China's upscale SUV brand Haval now a challenger in New Zealand
It seems 2017 is a year of new automotive brands in New Zealand.
Tesla was launched in February, Infiniti's luxury division Infiniti has reached Kiwiland and Volkswagen Group's Spanish Seat brand has announced specification and pricing for hatchback and SUV models.
The fourth and final new carmaker for Kiwiland is probably the least glamorous, but arguably the most interesting. Haval is the SUV division of China's Great Wall Motors. In its home market, it's the biggest-selling SUV brand, hitting one million sales per year for the first time in 2016.
Since 2015, Haval has been on a mission to expand, developing vehicles it reckons will suit global tastes. It's currently sold in 30 countries.
Haval is opening in NZ with two models, the small H2 (think Mazda CX-3 or Toyota C-HR) and the medium H6 (CX-5, RAV4). Both are FWD. The latter is China's biggest-selling single SUV model and the world's fourth most popular overall.
There are just three dealers at the moment: Andrew Simms in Auckland, Euromarque in Christchurch and Southern Motors in Dunedin. Haval hopes to have a total of nine around the country by the end of the year, with plans in place for Whangarei, Hamilton, Hastings and Palmerston North.
Nobody's expecting Haval to take the market by storm. The same factory-owned distributor represents the brand in both Australia and NZ, so let's assume it's playing a long game. It might be a mega-brand in China, but across the Tasman Haval only sold 286 cars last year despite having a four-model range. In NZ, a market one-tenth the size, numbers will be tiny to start with. It's definitely a "challenger" brand.
Both H2 and H6 come in two specification levels: Premium and Lux. The H2 is priced at $25,990-$27,990, the H6 $30,990-$34,990.
So as you'd expect, these Chinese newcomers are cheaper than the established players (Mazda's CX-3 and CX-5 open at $31,395 and $39,995, for example) and they come with an ease-your-mind warranty: five years, 100,000km and five years guaranteed service pricing.
All Haval models have keyless entry/start, touch-screen and reversing camera.
In Premium trim the H2 gets 18-inch alloys, sunroof and cruise control.
The entry H6 Premium rides on 17in alloys and has dual-zone climate control, front and rear parking sensors and blind spot monitoring.
The H6 Lux adds upholstery in a pseudo-leather material called Comfort-Tek, panoramic sunroof, 19in alloys and gas-discharge headlamps.
But are the H2 and H6 any good? Actually, yes. Wheel time on Kiwi roads is limited thus far, but we've had previous experience of the H6 during its launch phase in Australia last year.
Overall quality is impressive. Powertrain-wise, both also have something to offer. The H2 has a 1.5-litre turbo-petrol with 110kW/210Nm and a six-speed automatic gearbox, while the H6 sports a 2.0-litre petrol-turbo with 145kW/315Nm and automated dual-clutch six-speed gearbox.
Exterior styling is a matter of taste but we reckon both look crisp and quite modern. The interiors are a bit 10-years-ago, with weird plastic textures and too much silver garnish, but the fit and finish is tight.
On the road, both models cope with Kiwi blacktop admirably well. The H6 in particular has a capable chassis over winding back roads.
The sore point in both H2 and H6 is steering. The smaller car's tiller is more consistent, but strangely heavy - perhaps an attempt to make it feel "sporty". The H6s's wheel is also ponderous just off centre, but also weirdly inconsistent as you turn into a corner.
But neither car feels out of its depth on local roads. The powertrains are quite punchy and crisp, the suspension composed through tricky corners. They're not up to mainstream Japanese/Korean quality, but they're by no means disgraced.
Safety can be a touchy subject with emerging brands and Haval's case isn't helped by the fact that neither H2 or H6 carry official Australasian New Car Assessment Programme (ANCAP) crash-test scores.
The H2 was tested by NCAP's Chinese division, C-NCAP, in 2015 and scored five stars. There's nothing on record for the H6 and we wouldn't expect an ANCAP test until the (slightly) revamped model arrives next year.
The full-size Haval H9 was tested by ANCAP last year and only rated four stars. That model will also be revised by the time it's launched here in the first quarter of 2018, including a new camera-based autonomous braking system and lane-departure warning. Expect an eight-speed gearbox to go with the 180kW/350Nm powerplant.
The next big leap for Haval is the H7, which will also arrive in the first quarter of next year. It's a new-gen seven-seater, more road-biased than the ladder-chassis H9. It'll have the same engine but with 170kW/350Nm, a virtual instrument panel, power tailgate and self-parking capability.
Longer-term, Haval also plans to launch petrol-electric hybrid variants, which will also enable the brand to offer AWD. The technology is available in five and seven-seat models, or potentially even in a BMW/Mercedes-Benz-style SUV "coupe" body shape.