Johannesburg - I stood in front of the Haval H9 as the Chinese automaker unveiled it at the Festival of Motoring in Johannesburg earlier this year thinking to myself, ‘What on earth is this!’

It looks like something Nissan, Lexus, Infiniti or Toyota would have sketched up years ago in terms of design on the outside, and on the inside, it looks like a mish-mash of styling cues from all sorts of manufacturers too.

Not the prettiest looking thing then, and certainly not as stylish as some of the newer SUVs that have come to South Africa in the past year.

I was quite interested, though, in what the Haval H9 might be like to drive, considering that at the launch of it, executives from Haval were waxing lyrical about the comfort, the luxury and the refinement it offers.

Our test car arrived at the office in a smart metallic silver hue. Littered with chrome and silver garnish, as well as a Haval logo that projects from the door mirrors when the vehicle is unlocked. It’s smart, say what you will about borrowing styling cues from here and there.

Riding on 18-inch alloys, which by the way look too small for the H9’s wheel arches, and Cooper Discoverer tyres, you can immediately sense that this is no ‘ordinary’ Chinese vehicle.

What do I mean? Well, in the past, Chinese vehicles have always lacked the build quality offered by competitors such as Toyota. In the Haval H9, you can see that people paid attention to things like seat comfort, and the finish of the seat. Panels align, and mechanisms work without power surges or juddering. It just feels like a quality car from the driver’s seat, which blew me away to be honest.

So what do you get?

A large 7-seater, powered by a 180kW 2.0-litre turbopetrol four-cylinder engine.

A 2.0-litre in this big thing? Yes, you read right. It’s small, but it does the job thanks to twin-scroll technology and direct injection.

It’s actually quite a high-tech powerplant, one that’s going to give the Germans and Japanese something to think about, I think.

The engine delivers its maximum power at 5500rpm, with maximum torque of 350Nm at 1800rpm all the way up to 4500rpm, which equals respectable performance. You’ll need to get used to the lag between pressing on the throttle and the momentum kicking in though.

Meanwhile, although the H9’s engine is an in-house development, Haval reached out to ZF for an eight-speed (4WD) transmission. You can use Paddle Shifters behind the steering wheel for precision off-road driving (like a boss).

On the subject of offroad adventuring, you can select the most appropriate real-time driving mode from six options (AUTO, 4L, Sport, Sand, Snow, and Mud) via a multi-functional rotary knob next to the gear selector.

How the Haval H9’s driving modes work:

AUTO mode: Autonomously optimises distribution of torque to all wheels for easy driving on tar and dirt roads.

SPORT mode: For drivers preferring more control (ideal for spirited driving along twisty mountain passes or challenging country roads) you have the choice of sportier gear changes. In Sport mode, the Electronic Stability Programme (ESP) reduces its nannying.

4L mode: For off-road driving, including extreme conditions, this setting amplifies torque delivery to the wheels with the best grip, maximising performance to escape from sticky conditions.

MUD mode: Yet again this setting allows adjustment of the ESP to improve road holding on muddy surfaces, allowing a certain amount of slip.

SAND mode: The vehicle’s electronic stability control is adapted to maximise torque to the driving wheels with the most grip to help prevent the vehicle from getting bogged down.

SNOW (WET) mode: In wet weather, the ESP is sharpened to improve road holding by avoiding over- and under-steer to assist driving stability.

The H9 also comes as standard with a rear axle electronic Limited Slip Differential lock. Essentially, the H9’s LSD steps in to assist where the driving force of the wheel at the traction-loss side is distributed to the wheel at the other side by means of an electro-hydraulic control unit. This maximises the vehicle’s ability to find traction effectively, improving the its odds of conquering difficult conditions in challenging on- and offroad conditions.

The engine, transmission, suspension, and body are installed on a high-rigidity frame and the suspension in particular provides great stability and comfort. Wafting along on the highway at the national speed limit, with the seat massage function on Level 2, you’d forget you’re in a high-riding SUV.

Multi-link rear suspension and independent double-wishbone front suspension ensure that the wheels remain in contact with the road and deliver this smooth ride.

You might be wondering, though, how safe this car is and at least at face value, Haval’s tried to make it one of the safest models it sells yet.

You get side-impact collision bars, front and back crumple zones and an energy-absorbing steering column to protect occupants in the event of a frontal collision.

Additional safety features on the H9 include all-round ‘all-directional’ airbags, seat belt pre-tensioners, ISO-FIX child seat anchors, a tyre pressure monitoring system (this one actually tells you how hot your tyres are too) and driver status detection system (drowsiness detector).

You’ll also get Merc S-Class levels of electronic driver aids which include ABS, BA (brake assist) and ESP, HAC (Hill-start Assist Control), RMI (Roll Movement Intervention) as well as CTA (Cross-traffic alert) and LCA (Lane-change Alert).

You won’t be wanting for luxury features either, as the H9 is loaded with goodies from the factory.

From the leather seats in three rows, including an eight-way electrically adjustable driver seat with lumbar support and memory function and four-way electrically adjustable front passenger seat with ventilation and massage, manually adjustable second row of three seats and the electrically foldable twin seats in the third row, to a long list of features including three-zone climate control air-conditioning, an advanced multimedia system with a 20cm touch-screen and integrated satellite navigation, the H9 is genuinely well equipped.

VERDICT

Priced at R599 900, the new Haval H9 2.0 Petrol 4WD Luxury is one of the most feature-rich vehicles you can buy for the price. It’s good to drive too, which makes me confident that it will satisfy Fortuner and Everest drivers.

I’m not sure what you’re going to expect in terms of the Haval aftersales experience, but you can rest assured that the H9 is one of the most attractive new car packages on sale in SA today. You want space, you got it. You want tech, you got it. You want presence, the H9 drips that too.

The H9 comes with a five-year/100 000km warranty, a five-year/60 000km service plan.

Drive360