Car reviews - Haval - H9
Generous specification, solid interior fit and finish, good ride comfort, quiet cabin, decent off-road chops
Room for improvement
Underpowered and thirsty petrol engine, tippy handling, unrefined infotainment, Haval brand somewhat of an unknown quantity
Haval’s H9 large SUV is a cut-price Toyota LandCruiser Prado
17 Jan 2019
Chinese SUV specialist Haval arrived in Australia in late 2015, keen to get a slice of the increasingly lucrative SUV market that is continuously growing in Australia.
Its largest offering was the H9, which aimed to steal some of the market share from the perennially popular Toyota LandCruiser Prado with the promise of greater value for money.
At the start of 2018, Haval took into account customer feedback to fine-tune the H9, making improvements to handling, performance and equipment.
Does the H9 have what it takes to muscle into the segment dominated by the venerable Prado?
Price and equipment
The Haval H9 comes in two specification levels – entry-level Lux and top-spec Ultra – the latter of which we took out for a week of testing.
Checking in at $44,990 plus on-roads, the H9 presents a lucrative proposition value-wise, and as the top-spec offering is able to undercut or come near the price of other base-level competitors such as the Prado GX auto ($56,490), Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo ($47,500), Kia Sorento Si petrol 2WD ($42,990), Mazda CX-9 Sport FWD ($44,990), Mitsubishi Pajero GLX ($53,990), Ford Everest Ambiente ($47,990) and Holden Acadia LT 2WD ($43,490). The recently-introduced SsangYong Rexton EX range-opener is cheaper at $39,990 driveaway, however the top-spec Ultimate still asks $52,990.
One of the H9’s biggest strengths is its generous equipment levels, especially when considering its price.
The Ultra scores a number of luxurious features including 18-inch alloy wheels, a panoramic sunroof, heated steering wheel, heated first- and second-row seats with ventilation and massage function for the front seats, an upgraded sound system, tri-zone climate control, adaptive front lighting, electrically folding third row seats, faux-leather interior, 8.0-inch colour touchscreen infotainment display and a colour digital instrument cluster display – the only Haval model to score this feature.
This is in addition to standard safety equipment including six airbags, blind-spot monitor, lane departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert, tyre pressure monitor, hill descent control, hill-hold assist and a driver status monitoring system. Autonomous emergency braking (AEB) is one notably absent technology.
Overall, the H9 Ultra is packed chock-full of specification, and one would be hard-pressed to find a vehicle with a more generous level of comfort and convenience features for the price.
From an equipment standpoint, it represents one of best value-for-money propositions on the market and can comfortably best most of its rivals in that department.
With its generous levels of equipment, the majority of the H9’s extra features can be found in its interior, which combine with a good fit and finish to give the Ultra a premium feel for a car around the $45,000 mark.
Most touchpoints are covered either in faux-leather or a wood-like trim, which while lacking in authenticity, still lifts the cabin and gives the impression of luxury. The three-colour adjustable ambient interior lighting is also an impressive inclusion.
With heating, cooling, massage function and lumbar support, the faux-leather seats are comfortable, and add to the generally comfortable ride quality of the H9. Few vehicles will come with such a full suite of comfort features for the price.
Head and legroom for both front and rear passengers is generous.
The H9 Ultra comes with an 8.0-inch touchscreen using Haval’s own multimedia system, and while the screen offers good size and resolution, the operating system is nowhere near as polished as the segment leaders.
Not only can it be laid out and organised more efficiently to aid ease of operation, the system suffers from a number of small idiosyncrasies that add up to make it a slightly frustrating experience.
The system is annoyingly difficult to operate – for example, finding different radio channels is a chore, and when streaming music from a phone or USB stick, when reversing the music turns off. There is nothing wrong with that – in fact it is a safety feature, however when you put the car back in drive, instead of resuming, the song plays again from the start.
It is little flaws like these that Haval need to iron out for its infotainment system to compete with the best the industry has to offer.
Under the screen sit the button clusters for operation of the multimedia and air-conditioning (which is a bit weak), finished in a cheap-looking grey plastic that undoes some of the premium feel brought by the leather upholstery.
The button clusters are also a bit cluttered, and could certainly be laid out more practically and ergonomically.
Glovebox, door bin and centre console storage are all generous, with the latter also featuring a phone charger.
The instrument cluster features an analogue tachometer and a digital cluster – one of the new features added from customer feedback – which houses the speedometer and an extensive number of other selectable readouts including things like pitch, yaw, wheel angle, torque distribution, coolant and transmission temperature, air pressure and elevation.
A large panoramic sunroof adds ambience to the interior, and can be fully covered or partially opened. It is another example of standard kit that would be a costly option with its competitors.
Second-row passengers are well looked after with a separate adjustable air-conditioning cluster and roof-mounted vents, 12V and USB charging ports, and a centre armrest with cupholders.
Two third-row seats can be electrically folded up or down with buttons both in the boot or behind the second-row seats.
Headroom is suitable for adults but legroom will only be comfortable for children or the vertically challenged, which is fairly standard for third-row seats in a large car.
One major flaw is when exiting the third-row seats, the second row only folds down on the driver’s side, which means egress always occurs on the side of the road.
Boot space with the rear pews folded is ample, but is essentially non-existent with all seats upright. Cupholders for rear passengers feature, as does a full 220V charging port in the boot.
Like the Prado, the H9 features a side-opening tailgate, which is useful for loading items but can be impractical in tight spaces.
A few sub-par touches give away the H9’s Chinese origins, but overall the interior is well-specified, luxurious and comfortable – especially for the price.
Engine and transmission
Powering the H9 is a 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder engine mated to an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission, driving all four wheels through a part-time four-wheel-drive system.
