AUSTRALIA is the first export market for Haval, owned by China’s Great Wall, and the H8 is first cab off the rank for its three-model SUV launch line-up
WHY WE’RE DRIVING IT
This is Haval’s rival to some of the country’s top-selling SUVs, as it’s around the same size as a Mazda CX-5, Nissan X-Trail and Toyota Kluger
Mazda CX-5, Kia Sorento, Nissan X-Trail, Toyota Kluger, Ford Everest, Holden Captiva, Jeep Grand Cherokee
THE WHEELS VERDICT
As a luxury car rival, the Haval H8 isn’t quite there yet. But it does show the underlying potential of the brand.
PLUS: Excellent fit and finish, roomy cabin, high equipment level
MINUS: Harsh ride, lumpy steering and firm ride, large turning circle
THE WHEELS REVIEW
STEREOTYPES are common in this business. German cars have the best perceived quality. French cars are the most chic. Japanese are reliable. Australian cars are sturdy. But Chinese made cars aren’t seen as quality, chic, reliable or luxurious, which is the pitch that Haval is making with its range of SUVs, headlined by the H8.
The H8 is the Chinese maker’s challenger to the Toyota Kluger and Mazda CX-5. It’s a 4.8-metre long SUV with a monocoque chassis loaded with equipment. The handsome exterior, which looks like a blend of previous-generation Mercedes ML, with a few VW Tiguan overtones thrown in for good measure, has genuine presence and appeal. It looks the business on its 19-inch alloys, standard on the Lux specification, with excellent detailing, fit and finish.
Climb in an there’s that equipment list overload: the caramel Australian-sourced leather covers seats that offer endless electric adjustment, plus (optional) heating, cooling and massage functions; the door trims, grey marbly applique and dash top are generally convincing, but there are a few details that don’t quite make this the luxury SUV Haval is pitching it as. The eight-inch centre touchscreen’s graphics look dated, while the beautifully textured rotary dial for the sunroof is clearly from the school of VW, the plain, shiny black power-window buttons look and feel generic. There’s no digital speedo, there’s a foot-operated park brake, and the Benz-inspired cruise control stalk is hidden behind the steering wheel.
Driving the H8 only backs up the ‘nearly there’ idea. It’s powered by Haval’s own 160kW 2.0-litre turbo-petrol four-cylinder engine, and while it has a smooth idle that develops a basey tone under load, progress is adequate, not grunty. Throttle response at low speed reveals a long, long pedal that requires a massive stab, but even here the throttle map and six-speed transmission can’t answer fast enough, with a laggy character that makes gaps in traffic a no-go. Anything below 2000rpm, where the peak 324Nm kicks in, and it struggles. You can’t spontaneously flick the shift paddles, either, until you’ve moved the centre shifter into manual mode.
Around town, the ride is too firm to qualify as a premium SUV, catching every surface change and bump, and its body control shows its 2175kg heft by pitching and rolling too much into corners. Add to that steering that’s flaccid on-centre, weighs up excessively and is heavy around town, and the H8 feels large. A 12.2m turning circle only underlines that.
It’s not all bad news, though. The H8’s fuel economy on test with 98RON was 11.1L/100km (better than its 12.2L/100km claim and despite lacking idle-stop), and while there was wind whistle at speeds beyond 60km/h, overall refinement is otherwise reasonable. There’s also loads of space in the second row, with ISOFIX child-seat mounts, a 60/40 split-fold seat and a decent boot area. The standard 10-speaker audio system rocks, too.
The H8 is not a convincing luxury SUV, but it shows Haval has some serious talent and depth, and will only improve from what’s a reasonable base. It will break the China stereotype. The trouble is, with such a competitive Australian market, a product that’s almost there may find it difficult to stand against so many well-executed competitors.
Model: 2016 Haval H8 Lux AWD
Engine: 1967cc 4cyl, dohc, 16v, turbo
Max power: 160kW @ 5500rpm
Max torque: 324Nm @ 2000-4000rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic, all-wheel drive
0-100km/h: 13.0sec (est.)
Fuel economy: 11.1L/100km (as-tested)
On sale: Now