“It’s pretty good, but it’s a Hyundai/Kia.” – remember that line? It was the one bandied about around 5 years ago when Hyundai and Kia were making good, competitive cars with decent features and an affordable price-tag. People appreciated them, but brand-snobbery prevented them from being top sellers. But look at them now! Kia’s Stinger GT is a stunning to look at, rear-wheel drive sports saloon, and Hyundai’s got those i30 N and Veloster N hot hatches that have been engineered by the former head of BMW’s M Division. It’s been a fairytale ride from Asian underdog to mainstream competitor – and yet there are more brands on the cusp of doing the same thing as the Korean pair did… If you need one vehicle to prove such a statement, then cast your eyes over to the Haval H2…
It’s a relatively unheard of brand name, Haval, but it’s the luxury SUV spinoff from one of China’s most progressive manufacturers – Great Wall Motors, or GWM. The H2 is the brand’s second smallest SUV, though arguably one of the most important. See, it rivals the likes of the Suzuki Vitara and Ford EcoSport in one of the fastest growing segments worldwide. But with the likes of the Suzuki and Volkswagen’s Tiguan in the mix, the H2 needs to leave more than just the taste of, “It’s nice, but it’s Chinese” in people’s mouths if it wants to make a statement.
In 1.5T Luxury guise, as on test here, the Haval H2 is a surprisingly tasteful alternative to the mainstream brands. Admittedly, the Luxury trim is the highest of three trim lines offered on the H2 range, but at just R309 900 with the automatic transmission, it’s R20 000 cheaper than a mid-spec Suzuki Vitara GL+ Auto. But what does R309 900 get you?
Well the Haval H2 1.5T Luxury boasts full leather upholstery, a sunroof, automatic headlights and windscreen wipers, tyre pressure monitoring system, a power adjustable driver’s seat, 18-inch alloy wheels, dual-zone climate control, cruise control, an auto-dimming rear view mirror, rear park distance control sensors, and a rear-view camera with dynamic guide lines. Additionally, there’s a half decent infotainment system – a touch screen setup with full Bluetooth connectivity for telephony and audio streaming.
The system isn’t the most advanced – lagging behind Opel’s IntelliLink – and the resolution is a bit low, but all the basic functionality works well without any major fault to speak of. The biggest issue encountered? When the reverse camera is active, all audio is muted.
There are even 6 airbags, and traction control, and ABS brakes for those concerned with safety. They all go with the 5-star ANCAP safety rating the Haval H2 achieved in crash testing. However, stability control is only available on the automatic model on test here – which is a strange omission from other models.
Though the high levels of specification may entice some, perhaps the biggest – and most pleasing – surprise is the interior itself. There are no odd smells, no fumes of adhesive, and no creaking panels falling off when a door is closed. Close the door and there’s a dull, solid ‘thunk’ as everything lines up. Inside, the leather feels of a decent quality, and the dash is soft-touch with patterned gloss inlays. Key touch points feel good, and on the road there’s no dash rattle to speak of.
The ergonomics sadly aren’t up to the same measure though. At 6ft 2in in height, I may stand on the taller side of the spectrum, however I’m by no means the tallest car buyer out there looking at a Haval H2. But that’s the limit for potential drivers, as the rear view mirror doesn’t tip up high enough to accommodate those with a higher viewpoint. The driver’s seat also doesn’t sit low enough, resulting in a perched feeling, and the steering wheel – though height and reach adjustable – doesn’t have enough reach adjustment for a taller chap to get truly comfortable.
However, hobbit-sized drivers will find it a comfortable place to commute in, and there’s an abundance of cabin space for the whole family, including a rather sizeable boot; complete with 60/40 split folding rear seats. Beneath the boot floor there’s a full size spare wheel and a fire extinguisher too, so no need to worry about those pesky Marie biscuit tyres in the event of a puncture.
But what about the oily bits; surely if the interior is half decent then the mechanicals of the Haval H2 must be faulty? Not at all… well except for that one time after a cold start when the car refused to do anything more than creep along at a snail’s pace no matter how hard I mashed the throttle. OK, it was actually a few times. Whenever I started the Haval H2 really, because the car was protecting itself until the oil was at sufficient running temperature for the turbo… That’s right, there’s a turbo!
Across all Haval H2 variants, a single 1.5-litre turbocharged 4 cylinder engine does duty. It develops a pretty decent 105kW at 5600r/min and 202Nm of torque between 2200-4500r/min on local grade fuel, sending the shove to the front wheels of our test unit, though all-wheel drive is available on Premium and Luxury spec models.
There’s a morsel of turbo-lag to be found, though it’s not vastly more than what you’d find in any turbocharged Hyundai or Ford product for that matter, and once the engine comes on boost there’s a sweet hit of torque that gets the Haval H2 up to speed with inspiring enthusiasm. It pulls decently through the range too, before power tapers off near the top of the rev range. It’s not a particularly characterful engine, but it’s refined enough for the most part to blend in with the current crowd.
But where it falters is on fuel economy. Try as I might, the Haval H2 never once dropped below 8.6l/100km displayed on the digital instrument cluster. I suspect the culprit is the automatic gearbox though – a 6-speed slush-box whose 3 drive modes (Economy, Normal, and Snow) did little to change the character of its shift programming. As for how well it works… well it shifts gears. It actually does a half decent job, slurring through up-shifts pleasantly enough, though it can be a bit dim-witted on down-shifts, and it serves up a fair bit of transmission lag that can be a bit frustrating at times. However it can also be controlled manually and it responds well enough to manual prompts, offering up each gear as requested – unlike a certain Jeep Renegade we tested.
As for the rest, an independent rear suspension is a pleasant surprise in this segment – the effects of which are deserving of high praise on the Haval H2’s part. The suspension is one of its finest traits, with exceptional absorption of large bumps complemented by an excellent secondary ride quality. Though it rides high, body lean is kept to a fair minimum, and there’s decent feedback through the suspension and steering – the latter of which is a well-weighted hydraulic system with positive feedback and responses to inputs.
The brakes could do with a bit of work though – particularly in the pedal department. Of the approximately 10cm worth of pedal travel the Haval H2 possesses, the first 5cm offer nothing in the way of brake force, whilst the next 3cm suddenly deliver a good 70% of the braking ability all at once. A traffic jam left me heaving almost as much as the H2 must’ve been during the whole ordeal.
But the general demeanour is pleasant, the ride is pliant, and the refinement levels are impeccable. Not only are the road manners pleasing, but the wind and tyre noise – and general NVH levels – in the cabin are very, very low. The price tag may be fairly budget-friendly, but it doesn’t seem as if Haval has cut many corners in producing the H2.
In my week with the Haval H2, there were few anomalies that would lead me to believe it isn’t a worthy rival of its segment peers. Aside from the limp engine on cold starts and short-people orientated interior, a scratched dash insert and a passenger belt buckle attached backwards were the only issues encountered. The auto-folding mirrors did creak every time they folded though – perhaps alluding to the covers not quite fitting 100% – but it wasn’t a major faux pas; and the ‘Haval’ illumination shining down from the mirrors when unlocking the H2 was enough of a classy distraction to compensate.
That’s all there is then… if you came here looking for negative comments on the latest offering out of China then you’ll be disappointed that the pessimism is limited. The Haval H2 is a genuinely impressive compact SUV; and there aren’t any caveats to that statement either.
It’s a brand worth keeping an eye on too – if they continue at this rate, they’ll be up where Kia and Hyundai are in a few short years.
Photography: Roarke Bouffe