy.
The ride is quite acceptable for a 7-seater medium off-roader – expect competent progress rather than rewarding precision.
The H9 has two modes for driving onroad – 2H and Auto. In 2H mode the car is a rear-drive only, in Auto mode it is mostly rear-drive but sends torque to the front wheels when appropriate, which the computers mostly seem to think is when pulling away or going around corners and that’s fine. These modes are similar to Mitsubishi’s Super Select (which is explained here) and the 2H mode is equally pointless, there’s no appreciable fuel saving or handling improvement. The only real advantage would be is if for some reason off-road you specifically wanted to put the car in rear-drive, for example to spin up the rear tyres to pivot it around the front axle, which I had to do on test after getting rather sideways on a steep slope thanks to locking the front wheels because the computer had decided to drop the torque to 0% – explained further in the off-road section below.
If you drive the car in Auto at cruise it will, after a while, switch itself to 2H and chime to let you know. Thanks HAVAL, but please delete this feature, it’s pointless and irritating.
Overall, the H9 is a fine country cruiser, it’ll get you to where you need to go in quietly relaxed comfort. The ride is generally good, the cabin ambience is pleasing, and there are all the usual features like split-cycle aircon, a good sound system and effective cruise control. Dirt roads: The H9 is better on dirt roads than bitumen. The all-wheel drive system delivers assured traction, the stability control rarely interferes and when it does, it’s subtle and effective. The chassis is composed, and the suspension delivers a comfortable ride.
Offroad: Let’s do the summary first for those that don’t wish to read the detail.
The HAVAL H9 is a very capable offroad vehicle and is capable of tackling touring 4WD trails. It is somewhere between Pajero and Prado for offroad capability, and far more capable than the single-range plastic-fantastic tryhard SUVs that litter the market.
Now to the detail.
The H9 has 2WD, Auto, 4H and 4Low modes, and the transmission is a BorgWarner TOD (Torque On Demand) system that uses a clutch rather than a centre differential. The 2H mode is rear-drive only, the Auto mode is nominally rear drive but will vary torque up to 50:50 front/rear. Confusingly, the torque split readout in the H9 will go up to 90%, but that means it’s 90% of 50%, not that only 10% of the torque is going to the rear. There is no way to manually lock the driveshaft to 50/50 front/rear. The snow mode doesn’t do much more than deaden the throttle response.
The 4H mode just biases a bit more torque to the front wheels than Auto, and 4Low is the same as 4H except it seems to send even more torque to the front wheels and you get a 2.48 reduction ratio.
Our first off-road test was a steepish downhill. Engine braking is not great – the crawl ratio is 44:1, not bad, but with a 2.2 tonne kerb weight and only a 2L four-cylinder petrol engine, on steep downhills, you’ll need to rely more on the brakes than usual for a car of this nature. Nevertheless, it’s far from unworkable, just not class-leading. There is an electronic hill descent control (HDC) system but that only works between 8 and 35km/h, whereas the latest ones are down to a very useful 2km/h. The HDC target speed is set by the driver using brakes and accelerator. The owner’s manual claims HDC only works on a 50% grade, which is 22.5 degrees – we suspect they mean 45 degrees which is a 100% grade, as there is a similar claim saying the car can only climb a 50% grade, but we did 35 degrees on one track according to the car’s own inclinometer.
What helps the car in any off-road situation is the suspension, which is very well set up for low-speed off-roading, able to damp out low-speed bumps and flex quite impressively for an independent front vehicle, not just total suspension travel but suppleness with it, and a good front-rear weight balance too. Underneath, everything is tucked up well but the front bashplate, although metal, looks a little lightweight and it was bent from a previous test.
On the subject of clearance the sidesteps are a problem, far too wide and low. Experienced off-roaders dispose of such things before the first outing, but in the case of the H9 the steps form part of the lower body, and are wired for lights. That means removing them may make the car look unsightly, so we didn’t try, but serious offroaders are definitely going to need to solve this problem. The ground clearance is also just 185mm (see note at specs above), a poor figure for the class of car but it’s not as bad as it seems because the low point is near the front left wheel not in the centre and there’s a bashplate to slide on.
Sidesteps aside, the H9 has two recovery points at the front and one at the rear, plus a full-sized alloy spare which means it has the basics necessary for off-roading.
In low-range torque and power delivery is above average. The petrol turbo can feel underpowered on the open road, but the magic of torque multiplication via the transfer case means it is never short for urge in low-range work, and the throttle responsiveness is just right. Visibility is good too.
