Car reviews - Haval - H9 - range
Better price positioning, loaded with equipment, interior space, flexible eight-speed transmission, genuine off-road capability
Room for improvement
Below average fit and finish, no diesel option, uprated petrol engine still lacking punch, lack of smartphone integration (for now), no autonomous emergency braking (yet)
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23 Jan 2018
By TUNG NGUYEN
WHEN Haval Motors Australia launched its Toyota LandCruiser Prado-baiting H9 large SUV in 2016, it landed with a whimper rather than a bang.
Haval has managed to find just 99 new homes since release, trailing its smaller and cheaper siblings the H6 mid-size SUV and H2 compact crossover.
Since then however, the Chinese car-maker has been hard at work listening to feedback from customers and media, and the company is looking to address much of the criticism in this year’s new update.
More power from the turbocharged petrol engine, more standard equipment across the range, more road presence thanks to a new-look front, and a lower price point make the H9 more appealing than before.
Are the changes enough for customers to take another look at the Haval H9 or should they still stick to the established seven-seat SUV fare?
Haval has not had an easy time entering into Australia’s mature car market in the last few years with the Chinese car-maker experiencing product delays and price drops as it fights against consumer preconceptions.
Its flagship model, the H9 large seven-seat SUV, is the first of its launch models to receive an update, taking on board and addressing many of the criticisms levelled at the crossover when it was released in 2016.
The updated H9 can be easily distinguished from its predecessor thanks to a new-look five-slot grille that gives the big SUV a more imposing road presence.
A slightly redesigned lower air intake and new foglights help round out the exterior changes, while the entry-level variant now also gains 18-inch wheels as standard.
However, the biggest change likely to get new customers on board is the drop in price with the range now kicking off at $40,990 before on-roads for the Lux and $44,990 for the Ultra – a saving of $5500 and $6000 respectively over the outgoing H9 equivalent grades.
Driveaway pricing only adds another $1000 to the cost at launch, which will net buyers a feature-packed large seven-seat SUV with a generously endowed equipment list will shame the standard specification of most cars double the price.
At the base spec, the H9 is packed with a sunroof, leather steering wheel with shifter paddles, stainless steel scuff plates, 10-speaker sound system, 8.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system with satellite navigation and tri-zone climate control, as well as safety features such as lane departure warning, blind spot monitoring, reversing camera, and front and rear parking sensors.
Opting for the top-spec Ultra variant nets even more goodies including heating function for the steering wheel, front seats and second-row pews, ventilated and massing front seats, electrically controlled third row seats, uprated sound system and faux-leather interior.
Of note though, is no autonomous emergency braking or forward collision warning even as an option on either grade. Haval is promising the active safety technologies will come later this year though, but why not wait for the systems to become available before launching the updated H9?While we liked the large central touchscreen and found that our phone paired quickly and painlessly to the system, we noticed a few quirks that, while being far from deal-breakers, did catch our attention.
Most notably, the satellite navigation voice seems to have been enrolled in the same speech school as Doctor Who’s Daleks, blasting stilted machine monotone instructions from the speakers.
The system also prompts you when selecting gears on start-up, like before, but this time shuts up after the initial voice-over.
Smartphone mirroring has not yet made its way into a Haval model, but the brand is promising Apple CarPlay and Android Auto in an update in the near future.
The inclusion of a large digital instrumentation display is also a nice upmarket touch, able to show readouts including vehicle information and speed, while gauges flanking the screen convey revs and fuel level.
In our opinion, some of the interior could use a little more time in the polish department with some of the plastic surfaces feeling cheap and hard.
Unavoidable when building a car to a price, but more soft-touch materials throughout would not go astray.
We also noticed that the top seat-belt holder in the second row pews was coming away from its position in our test car.
We’d hope that the family-friendly H9 would have worn more rugged interior finishes to withstand the barrage of children likely to trudge in and out of the second and third rows, but our observation doesn’t inspire us with confidence that the cabin can withstand a prolonged onslaught.
Space though, is not lacking in the 4856mm long, 1962mm wide and is 1900mm tall large SUV.
Up front, occupants are treated to a cavernous cabin with ample storage pockets in the doors and centre console for phones, keys, water bottles, wallets and anything else.
The second row seats are also suitably spaced with pews featuring a reclining and sliding function to find the best position. Even in seats six and seven, we found our 185cm frame tucked nicely in the third row with more-than-average room and we were pleasantly surprised to even find a bottle holder and air-con vents.
Sampling the new H9 at Melbourne’s 4x4 Training and Proving Ground near Werribee, the new Haval easily impresses with its off-road credibility, able to tackle some of the steepest and most rugged terrain with ease.
Equipment such as a BorgWarner transfer case, rear differential lock and multi-mode All-Terrain Control System are standard over both variants, helping the H9 writhe and twist its way over uneven trails and steep ascents with relative ease.
Hill-descent control works especially well for stomach-churning declines, and with a ground clearance of 206mm, a 28 degree approach angle, 23 degree departure angle and 700mm wading depth, the cheap and cheerful H9 is able to keep up with some of its pricier rivals over some serious rough stuff.
More power and torque from the turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol (now 180kW/350Nm up from 160kW/324Nm) also helps, but a lack of diesel offering – and its grunty low-down torque characteristics – is a serious omission that will likely keep the H9 off some prospective buyers radars.
Fuel economy has also dropped to 10.9 litres per 100km, but consumption is still higher than some of the H9’s diesel-powered rivals.
On the black-top, the engine can feel a little undercooked while working hard to push over two tonnes of metal. A Sports mode helps, but the engine can become irritatingly noisy in higher revs.
Our advice is to keep in in Auto mode and just sink back into the plush and comfortable chair to enjoy the 10.8 second 0-100km/h. A sporting SUV, the H9 is not.
Making more of a difference – on-road and off – is the H9’s new eight-speed ZF-sourced automatic transmission which smartly switches gears and can even hold them for slow-speed rock crawling or red-line upshifting.
We’d have liked the steering and suspension to be more communicative for a more engaging on-road experience, but inputs are responsive enough and stray more towards the comfort side of the spectrum rather than the dynamic.
Overall though, the new Haval H9 puts forward a compelling large SUV case, if not quite the critical success the Chinese car-maker needs right now.
The lack of a diesel powertrain is a serious dent in its armour, but for customers looking for a value-packed, off-road capable, seven-seat family hauler, the Haval H9 should not be overlooked.
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