JOHANNESBURG - The Chinese are coming. Of course, they’ve been saying this for years, but it’s only now that they’re starting to hit the more established rivals where it hurts the most.
And by ‘they’ we’re referring more specifically to the most successful Chinese brand on South African soil, namely Haval, which entered the country under the GWM banner more than 14 years ago. Yet it's only in more recent times that the importer has started to make a significant impact on the local sales charts, with Haval having ranked seventh in the past two months, breathing right down Suzuki’s neck.
Leading this sales charge is the new Jolion, which was introduced earlier this year as a replacement for the H2. But does it live up to the hype? Let’s take a closer look.
The Haval Jolion range is priced between R299 900 and R398 900 and while that puts it into contention with the likes of the Ford EcoSport and Hyundai Venue, in size terms it's pretty close to far more expensive vehicles like the Kia Sportage and Opel Grandland. You are getting a lot of car for your money and it’s a decent looking chunk of metal too. Sure, you might notice some Audi vibes at the front, and the rear and side views seem to have a Volvo-like elegance, dare I say, but overall it’s a neat-looking package that ticks the right visual boxes for a modern crossover.
The Haval Jolion is built around the company’s new (and curiously named) L.E.M.O.N modular architecture that it shares with the new Haval H6 and its modern underpinnings become apparent the second you hit the open road. At highway speeds the Jolion is very quiet, barring for a bit of wind noise, and we were impressed with its overall noise insulation. The ride quality is comfortable too, perhaps more so than most rivals. As a family car, it’s really getting off to a good start.
Beneath the bonnet of all models you’ll find a 1.5-litre turbopetrol engine that’s carried over from the previous H2, and which produces 105kW and 210Nm. Given the vehicle’s kerb weight of 1370kg, performance is not necessarily brisk, but it is adequate for a modern urban-based SUV, particularly when you consider that many of its rivals are saddled with gutless normally aspirated engines that offer no altitude immunity.
The 1.5-litre engine is not necessarily the most refined unit around, and can sound a little gruff under acceleration, but given this vehicle’s keen pricing it’s a perfectly adequate package. As for fuel consumption, our test unit consumed 7.7 litres per 100km in a mixture of freeway and urban driving.
The Haval Jolion can be had with manual transmission, but most models - including our 1.5T Super Luxury test unit - are fitted with a seven-speed automated dual-clutch gearbox, which pairs nicely with the engine. Just keep in mind that dual-clutch gearboxes are complex and in our opinion there is a greater risk of costly repairs further down the line than what there would be with a conventional torque converter auto.
The cabin is a big step forward versus its predecessors, both in terms of digital gluttony and overall look and feel. Upon closer inspection I got the impression that most of the materials are not all that expensive, but that Haval crafted them cleverly to make the cabin look more premium than it is. They’ve paid attention to detail at all touchpoints and even went as far as embroidering the leather-upholstered seats. Furthermore, after spending a week with the vehicle, there were no obvious concerns over build quality.
There is something of a digital ambience going on here too, particularly in the case of the Super Luxury model that we had on test, which comes with a digital instrument cluster as well as an upgraded 31.2cm infotainment screen. The system looks modern but I wasn’t entirely impressed with the functionality. It can take a bit of menu digging from the far end of the screen to get to some functions and you also have to use the touchscreen for simple ventilation tasks like changing temperature or fan speed. But that’s the price you pay for the elegance of a ‘minimalist’ dashboard.
But is the Haval Jolion practical? Sitting behind my seating position, I found rear legroom to be particularly impressive, there’s certainly space for passengers to stretch, although taller occupants might wish for a bit more headroom. The boot, which accommodates 337 litres when the back seats are in place, is not exactly cavernous but it should meet most needs.
As for standard features, there are a variety of models to choose from and even the most affordable model has a decent spec sheet. The 1.5T City base derivative comes with cruise control, manual aircon, a 26cm touchscreen infotainment system, push-button start, dual front airbags,rear parking sensors, driver fatigue detection, traction control and 17-inch alloy wheels.
The mid-spec Premium model adds dual-zone climate control to the mix, along with rear ventilation, reverse camera, auto headlights, a leather-covered steering wheel and roof rails.
The Luxury version gains leather seats with electric adjustment for the driver, selectable driving modes, digital instrument cluster, a panoramic sunroof, LED headlights and 18-inch alloy wheels.
But things truly get luxurious in the Super Luxury variant, which adds the aforementioned 31.2cm infotainment system as well as wireless charging and a glut of advanced driver assistance systems, including Adaptive Cruise Control with Traffic Assist, Lane Departure Alert, Blind Spot Detection, 360-degree panoramic camera and Pre-Collision warning with auto-braking.
The Haval Jolion has a few rough edges here and there, yet all considered, the new compact SUV does most things right, and at a price that must be keeping its rivals awake at night. We can’t vouch for its long-term durability, but after spending a week with one we were highly impressed with this package and the value it offers. The Chinese aren’t just coming. They’re here.
Haval Jolion 1.5T Super Luxury
Engine: 1.5-litre, 4-cyl, turbopetrol
Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automated
Drive: Front-wheel drive
Power: 105kW @ 5600rpm
Torque: 210Nm @ 2000-4400rpm
Fuel use: 7.7 l/100km (tested)
Warranty: 5-year/100 000km
Service plan: 5-year/60 000km
Price: R398 900