Haval has launched its second-generation H2 compact SUV. Wheels24's Janine Van der Post got behind the wheel on the local drive and was left impressed. Here's why...
Chinese cars. About 10 years ago we would still cringe at the thought of driving one, and while their products almost always resembled something else already in the market, its quality was also a major issue. That, and they smelt incredibly awful inside.
Fast forward to 2020 and so much has changed, for the better of course. And there's not a hint of any cheap, nose-burning materials at all. Haval, a brand which makes up one of four nameplates under Chinese automotive giant, Great Wall Motors, is leading the charge in popularity not only in China but also here in South Africa.
First launched in 2017 in SA (already 2014 around the world), the H2 'first generation' model has found 7235 new homes locally, and while that number might come across as tiny - especially when you think Volkswagen sells that amount of Polo Vivos in just three months - the South African market is the largest outside of China. Yep, we sell more Haval H2's over here than even in Russia.
In December 2019, the automaker sold 750 new models according to Naamsa sales figures. That is an incredible number because according to the Haval SA's Vaughan Swanepoel when the brand first launched the H2 three years ago, the first month saw them only bring in three cars - and those were press fleet vehicles. They went from selling one car, then 34 H2's in their first to a few hundred in the last two years. And, in October 2019, the brand had its best month ever with a total of 1024 sales, including eight exports. Their monthly average is a claimed 400-odd units on the H2, and it continues to grow.
Previously, Haval had different logos for various markets, and South Africa has acquired subsidiary status instead of just being a distributor for the brand. The new H2 is Haval's first new global product which competes in the 'C segment', or better known as the small SUV class.
But so why is this car such a big deal? Mostly because of its price which starts at R269 900 for its entry-level, manual City version. And, most people will think that it's only so affordable because its crap, right?. No, that's where you will be wrong.
This Chinese car can give the likes of its Ford EcoSport and Renault Duster rivals a proper run for its money, and when Volkswagen launches its 1.5-litre derivative of its T-Cross, that will be on Haval's list to target too.
The H2 is only available with a 1.5-litre petrol engine delivering 105kW and 202Nm. It's punchy, and has the cojones to overtake when needed. It comes in two trim levels: City or Lux, and is available in either a six-speed manual or auto transmission.
So what's new in the H2?
For now, let's start with its new additions in the second generation. The automaker says the H2 has undergone significant technological development. The front end has had some revision with a new hexagon grille, a new bumper, fenders, and headlights which aids in giving the new model a more dynamic and assertive design compared to its predecessor.
The rear also now features hexagon tail lights, a chrome strip insert on the boot lid, a redesigned bumper with re-aligned reflectors and a larger, raised black protector strip. There are also twin exhaust pipes, along with a new splitter plate for a more sporty and rugged look.
It's also available in six solid body colours including Hamilton white, Mars red, Pittsburg silver, Atlantis blue, Cocoa brown, and Crystal black. The latter might be removed as a body colour depending on how much, or little, demand there will be for such a high-maintenance paint job. There's also only one, two-tone red and black option.
It comes loaded with standard kit like aircon, keyless entry, push-button start, a tyre pressure-monitoring system, a reverse camera, and park distance control.
But how does it drive?
The H2's looks have been improved with subtle styling, and it offers a pleasant drive. Inside the soft-touch materials on the dash and door panels are more than impressive. It feels so good I could barely stop touching it just to make sure. It's unbelievable that this kind of fit and finish can come from a Chinese brand and it makes one think why premium brands charge us so much more for that same level of specification. There are some plastic bits on the centre console, but then again it's the same kind of plastic you'll find in a nearly R1-million Ford Mustang.
There were some squeaks when you're in a tight bend and your left leg pushes against the centre console, but then I also heard the same crackling sound coming from the Mercedes-Benz CLS I had driven earlier this week.
The models on launch were only a couple hundred kilometres old. The car we had driven on test literally had less than 100km on the clock, and while that's great, it would run much better once the engine has been 'run in'. Despite that, the H2 offers a comfortable, and pleasant drive, and the 6-speed auto gearbox is a treat on the Cape's gorgeous Clarence Drive. Gear shifts are not too whiny and are smooth enough to get used to. There's not too much body roll, is spacious for all passengers, and has a decent-sized boot.
If you are looking for something away from the norm, Haval's H2 is a great option and one I can genuinely say you should go and take a test drive in if you're in the market. You'll be surprised at its quality and all-round good value-for-money proposition it offers.
It's starting price of R269 900 is its biggest attraction, and there's no hidden agenda. You get more than just what you see in the H2, that's for sure.
- Haval H2 2WD City MT: R269 900
- Haval H2 2WD Luxury MT: R294 900
- Haval H2 2WD City AT: R304 900
- Haval H2 2WD Luxury AT: R329 900