In a 2018 update, the ZF unit replaced the existing six-speed auto, while power output was increased from 160kW/324Nm to 180kW/350Nm. Power has been increased due to customer feedback, while the eight-speed is designed to improve fuel economy.
For the 2230kg H9, engine performance can be described as only just adequate. Power is suitable for normal, everyday driving, however if brisk acceleration is required, the large SUV struggles.
Once the car is up and moving it is relatively nimble, however acceleration off the line can only be described as sluggish.
The engine needs a second to wake up when sticking the boot in, however the eight-speed ZF generally does a commendable job of shifting smoothly.
It changes cogs intuitively and does a good job of keeping the little turbo-petrol mill from getting too stressed. It also helps keep the engine noise fairly low, especially when cruising at highway speeds.
As could be expected, the major downfall of the H9’s engine is its fuel economy. Over our week of testing we recorded a fuel economy figure of 13.3 litres per 100km across a range of driving conditions, up from the official figure of 10.9L/100km.
While the H9 sports a relatively large 80L fuel tank, the engine’s excessive thirst can be expected to turn off many potential customers.
Stating the obvious, the best thing Haval could do is introduce a slightly larger, torquey turbo-diesel engine which would go a long way to increasing sales in diesel-loving Australia.
An affordable and off-road-capable turbo-diesel SUV would instantly increase the H9’s appeal, especially to rural customers where diesel reigns supreme.
Not only would it improve the H9’s range and fuel economy, it would also potentially increase its towing capacity, which at 2500kg falls behind a number of competitors which sit around the 3000kg mark.
Looking at the sales splits of comparable offerings with diesel and petrol variants, we are convinced an oil-burner would do wonders for the H9 – and we suspect Haval Australia would feel the same.
Ride and handling
In the 2018 update, aftermarket specialist Ironman was tasked with tuning the H9’s suspension, with the result a ride quality fairly typical of large SUVs.
The H9’s size means it is able to blunt road imperfections well, and while ride quality could probably be a tad more supple, it still offers a comfortable and settled driving experience.
With its comfortable suspension calibration, on-road handling tended to suffer with a lot of body roll, feeling tall and wallowy especially on high-speed, winding country roads.
Steering is on the heavier side and made the H9 an easy car to pilot, however the tippy handling affected steering precision.
Noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels are noticeably good, with a quiet and comfortable in-cabin experience. At one point we noticed a brief rattle coming from the bonnet, however especially on highway roads the H9 is very quiet inside.
A brief off-road excursion left us impressed with the H9’s capabilities, aided by features such as low-range gearing, a locking rear differential, hill-descent control and a terrain response system with sand, snow and mud driving modes.
On uneven surfaces the suspension articulates well, keeping the vehicle level and soaking up bumps and rough patches with ease.
The H9 feels composed off-road, avoiding wheel slippage on steep surfaces and generally offering a feeling of composure.
One nuisance is the hill descent control feature, which dings loudly any time the vehicle detects any sort of wheel slippage, which becomes tiresome very quickly and can also unnerve passengers.
Overall the H9 offers a ride experience around what you would expect from a large SUV. It probably isn’t quite as polished as Japanese competitors on-road, however performs strongly off the tarmac and offers a quiet and comfortable driving experience.
Safety and servicing
When the H9 arrived in Australia in October 2015, it was awarded a four-star rating by the Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP), failing to secure a five-star mark due to a sub-par performance in the frontal offset test.
It also does not come with AEB, which if re-tested today would also disallow it from a five-star rating.
Standard safety equipment includes six airbags, blind-spot monitor, lane departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert, tyre pressure monitor, hill descent control, hill-hold assist and a driver status monitoring system.
All Haval vehicles come with a five-year/100,000 kilometre warranty, which also covers roadside assistance over the duration of the warranty.
Haval probably has not made the splash it was hoping to when it arrived in the Australian market, however it is not through a lack of trying.
The H9 is packed full of value with impressive levels of standard equipment, sharp pricing and a desire to give Aussie customers what they want, taking into account customer and media feedback to improve their vehicles.
There is certainly room in the Australian market for a vehicle like the H9, however having a 2.0-litre petrol mill as the sole engine choice really hurts its chance of success in a country where diesel is king.
To put it in perspective, Toyota deleted the 4.0-litre V6 from its Prado line-up in 2017, after only making up 1.2 per cent of overall sales. It is possible the sales split would be the same for Haval if a diesel were to be offered.
While the H9 is a flawed vehicle, it still drives fairly well, performs strongly off-road and is comfortable inside. For those with a large family who cannot stretch the budget for a Prado or one of the many ladder-frame, ute-based large SUVs, the H9 should be on the shopping list.
Toyota LandCruiser Prado GX auto from $56,490 plus on-roads
Sitting more than $10,000 adrift of the Haval, the Prado struggles to match its specification with a relatively short list of standard kit. However it is the best-selling model in the segment for a reason, with a comfortable ride, genuine off-road chops and a 2.8-litre turbo-diesel engine.
SsangYong Rexton ELX from $46,990 driveaway
Having launched in Australia at the end of 2018, the new ladder-frame SsangYong Rexton offers driveaway pricing and strong equipment levels for the price. It also features a 2.2-litre turbo-diesel engine and segment-leading 3500kg towing capacity.
Kia Sorento SI 2WD petrol from $42,990 plus on-roads
Kia’s Sorento seven seater is more comfortable on-road than many of its ladder-frame competitors, however loses the ability to go off the beaten track. In Si guise it comes with a petrol or turbo-diesel engine, with the front-drive 3.5-litre V6 the more affordable choice.
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