The H9 is also blessed with a superb, modern traction control system which works almost off idle and is highly effective, allowing the vehicle to almost idle its way out of cross-axle situations. That, combined with the suspension and gearing means the H9 is the real deal off-road and has very serious off-road capability. There is also a switch to turn stability control off, and this really does turn stability control right off. That said, it’s Bosch’s version 9 of the electronics which is very good, so stability control kicks in only when it has to and does only the minimum. Still, you’d want stability control turned off entirely for most off-road situations. Unfortunately, it comes back on when you exceed around 80km/h.
The owner’s manual says that that traction control is also disabled with stability control. This is demonstrably false – but the answer is probably that engine traction control is disabled, and brake traction control is left active (explanation here).
The H9 also has a rear cross-axle locking differential. When you press the button the dash tells you it has engaged instantly, which is a first for me as mostly such systems need a little bit of wheel rotation and then the lock is complete. It seems that HAVAL have missed a stage on the indicators – it should be “Diff lock requested”, then “Diff lock activated”, much like they have with the range changes. We know this because once “locked” there was a little bit of rotation on the rear wheels before the lock came in. Also, if you lock the diff and then drive in a circle there will be no tyre screech, no indication the diff is locked. That said, it will lock up when it needs to, and once locks, stays locked. The rear locker is also, according to the centre display screen, called an EGD or Electronic Giroscopic Differential. No, I don’t know what that means either.
When the vehicle is in Auto mode the locker will be engaged automatically, the rest of the time it is manually engaged. It also appears that traction control on the front axle is disengaged, which is not good. However, as usual these days, traction control on all four wheels tends to work better than a locked rear diff and no traction control on the front diff, so it’s not a big loss. The fact the H9 has a rear locker is still a major plus for those situations where it’s needed, such as high-traction rocky climbs.
But it’s not all good news. In low range and 4H mode there are occasions when insufficient torque is sent to the front wheels. An example is a failed hill climb – up you go, and there’s a goodly amount of torque at the front wheels. If you stop, it’s still all good. But put the car into reverse and the torque drops to 0% instead of maintaining at least say 30%. And that is deadly.
The reason is that with the torque split to the front at 0% you can easily lock the front wheels because like any car the H9 is front-brake-biased, and there’s very little weight on the front wheels compared to the rear. This means the front wheels can lock, losing you steering capability, and the rear wheels rotate – the end result being to potentially slip the front wheels sideways and then you’re risking a roll. We tried a few tricks to encourage the computers to apportion torque where it should go, but nothing worked consistently. Driving through the brakes (left foot on brake, increase throttle to move) didn’t work as it seems the torque split is run off wheel rotation.
The second problem with this poor torque split is hill starts. With front-wheel torque at 0, starting on a hill means a momentary rear wheelspin and then torque is sent to the front wheels. It only takes about half a second, but that’s enough for a rear spin and in dicey situations that half second is far too long.
There is a upside to having the car vary torque/front rear and that is maneuverability. The H9’s turning circle of 12.1m is pretty much maintained even in low range.
Every time we switched drive modes eg. from 4H to 4L the H9 did so first time without fault or question. This sounds like something odd to praise, but today many 4WDs almost need you to get out the prayer mat before they agree to a range change. There was also no overheating, no fuss, and a general air of predictable robustness which is what you want from an off-road vehicle.
The tyres are also a plus. They are 265/65/17 which is a very common 4WD size, and Cooper Discoverer HTS albeit in passenger not light-truck construction, a much better off-road and dirt tyre than most and a choice HAVAL should be applauded for.
Touring: As a tourer the HAVAL H9 would work well as a comfortable distance cruiser, with a pretty decent amount of space. Because tare weight is 2250kg and GVM only 2850kg you have only a 600kg payload which is a bit average even by the relatively low wagon standards. There are front and rear recovery points, the spare is a full-size alloy and there is plenty of off-road capability.
Counting against the vehicle is the reliance on 95RON premium petrol, and while an 80L fuel tank would be acceptable for a frugal diesel with the turbo petrol range is likely to be in the order of 500km with a touring load offroad, less when working hard. However, HAVAL tell us that the odd tank of 91RON won’t do the car any harm, and they run one of their cars on 91 exclusively with no ill effects. You could expect a slight power loss, and there’s not much power to lose either.
