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OFF-ROAD TEST

Haval H6 C in the Cradle of Humankind





17 January 2018


Evolution tends to be a slow and incremental process, but the Haval H6 C is something of an anomaly. With this new compact SUV, the Chinese manufacturer proves that it has made a giant evolutionary leap in the realm of vehicle design.

“Mutation. It is the key to our evolution. It has enabled us to evolve from a single-celled organism into the dominant species on the planet. This process is slow, normally taking thousands and thousands of years. But every few hundred millennia, evolution leaps forward,” says Professor Charles Xavier at the start of the 200 film X-Men.

While this pseudo-scientific statement sounds just plausible enough to act as foundation for this science fiction film about mutants, it isn’t actually true. Evolution doesn’t ‘jump’ forward. It takes a long, long time. There are no shortcuts. It is an incremental process of trial and error that can take millennia to stumble upon an adaptation that offers some sort of evolutionary advantage.

But what does this have to do with the Haval H6 C? Much like evolution, vehicle design tends to be a rather slow process, too. As a rule, there are no massive changes from one generation to the next. With each successive iteration of a specific model, you find small but important improvements. A vehicle gets a little bigger, a little faster, and a little more luxurious.

This, however, is not the case with the latest SUVs launched by Chinese manufacturer Haval. Over the last five or six years, the company has made incredible strides.

Haval H6 C

ORIGIN OF THE SPECIES
Just in case you’re unaware, Haval is the SUV division of Great Wall Motors (GWM), which has had a presence in South Africa for about a decade now. Initially, the company focused on the bakkie market, although it did offer a few cars and SUVs, too. Its vehicles were, well, a little rough around the edges. Not bad, exactly, but leaving quite a bit to be desired. In terms of quality and refinement, they couldn’t compete with the established brands.

Now things are different. Earlier this year, GWM SA was rebranded as Haval, so while GWM-branded vehicles are still being sold here, the focus is now on Haval and it’s line-up of SUVs. The compact H2 was launched a few months ago to positive reviews, and now we have the H6 C. When we tested the H2, we stated that it was the best Chinese vehicle we had ever tested. That crown has been taken over by the H6 C, if only because it is a slightly better all-round package. It’s more expensive than the H2 (starting at R329 900), but considering its size and specification, it’s incredibly well priced.

Six derivatives are available: three specification levels, each with either a six-speed manual transmission or a six-speed DCT auto.

Whenever we’re given a vehicle to test, we’re invariably handed the keys to the most expensive and luxurious model in the range, since it’s sure to make the biggest impression. Haval SA didn’t do this. Instead, the company gave us the entry-level City DCT model, which goes for R359 900.

Had we not checked the specification sheet, we would not have guessed that this was the base-spec model. The Premium and Luxury models apparently add nice-to-haves like leather seats, a panoramic sunroof and 19-inch rims, but the City model has everything one could really want. It has a spacious and elegant interior, keyless entry, info-tainment system with large touchscreen and trip computer, Bluetooth connectivity, a reverse camera and park distance control, to name just
a few standout features.

Overall, we were amazed that this was an entry-level derivative, since it certainly didn’t look like it. Not only was it well equipped, but the build quality was solid. Nothing looked cheap or flimsy.

Speaking of looks, it’s also worth commenting on the exterior of the H6 C. The SUV looked great in the flesh. It has an elegant and muscular design, with strong lines and an aggressive stance. Vehicles at the affordable end of the spectrum have a tendency to be uninspiring when it comes to looks. Not the H6 C. It’s an attractive, attention-grabbing SUV.

ON THE ROAD
To test the H6 C’s on-road performance, we headed to a destination we deemed rather appropriate: the Cradle of Humankind, west of Johannesburg. Immediately, the vehicle impressed. It’s powered by a 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol mill that delivers 140kW of power and 310Nm of torque. As mentioned, it’s mated to a six-speed auto DCT, which has been sourced from Getrag. The powerplant/gearbox combo responded well, setting off quickly and smoothly. There was a slight gruff note to the engine, but overall, it felt refined. Gear shifts were almost imperceptible and the plucky turbo engine had no trouble getting the SUV off the line. It was obvious that the H6 C had been fitted with both a quality turbocharger and gearbox. Indeed, the drivetrain overall felt modern and sophisticated, capable of going head to head with many of the vehicles in its class. Was it class leading? Perhaps not yet, but it was very, very good.

On the road, noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels were low, with the cabin staying quiet and comfortable at all times. Wind and road noise were minimal. The suspension also performed well. It smoothed out imperfections and provided a comfortable ride without ever feeling too soft. Also, the H6 C stayed composed in tight corners, of which the Cradle of Humankind had quite a few. Push too hard, and there’s some roll, but under normal driving conditions the suspension set-up performs admirably.

Haval H6 C

When we tested the H2, we were amazed by its performance on gravel.

Thankfully, the H6 C delivered the same sort of ride on dirt. Even on bad gravel roads, the SUV stayed quiet and comfortable. It didn’t lose composure, either, providing a solid connection with the road and providing a lot of confidence to the driver. While the more expensive Luxury and Premium models are probably more fashionable with their 19-inch rims, we couldn’t help loving the 17-inch ones on the City model. The vehicle’s 225/65 R17 tyres performed well on tar, while providing some added cushioning on gravel. These days too many compact SUVs have extremely low-profile rubber that simply doesn’t work on gravel. If you plan on spending a lot of time on dirt, this is the rim/tyre set-up you want.

There was little to fault about the performance of the H6 C, both on tar and gravel. If we had to point to a couple of niggles, we’d mention the steering, which felt a tad lifeless, as well as its fuel consumption, which was on the high side (we averaged just above 11 litres per 100km). Still, we were impressed by the SUV. Its good points outweighed its shortcomings by a wide margin.

RAPID EVOLUTION
As we’ve previously reported (issue 158, page 24), Haval wants to become a significant global player in the SUV segment. It’s already a huge success in its home market of China (it sold 938 000 units there last year), but now it wants to take on the world. To accomplish its goal, it is investing heavily in R&D, and is hiring some of the best European talent. It is also benchmarking largely against Teutonic brands, which is obvious in the way a modern Haval looks and feels. Is the H6 C as good as a German SUV? Not yet, but it is nevertheless impressive, especially if you consider the asking price. There is no doubt that Haval is focusing on brand building at the moment, and not looking to maximise profit margins on every unit. You can’t sell a vehicle like the H6 C at the sort of price that Haval is asking and stick a lot of profit in your pocket.

The biggest obstacle facing the H6 C, and the Haval brand as a whole, is the perception that still exists around Chinese vehicles. But anyone who experiences the vehicle first-hand will struggle to cling to this prejudice. The H6 C offers much more than you’d expect.

HAVAL H6 C CITY 6DCT

Engine 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol
Power 140kW
Torque 310Nm
Transmission Six-speed DCT
Tyres 225/65 R17
Price R359 900
Warranty Five-year/100 000km
Service plan Five-year/60 000km

Text: GG van Rooyen