FIRST DRIVE | 2021 Haval H6 hits back at Chinese car stigmas
Great Wall Motors (GWM) and its Haval division reported 1,782 new vehicle sales in May. That placed the Chinese automaker seventh overall, ahead of well-established players like Nissan, Kia, Renault, BMW and Mercedes-Benz.
An impressive feat no doubt, one that has a lot to do with the April launch of the Jolion compact sport-utility vehicle, succeeding the H2.
Reporting on the newcomer last month, we did not mince our words. Minor quirks aside, we deemed it the best product yet to come out of China. It upped the ante not only from a stylistic perspective, but also in the areas of quality, refinement and technology.
Two months later, we might need to recant our words because the larger H6 has arrived, and based on our first impressions of the model, it would not be a surprise if the brand moved further towards the top of the new vehicles sales charts.
Aesthetically, it makes the outgoing H6 and H6C appear like something out of the Ming dynasty.
A dramatic visual presence is essential if you plan to take the fight to the likes of the Mazda CX-5 (from R455,500), Toyota RAV4 (from R472,900), Hyundai Tucson (from R477,900) and Kia Sportage (from R452,995). Pricing was not available for the soon-to-be-launched new Volkswagen Tiguan.
Luckily, the H6 delivers the goods with its assertive prow, ample proportions and striking details, including a rear light bar that spans the width of the tailgate. Quite reminiscent of a Porsche Cayenne.
It is available with two-wheel drive and four-wheel drive, while the grade walk consists of three choices: Premium, Luxury and Super Luxury. Pricing kicks off at R419,900 and ends at R514,900. A five-year/100,000km warranty is included, an a five-year/60,000km service plan.
The H6 rides on the same platform as the Jolion, a modular architecture that the company named LEMON. That model has a total length of 4,472mm while the H6 stretches to 4,653mm.
From the moment one pulls the driver’s side door handle, there is a positive impression of build quality. Just the way the handle itself extends outwards; a well-damped, springy kind of action. Said door also closes with a nice thud.
The cabin of the H6 undoubtedly evinces a premium sense, with soft-touch materials in abundance and a stepped fascia design sporting few buttons. Access to virtually all functions is given through the sizable, clear touchscreen infotainment system, including certain climate control settings. Even the instrument cluster is fully digitised.
A cue seemingly borrowed from current Jaguar Land Rover products is the rotary gear selector. No coincidence, perhaps, as by now you know Haval design director Phil Simmons was formerly employed at the British automaker.
Turning the chunky dial towards Drive, we nosed the H6 out of its parking bay for a drive through our frequently used route past the Cradle of Humankind and across the border of the North West, over the popular R563 and R400 road with its distinctive satellites.
Two gripes emerged within the introductory 5km. First, the woeful audio system. Tweak the equaliser as much as you want, even engage the audio enhancement setting, it still sounded like the Sanyo kitchen radio my grandmother used to listen to her serials.
Things might be better in the top range Super Luxury version, which has a 10-speaker system, four more than the setup in the middle-grade, two-wheel drive Luxury we drove (R454,900).
My next criticism also has to do with acoustics: the high-pitched, tinny hooter tone. It makes a noise unbecoming of what is a product with premium aspirations.
Two niggles that were akin to finding those sneaky pieces of cardamom in a biryani, but otherwise the H6 is a tasty dish.
Power comes from a turbocharged-petrol motor with four cylinders and a 2.0-litre displacement. It certainly feels as effusive as the 150kW and 320Nm on-paper output suggests, while a seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic is standard fare across the board. It proved responsive in kick-down instances during overtaking manoeuvres and dispatched shifts smoothly in regular, stop-go conditions. Shift paddles allow for driver intervention.
The electrically-assisted steering system offers three modes (Sport, Comfort and Light), with a marked difference in each setting. Comfort is a happy medium versus the artificial weight of Sport or the lightness of Light, which some might find useful for parallel parking activities. A 360-degree camera will also help you in that endeavour.
Aside from a pothole that left occupants temporarily frazzled – which would have been the case in pretty much any automobile – our countryside roam in the H6 was pleasant. Its suspension (MacPherson struts front, multi-link at the rear) managed a fine job of dealing with varied surfaces.
The wheel and tyre combination (225/60/R18) is undoubtedly suited to our roads and the sensible sidewall profile was the reason the earlier crater in the road did not result in a puncture. Its 170mm ground clearance is not significantly greater than that of the Jolion, which sits 168mm off the floor.
Adaptive cruise control, lane-departure warning and a lane-keep assist that nudges the car into line as it detects straying, basically gives the H6 semi-autonomous credibility. We deactivated the latter feature, remembering how intrusive it was in the Jolion (and how annoying the accompanying chime can be).
No shortcuts on the safety front, with all models benefitting from six airbags, electronic stability control, traction control, an anti-roll system and tyre pressure monitor. No crash test results are available yet, but a company spokesperson said an assessment is imminent.
The brand is clearly on an upward trajectory and the new H6 is further proof. Competitively priced, well-equipped and attractive to the eye, it is a compelling proposition, possibly with enough charm to sway those who had never considered going Chinese.