The aftermarket is also unlikely to embrace the car and offer much in the way of accessories, but HAVAL are interested in options. I’d want suspension, cargo barrier and bullbar, followed quickly by a snorkel.
The spare release is also praiseworthy. It is uncovered by opening the rear door, and is set into the rear bumper. This means the spare can be lowered without needing to unload the back of the vehicle. I wouldn’t like to say that engineers who put the release in the floor of cargo areas should go to hell, but a light toasting for their sins would be appropriate and it is good to see HAVAL has avoided what is a common error.
Towing: We did not tow with the H9 but the stats are 750kg unbraked, and 2500kg braked which is at the low end of the class. The vehicle is not really powerful enough for bigger trailers anyway, although the all-wheel drive system and general handling would be up to the task. The front axle load rating is 1400kg and the rear 1800kg, combined to make 3200kg, a long way over the 2850kg GVM.
The GCM is 5350kg which is, handily, the sum of the GVM of 2850kg and the max tow of 2500kg. This means that technically the car may be able to tow its maximum of 2500kg with a reasonable (compared to its peers) payload of 350kg (600kg – 250kg towball mass) subject to the axle loads being within limits. There is no trailer stability control, and we’re at the stage where we can mention that as negative as opposed to praising cars that have it.
The owner’s manual states that the “static vertical load on the connecting points” is 100kg, so that’s your maximum towball mass. This is insufficient for an Australian-designed 2500kg trailer. The manual also states that the maximum tow speed should be 100km/h.
The towbar kit is $1000 fitted at dealers. Here are the attachment points:
The summary here is that if you intend on towing more than say 1300kg then the H9 is not your car.
The H9 has all the basic safety gear – stability control, lots of airbags and here at least they cover all three rows, good on HAVAL for that. There is also all wheel drive, front and rear park sensors plus a good camera. There is also a very useful tyre pressure monitoring system (TPMS) which can save you money or even a crash by telling you when your tyre pressures are low, and there’s a hill start assist function.
The second-row seatbelts are height adjustable, there’s two ISOFIX points on the outboard seats, and three sensibly located tethers. The interior mirror has three seatbelt warning lights for the second row so you can see if any passengers are not wearing their belts.
The car also apparently has a fatigue detector which works off steering, braking and other control inputs above 80km/h, and after the car has been driving for at least 10 minutes. We have no real idea how effective this is – it at least didn’t come up with any false positives under test, unlike other systems.
If the EPB is applied you cannot drive off unless the driver’s seat belt is on, and you cannot start the car unless your foot is on brake. This is common these days, but not every car has such features. There are the usual warning chimes about seatbelts and the like.
There is no advanced safety equipment like AEB or lane departure warning, but that should be coming in a newer version of the car.
The H9 hasn’t been ANCAP rated yet but HAVAL Australia have repeatedly said they are very confident of a 5-star rating, having already tested the H9 to ANCAP standards at their headquarters. Assuming the 5 star rating is granted, then the H9 would be a bit above average for its class with some of its safety gear, but will quickly need the advanced safety features to keep up with its competitors.
Then we come to the parking modes. Whenever you select reverse a disembodied voice invites you to select the parking mode which is either angle or parallel. I thought this would be electronic parking where you let go of the steering wheel, which given the steering is not electric would have been a surprise. Instead, you get the voice describing the guidance lines on the screen and telling you what to line up where. Frankly this is a total waste of time and HAVAL are better off deleting the feature entirely as it is confusing to use, and leads people to think it’s actual electronic park assist when it’s not. That said, the rear view camera and guidelines are good if you ignore the “assistance” provided by the car, and as well as a camera there’s front and rear parking sensors, something not often seen at this price point.
Pricing & Equipment
There’s just two grades of H9, both with the same four-cylinder turbo petrol 6-speed automatic. Our tester is the lower spec Premium for $46,490 plus onroad costs. Here’s some of the specification highlights:
- Keyless entry
- 8″ touchscreen and satnav
- Side mirror defroster
- Triple zone aircon
- Driver condition monitoring
- Reversing camera with guidelines
- Tyre pressure monitoring system
- Electric parkbark with auto-hold
- Rear differential lock
The Lux for $50,990 adds:
- 265/65/18 wheels (not good for offroaders, stick with the 265/65/17s on the Lux)
- Leather, heated, cooled, electric and massaging seats with memory
- Second row power seats
- Third row power seats
- All terrain control system (Auto, Sport, Sand, Snow, Mud)
- Improved audio
Usually at this point I write something about the up spec model not being worth the cash, but for another $5k the extras may well be worth it for some people. Without testing the “all terrain control system” I cannot be sure, but considerable experience elsewhere indicates the vehicle would be only marginally more capable with such a system and it would make no difference to 99% of owners 99% of the time.
