Shrugging off stereotypes
Can the 2018 Haval H2, a relatively new crossover SUV from an emerging Chinese manufacturer, make a market for itself in the UAE? It just might!
Just a couple of weeks after reviewing the Nissan Kicks, we are back at it: checking out compact crossovers again! Such is the impact of the segment. And this time, it's one by Haval, another manufacturer from the Far East, a brand owned by the more familiar Great Wall Motors (I'm pretty sure you've seen some of their pick-ups around). The vehicle in focus is the Haval H2. But as with everything, reputation precedes the product; Chinese brands, up until recently, have been known to deliver sub-standard vehicles. but we were in for a surprise!
DESIGN & AESTHETICS
The Haval H2 is what you'd describe as the textbook crossover SUV. At 4,335mm length and 1,814mm width, it isn't much bigger than a hatchback - yet, thanks to its tall roof that grazes the 1,695mm mark and its commodious squared-off rear end, it has that SUV quality about it.
While its convenient size lets you conquer city roads, it isn't insignificant or a design misshape either. They have taken the textbook approach to designing it, giving it generic stylistic implants, like the large chrome, slatted grille to render presence and a string of pearl-like LEDs underlining the halogen headlamp cluster to suggest it's not that "basic". It also lends some athleticism via the creases on the hood that keep it away from being just a flat-sheet design - some of which extend into the door panels. Standard across the range is a set of large-ish 18-inch 10-spoke aluminium alloy rims that also add a degree of sportiness to the ensemble. But the wheel wells could easily accommodate something bigger, maybe a 19-inch variety, from the looks of it. The rear design with the letters "H A V A L" pasted on its tailgate has been given the "American car" treatment with all-red lighting, one that has a textured effect created by using LEDs.
In terms of aesthetics, the H2 isn't going to win a beauty pageant amongst your friends' cars. It isn't even the best-looking Haval vehicle. But being a generic, non-offensive looking vehicle, it does fit into modern society quite well. And that must count for something.
Again, being a half-blood SUV has its advantages. The act of getting in and out is made easy. While sedans may seem too low for troubled knees and SUVs too high, this crossover is the comfortable middle ground. And while we pulled on those body-colour door handles, we noticed two things: they are aligned with the character line and there are chrome surrounds around the window too - both of which are usually associated with vehicles in higher segments.
As I entered, I was expecting a bare-boned ambience created by cost-cutting measures and cheap plastic mashed together; but the honest truth is - the H2 is something else. Yes, plastic is in abundance and black, with the usual set of faux chrome details, was the theme, as you'd expect from manufacturers copying German vehicles; but there is a visual balance to the cabin architecture and the overall fit and finish. The feel of the buttons, knobs and switchgear had a nice quality to them and that can be said about most parts that populate the cabin.
The top-spec variants get leather-outfitted seats. Sure, they don't feel like genuine leather, but they are comfy and easy to clean - just a simple wipe after a dropped beverage is enough. And you can adjust yourself into an agreeable driving position thanks to 6-way power adjustable seats, although more would have been nice. Lesser variants get as many degrees of adjustability, but manual labour is required.
The 3-spoke steering wheel with its red badging and perforated leather wrapping has a neat design that wouldn't look awkward in a hot-hatch or more luxurious SUV. And there is a 3.5-inch TFT monitor set between the analogue gauges to keep car vitals animated.
What impressed me was the minimalist centre console. The 7-inch screen (presumably) and the button arrangement were set on glossy black plastics. It had a spiffy appearance and the brochure says you can have it in a silver finish too. But the screen can get washed out during the day. As for spacing, it doesn't pose a concern for front row fellows; second row mates will have to share shoulder room.
POWERTRAIN & PERFORMANCE
With the H2, you can have any engine as long as it's a 1.5-litre turbocharged 4-cylinder. It jumps to life with a push of the starter button, which, by the way, comes as standard. And when it did, we noticed the vibrations were subtle and the noise was filtered, meaning it is quite refined.
The engine makes a decent 148 horsepower at 5,600, which suffices in terms of going around town and keeping up with other vehicles on the highway. There is some lag for 210Nm of torque to come on, but you get accustomed to its operation. I could take a drive down to Abu Dhabi and back, for work every day or just once for a vacation from social obligations without feeling taxed; that's where the refinement we talked about comes in. and the supple ride quality. all relative to its price, of course. Cruise control being part of the standard equipment also helped me ease my right foot for a strain-free journey.
I wasn't sensing much feedback from the electric power steering and there is an extra inch of play in the wheel, but this isn't a purpose-built racecar - it is a purpose-built commuter and should be marked on that. The important thing is it's light and easy to manage. You do get disc brakes all around, the front being ventilated. Again, pedal feel isn't its forte but it has bite and will help you avoid a fender bender incident with surety.
The front McPherson independent suspension, combined with rear multi-link independent suspension, keeps things cushy while giving it traction over varying surfaces at a decent rate of speed. But we wouldn't want to go beyond where the tarmac ends as it has front-wheel drive and only a 133mm ground clearance. Steer clear of soft sand. And the AWD version isn't the value proposition of the lot.
The H2 proved to be was quite frugal through the drive, returning roughly 8.2L/100km, which isn't off the claimed mark by much. and which means it delivers on some honesty as well.
FEATURES & FUNCTIONALITY
Pick up the floor board and you would find a full-size spare under there, but it does eat up some cargo space - nothing that would compromise the accommodation of two suitcases though. Your general infotainment needs are met in the H2. Bluetooth is standard across all variants - which is nice. The base car gets a single CD with USB and AUX, but you are limited to four speakers. The others get the MP5 video playability with USB and AUX. and half-a-dozen speakers, for a more fulfilling audio experience. You don't get a mandated navigation system, which is quite alright considering Google Maps is the way to go these days.
While savings can be made by getting the relatively cheaper H2, Haval hasn't dropped its price by shaving stuff off the safety list. It comes with ISOFIX points to fix your child seats. There are airbags of every type: front, sides and curtains. Then, you have parking sensors, a reversing camera and a tyre pressure monitoring system to add to the list. It's also worth noting that the H2 has been awarded the maximum 5-star safety rating in the China-NCAP (C-NCAP) crash test programme.
We didn't have an issue with the air-conditioning. Then again, having five aboard in the summer months is something perhaps a new H2 owner can tell us about.
The 2018 Haval H2 is upstaging Chinese car stereotypes in a silent way. It's an honest-in-the-heart SUV that delivers on the promise of easy commuting. While looks may seem generic in and out, there is quality in the build; it comes cramped with features and drives rather decently too. Of course, it isn't without faults and the resale and reliability are big question marks. But it's real vice seems to be its lack of marketing exposure, which has left it virtually unknown and, therefore, unwanted. Haval needs to tell the H2 story better, simply because everything needs a story these days.