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Future models - Haval - H6 Coupe

First drive: Haval rises to the challenge with H6 Coupe

Hit for six: Haval’s H6 Coupe gets a spacious, well-designed interior in a mid-sized package.

China’s Great Wall pulls out all the stops in crafting its mid-sized Haval H6 Coupe

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Haval logo27 Apr 2015

By RON HAMMERTON

EMBLAZONED across the front wall of Great Wall Motors’ Haval-brand SUV factories in China is the slogan Improving Little By Little Every Day. But if the all-new Haval H6 Coupe medium SUV is any guide, the slogan could read Improving In Leaps And Bounds By The Minute. Built on an all-new monocoque platform with fully independent suspension and turbocharged 2.0-litre petrol and diesel engines, the H6 Coupe will be the last but newest of four Haval models to land in Australia this year under the new nameplate in a rollout starting in June.

With the same external dimensions as the top-selling Mazda CX-5 – give or take a few millimetres – the H6 Coupe is the result of a concerted effort by China’s biggest independent motor company to meet western vehicle-makers head-on in the biggest SUV market segment.

Chastened after struggling to find more than a toehold against the established global giants outside China, GWM has swallowed its pride and reinvented itself as an SUV brand under the Haval moniker, spending billions of dollars on new factories, research and design facilities and an army of well-credentialed western talent to mastermind the remake.

And in typical 21st century Chinese style, the effort has been both stunning in its size and pace.

The process has already proved a massive success in China in just a few years, with Haval products overtaking western-engineered vehicles such as the Volkswagen Tiguan, Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V in domestic sales. And this is in a land where domestic private consumers have invariably shown a pronounced leaning towards proven foreign brands.

Now the real test is about to start, with Haval exports underway to four markets – Australia, Russia, South Africa and South America – where GWM executives are hoping Haval can overcome Great Wall’s less-than-prestigious image among consumers.

If your idea of a Great Wall-produced SUV is the old-school X240 with a dated and sluggish Mitsubishi engine, truck chassis, hit-and-miss quality and a low NCAP safety rating, you might have to think again.

“All new” is a vastly overworked term in the motor industry, but the Haval 6 Coupe is just that when compared with anything previously sold by a Chinese company in this market.

It even gets a completely new architecture compared with the current Haval H6 wagon – China’s top-selling SUV – that itself is fairly sophisticated and not so old. Now, with a MacPherson strut front end and double-wishbone rear suspension, the latest H6 variant looks to be a match for similar mid-size SUVs from big-name western companies.

Power-wise, it is not shamed either. The surprisingly smooth 2.0-litre four-cylinder petrol engine bangs out 145kW of power and 315Nm of torque, shading the CX-5’s normally aspirated 2.0-litre petrol unit, at 114kW and 200Nm, and even hosing the bigger 2.5-litre Mazda engine (138Nm/250Nm).

A four-cylinder turbo-diesel will also be available, with 120kW and 350Nm – a little down on the CX-5’s 2.2-litre diesel that makes 129kW/420Nm.

And unlike some contenders in this segment, the diesel will be available with a six-speed automatic transmission right from the outset. Front-wheel drive will be standard, with all-wheel drive available for an extra $3000.

While a dual-clutch six-speed automatic transmission will be optional on the petrol variants for $2000 extra in Australia when the H6 Coupe lands here about Christmas, only the six-speed manual-equipped version was available to us when we visited Haval’s new proving ground to try Haval’s latest models on a drive that involved little more than an acceleration test with a slight bend and tight a loop turn at the other end.

With H6 Coupe, the first thing that stands out is the low roofline – hence the coupe name – that screams Range Rover Evoque. However, Haval would not be the first company to copy a styling idea – just look at all the brands copying Mercedes-Benz’s CLS and BMW’s X6.

Our drive got off to an impressive start when the front tyres issued a distinct chirp as we grabbed second gear before a little turbo-lag hesitation delayed proceedings for a split second. Then the turbocharger came on song and the H6 Coupe took off down the strip, through the gears with reasonable gusto.

We had no complaints about either the gear change or the clutch action, and the overall performance impression was on par with its mainly Japanese and Korean rivals such as the CX-5, RAV4, Subaru’s Forester, Nissan’s X-Trail, Hyundai’s Tucson and the Kia Sportage.

Considering that the vehicle we drove had not been run in – it was literally directly off the production line, complete with all the plastic protection wrapping – and was loaded with four men, the effort is all the more impressive.

Noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) suppression seemed laudable, from both the powertrain and the body and chassis on a rough section of track built for such test purposes.

With just one high-speed corner and a slow turn at the end, we did not get much of an opportunity to make a judgement on the handling, but nothing horrible leapt out at us, except perhaps for a slightly jiggly ride that might be addressed by Haval Australia’s proposed local suspension tuning program. On the whole, it felt like a nicely resolved package.

And speaking of nicely resolved, consensus among visiting journalists was that the H6 Coupe’s interior design was one of the best we have seen in the class, starting with comfortable seats and a stylish but completely functional layout, and continuing with wide use of high-quality, soft-touch materials – including leather-trimmed seats on all specifications – and large rear-seat acreage.

Only the leather-clad steering wheel felt a little hard to the touch, but at least it had all the usual cruise control, audio and phone buttons in a logical spread.

Touches of brushed metal and chrome lift the ambience, as does ambient lighting that comes as standard equipment.

Audio and multi-zone climate control buttons are well separated, with the air controls just under the dash-mounted LCD screen – which has sat-nav – and the audio buttons down on the console between the seats, with a large, easy-to-find (by hand when you are driving) volume control if you don’t want to use the steering wheel controls.

That console also has an electric parking brake button, twin cup-holders and a capacious two-level bin under the soft-touch armrest. The doors have large bins that can hold bottles.

Although we are still awaiting confirmation of standard specification, a sliding sunroof and roof rails were fitted to our test car, along with Bluetooth for both phone and audio streaming, keyless start and split-fold reclining rear seats.

Overall seating is for five, with the back seat comfortably holding three passengers, with ample legroom for the tallest person. And reasonable headroom, too, considering the low-slung roofline.

The boot is rather confined – possibly because the designers wanted to maximise rear seat room – and comes with a space-saver spare tyre under the floor.

Some of the paint colours will have a no-cost two-tone option – say, red with a black roof – matched with similar coloured upholstery.

Like all Haval models to arrive in Australian showrooms in a rollout starting in June, the H6 Coupe will be offered in two specifications, with the lower version expected to start in the high $20,000s, and the premium version in the low-to-mid $30Ks.

Haval will load up each model with equipment – it has to, to make an impression. And the warranty will be five years and a yet-to-be-determined kilometre limit for private buyers.

Haval also tells us it has engineered the H6 Coupe to five-star safety standards, but that’s what some other manufacturers have said, too, not always with happy results.

But just think: what if the Haval H6 Coupe and the other three Haval models coming this year (H2, H8 and H9) stroll into a five-star Australian NCAP rating – something BMW could not manage with its four-star 2 Series Active Tourer and Mini? Perhaps that will be the first strong indication that this Chinese company has looked, listened and learned from its western market forays of the past.

Your television set and smartphone are made in China. Will your car be next?

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