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Future models - Haval - H2

First drive: Haval's little H2 thinks big

Space ship: The Haval H2 might be a Chinese compact SUV, but it has big-car rear-seat space.

Chinese Haval H2 compact SUV loaded with goodies to win hearts and minds

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Haval logo24 Apr 2015

By RON HAMMERTON in BEIJING

GREAT WALL'S burgeoning Haval SUV brand has equipped its new compact H2 with a luxury-car-style multi-link rear suspension and other high-end technologies as its sets out to gain traction in export markets, including Australia.

The Nissan Qashqai-sized H2 will be one of two Chinese-made Haval models to kick off the upmarket Great Wall Motors SUV brand's Australian launch in June, together with the one-size bigger H8.

The range will be fleshed out by the all-terrain H9 flagship in July and mid-sized urban H6 Coupe in December or January, with at least two more models – the next-generation H1 mini SUV and newly released H7 hybrid – expected to follow over the next year or so.

While China's top-selling SUV brand is owned by Great Wall, the Haval range will attempt to carve out a more esteemed position in the Australian marketplace than the Great Wall ute range.

And the factory owned Australian arm will not hide its Chinese origins, proudly displaying its “China's No.1 SUV brand” slogan in communications.

The H2 has been on the market in China only a matter of months, and has already soared to number three position in SUV sales, two spots behind its bigger sibling, the market-leading Haval H6.

H2 pricing has not yet been set for Australia, but the lower of two specifications planned for H2 is expected to kick off about $23,000-$24,000 for the 4x2 version with a six-speed manual gearbox, rising to the high $20,000s for the upper 4x2 spec.

A dual-clutch six-speed automatic transmission adds $2000, with a 4x4 drivetrain costing $3000.

The pricing is higher that some rivals such as the Holden Trax and Ford EcoSport, but once equipment and engineering sophistication is taken into account, the H2 gets more interesting.

Pitched as a premium compact SUV, H2 will come loaded with upmarket items such ambient lighting in a choice of colours, rear parking sensors, sunroof, heated seats, rear-view camera, sat-nav, electric parking brake, keyless start and climate control on all variants, as well as surprisingly sophisticated underpinnings such as multi-link rear suspension and – theoretically – a five-star crash safety rating.

Armed with a modern in-house-developed turbo-charged 1.5-litre direct-injected engine producing 110kW of power and 210Nm of torque, the H2 is – on paper at least – keeping right up with the Japanese and Korean Joneses that it plans to emulate.

The H2 test car that we sampled in teaser drive at Haval's factory Tianjin, between Shanghai and Beijing, was satisfactory rather than spirited.

The test area was so confined that we could not even get out of second gear in the manual-equipped car that also was so new it still had the protective plastic on the seats, so judgement is best reserved for a proper spin once the Australian-spec version lands in a few months.

We can tell you this: the engine fell in a torque-lag hole on the up change before gathering a head of steam again.

The dual-clutch transmission that will arrive in Australia showrooms in July might help to iron out that wrinkle by keeping the engine better on the boil, but as we did not get to sample that version, we can only speculate.

And ditto for the ride and handling, as the best we could manage was about 60km/h on billiard-table-smooth paved test area for newly built cars. That's sad, as we would have like to full stretch the all-independent suspension that, apart from the multi-link rear has Macpherson struts up the front.

Superficially, the H2's two biggest pluses are its handsome styling inside and out, and its spacious interior that is helped by a generous 1814mm overall body width.

Soft-touch plastics and leather abound, balanced with a mix of piano black and metallic finishes that add bling in a cultured way. The doors are light but shut with a satisfying thunk.

Rear-seat legroom is particularly generous – better than some mid-sized sedans – with adequate width and headroom for two big adults or three kids. The rear seat folds 60/40 too.

On the downside, entry and exit from the back seat is a little tight, and the luggage area is a touch cramped, but that is partly because the raised boot floor accommodates a full-sized spare wheel underneath.

Speaking of wheels, Haval has equipped the H2 with big 18-wheel alloys wearing 235/55 tyres, helping to engender solid proportions.

The steering wheel is leather clad, but like the leather on the seats on the H2's premium variant, the leather is a little hard to the touch (but could be extra durable, too)Beyond that, the fit and finish is right on the money, with none of the tragic uneven gaps, loose stitching and orange-peel paint of previous generations of Chinese cars. And these cars we checked were production vehicles straight off the assembly line and bound for Chinese customers.

Safety will be a strong point according to Haval, with six airbags and all the necessary electronic nanny technologies to give a five-star NCAP rating a good run.

Apart from leather, the upper spec H2 will gain items such as blind-spot warning, active front headrests, idle stop and more.

Haval says its H2 will not only be well-equipped but considerably better value than rivals, making for a compelling pitch.

Time will tell, but clearly Great Wall has made a solid start in what amounts to a renaissance under its new Haval SUV flag.

The company made the mistake of foisting under-cooked vehicles on the Australian market before, and it is investing billions to ensure the mistake is not repeated.

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