There is one option, a rear DVD $1500 which I never recommend buyers take up. Get a couple of cheap tablets and rear headrest mounts instead and watch media on those.
The warranty is bit above average; 5 year 100,000km and 5 years of complimentary national 24/7 roadside assistance. Maybe that lays to rest some concerns over quality.
All this leaves the HAVAL H9 as offering very good value compared to other seven-seat SUVs that are offroad-capable. It is beaten on price and features only by softroaders that don’t offer anywhere near the offroad capability and are generally smaller, or are even only 2WD. The H9 can and should be compared to the likes of offroad wagons like the Pajero, Pajero Sport, Prado, Everest, MU-X and Fortuner. When you do so it comes off well for value.
There are presently four HAVAL dealers in Australia – Berwick HAVAL, King’s HAVAL in Geelong, Lansvale HAVAL in Sydney and Autostrada HAVAL.
When we test offroad vehicles we do so out on real-world tracks. There’s me to drive and photograph, and at least two helpers to track build, spot and recover if necessary with their own cars which are touring-modified 4X4s. So here’s some more opinions:
Ian Salmon, experienced off-roader, spotter-in-chief and lunch-break enforcer
Some days you go out for a drive in a new car and you have preconceived ideas of what it will be like. You may have a prejudice because of who the manufacturer is or where it came from. This could be based on past experience or discussions with other people. Isn’t it a delight when that vehicle turns out to be a complete Surprise Packet and makes you realise the truth in the old saying “don’t judge a book by its cover”?
Enter the HAVAL H9. A Chinese offering that looks like a Kluger and makes you look for similarities to other vehicles that could have been copied for the production of this car. I was not expecting much from the HAVAL and the first hill we drove seemed to justify that expectation.
The suspension set up consists of a five link rear axle and unequal upper and lower control arms at the front. Coil springs and good sized shock absorbers are on each corner of the ladder frame chassis. Good ground clearance – 200mm, and the first surprise – excellent Cooper tyres suggested that there may be some off road capability with this “Premium SUV”. As we entered the state forest I watched the dust collect on the tailgate of the HAVAL and wondered about the wind tunnel testing for the rear screen wind deflector, obviously not done as the tailgate quickly became covered and visibility was reduced to the side mirrors. We tackled a moderately steep downhill section with little difficulty but the return trip uphill was another story. We were starting to learn about the traction control system and the electronically controlled rear differential as the vehicle struggled to gain traction up a rather loose gravel section. Three wheels spinning and no forward progress meant stopping, reversing back and having another attempt on a different line. As the brakes were applied the front wheels locked up letting the vehicle slide backwards and the front slewed sideways making the sphincter muscle go into overdrive!! Very uncomfortable, where was the lock on the centre differential to prevent this happening? Several attempts to negotiate this obstacle failed so we turned around and went in search of other challenges.
Whilst driving another hill we used the drive through the brakes technique to overcome the front wheel locking problem. As Robert moved us around to get the best possible pictures we checked the multi-function screen in the centre of the dash and discovered a screen that showed front torque distribution, roll and pitch angles, tyre pressure and temperatures and many other handy bits of data. To our surprise, we found that if we drove up a hill, stopped then started to reverse, the torque split showed 0% – no wonder we had trouble with the front wheels locking! After several attempts to perfect this manoeuvre safely, the computer seemed to “learn” what was required and the torque split didn’t drop below 40%. From then on the car behaved well and we gained confidence in its ability. The rear differential lock didn’t work as we would expect a mechanical or air locker to operate, rather it would allow some rotation of one wheel until it determined that no forward movement was happening and then the diff became locked very effectively.
A track with high side angle but hard rock surface was the next challenge that was attempted. An amusing icon came up on the dash screen warning us that the “Slope is Huge”! Roll angle was around 30° at this stage. Further up the track the pitch angle equalled the roll angle and I drove onto the left side of the track to level the vehicle and straddle the rut at the base of the rock face. The HAVAL handled this with ease and I was able to proceed up the hill with no problem at all. Subsequent rock ledges were also negotiated with no difficulty at all. I was able to reverse back down the hill, crawl over any rock obstacle and even when deliberately setting the car in a cross axle situation, it drove off effortlessly. I was enjoying driving this car very much and it was a pity that we didn’t have time to go back to the first hill where we had problems to drive it again with the benefit of a day’s experience and an increase in knowledge of the vehicle’s capabilities. The engine provided smooth power and torque at all times in low range that more than met the needs of the tracks that were driven. Some other testers noted that it was a little light on for power on the highway. Quite a large SUV for a 2.0 litre turbocharged 4 cylinder petrol engine.
To conclude, I would recommend the HAVAL H9 as a very competent off road 4 wheel drive. It inspired more confidence the longer you drove it and it is hard to see too many situations that would be difficult for an experienced driver to handle.
Juliette Remfrey, novice off-roader and noted lover of Japanese cars
The H9 is an unexpected surprise. I’ll admit, like most I’ve spoken to about the car I wasn’t excited about the prospect of spending a week and a bit with a Chinese 4WD. That’s the same sort of bias I had against Korean cars less than five years ago but would now happily own one and would even choose one over the closest Japanese equivalent. So onto the HAVAL. I jumped into it thinking it was a bit of a ‘meh’ car; inoffensive to the eye but not jaw-droppingly beautiful to look at inside or out. It also felt a bit lacking for power from the get-go, a bit fidgety on-road, so I was sure I wouldn’t warm to the car. But I have as it does quite a lot of things well.
Firstly the interior – the fit and finish is very good. There are some shiny plastics which I despise (fingerprints!), but overall everything is well-placed for the driver and user-friendly. While some of the controls are accessed through the infotainment system, a lot are physical dials which I like. Less distraction for the driver, muscle memory has your hand placed in the correct spot without taking your eyes off the road. Unfortunately the infotainment system, while generally very easy to navigate through the menus and setup the Bluetooth becomes absolutely impossible to read from the driver’s seat with sun glare, which is a real shame. The problem also extends to the off/on indication lights on the buttons – you simply cannot see them in sunlight, they are too dim. This seemed to be a problem on more drives than not. The navigation system is a little tricky to work out how to use the first time but once you’ve got it right there’s sufficient detail. There’s also some lost-in translation Engrish to be found in the menus of the infotainment system, but it’s minor and will make you smile rather than leaving you scratching your head as to its meaning.
The seats are nice and comfortable for a longer trip and the seating position and general visibility is fantastic. At no point did I have trouble seeing the end of the longish bonnet, out of the side-windows or rear and was generally impressed with how easy it was to guide the largish vehicle through tight spaces. The reversing camera when you’re not contending with sun glare is good, with moving guidelines. Don’t bother with the parking ‘assistance’. The cabin is also well insulated from outside noise – I guess one of the points HAVAL would use to push their notion that it’s a ‘premium’ SUV. It’s a comfortable place to be, no doubt, but it’s really a stretch to slap it with the tag premium given premium SUVs in Australia refer to the likes of Land Rover, Mercedes, BMW, Audi and others – and in no way is the HAVAL on par with offerings from the premium SUV manufacturers, but nor should it be given its price point. Drop ‘premium’ and its country of manufacture from the marketing spiels and allow the car to be judged for what it actually is – an affordable SUV with genuine offroad capability.
While it lacks for power on higher speed overtakes, in general suburban driving it isn’t really noticeable or problematic. Being a petrol with a moderate sized tank and high fuel consumption (it’s lugging around a lot of weight, 2250kg is about average for its size) then range is limited to around 600km between fills of the 80L tank. The automatic transmission is fantastic at utilising the power from the engine and for the most part goes about its business without fuss. You will feel some of the down changes more pronounced at low speeds. The power output feels adequate offroad, and again the transmission does a great job left in Drive or manually selected. Dirt road stability, even in 2WD is very impressive with the electronic aids not needing to intervene too often and when they do, not too intrusively. The brakes are adequate on and offroad. One qualm about applying even slight brake pressure with some steering angle is that the hazard lights are activated. It’s not really unnerving for the driver, as most of the time when they come on the car is not the least bit out of shape, but might be unsettling for anyone following you.
If you’re in the market for a medium-sized SUV capable of comfortably seating 7 or practically transporting gear with the desire for some offroad play time, rather than walking past and dismissing it, give it a test drive. The H9 offers quality value-for-money motoring and it’ll be interesting to watch HAVAL continue to develop as their first foray into the Australian market is a positive one.