I have now been able to verify that my temporary Chinese driver license is enough to test drive vehicles out of local dealerships. See my review of the Baojun 530 here. This China Test Drive section is a new series focusing on trying out Chinese or China-only models in China, in line with our effort to bring you ever-more precise cover of the largest new car market in the world: China. While I await my appointment to test drive the Baojun 510 which was #1 on my wish-list due to its status of best-selling car launch in the history of automobile (no less), the next car on my wish-list is the Haval H6. It has been the best-selling SUV in China for the past five years (2013–2017), even holding the top spot for 55 consecutive months between July 2013 and January 2018 before being outsold by the… Baojun 510 last February and March, then reclaiming the title in April. Given how dynamic the SUV segment is in China with a constant flow of new launches both from Chinese and foreign brands, this is an exceptional feat.
The Haval H6 test drive was unexpectedly abrasive – in a good way.
I am no stranger to Haval models: I took a Haval H8 on an epic adventure in Australia’s Birdsville Track in July 2016 and a Haval H9 on some of the most remote roads in Australia in January 2017. I was due to test drive the H6 Coupe in Australia back in March 2017 but had to postpone due to ill-health. As the months came by, it became somehow more and more challenging for Haval Australia to organise the drive. Moreover, the only H6 available in Australia remains the 2016 H6 Coupe which is now obsolete in China. So let’s start fresh and go for a 2018 Chinese H6. But first I learnt a very valuable strategy lesson from Haval.
The first Haval store I could find in Yinchuan on my Baidu map was a Blue label store. Here I learnt that the Blue/Red logo strategy unveiled at the Shanghai Auto Show in April 2015 (Blue = Young, Red = Mature) actually goes further than just two versions of (almost) each nameplate: these cars are sold in physically separate dealerships. That was new news to me. Accordingly, the Haval Blue dealership is hip and stands next to a Great Wall outlet displaying a swarm of Steed 5 pickups, particularly successful in this part of China. Given they had just opened, the staff at Haval Blue told me they have no H6 to test drive, but the Red dealer nearby has plenty of stock. Off I go to the Haval Red dealership, which included a corner reserved to the new WEY premium brand with the VV5 and VV7 displayed inside. It was also conveniently located next to a yet-unopened WEY dealer. Turns out Haval is using its Red outlets, aimed at more mature – and wealthy – customers, as a stepping board to upgrade to WEY. It has its logic, although the sportiness of the WEY models might be more attractive to the Blue clientele…
Securing an instant test-drive unannounced was absolutely no issue for Haval Red in Yinchuan. To my surprise, the task is given to an actual pilot, complete with Formula 1-style overalls and red sneakers. Is this guy on call every day at the store?? As it was the case for Baojun 530 drive, he takes me to a quiet street where he can give the wheel to me. But instead, he explains – in Mandarin, so “gestures” is more accurate as no English was spoken during this test drive, that he will do a round trip on the street first before I can. Fine, but I’m pretty sure I can do that myself. What comes next is one of the biggest surprises I’ve had in any China trip let alone accompanied test drives. Off he goes full throttle straight onto the sidewalk slaloming between trees and approaching 100 km/h before abruptly turning left and right and stepping on the brakes like there’s no tomorrow!! I have to admit I was absolutely not expecting that.
But I also have to admit I’m absolutely loving it, and it shows how confident Haval is in its cars that it can afford to push the envelope even during a mundane test-drive around the corner booked at a dealer in a third-tier city. The driver proceeds to show me the various security features of the car including collision-assist as the car stops point blank in order to avoid the left sidewalk. I’m already a little dizzy when he gestures it’s my turn. Ummmm, so I never thought I would say that but I don’t think I have the corones to do exactly what you did, mate! Nevertheless I have my fun trying to take the car to its extremes and he obliges when I ask him to do it all over again so I can film from outside (see video at the start of the article).
How was the car? This is the 197hp 2.0 turbo H6 Red label priced at 133.000 yuan (US$20.900 or 17.600€). The exterior design is much improved compared to the previous generations of the model and it did also appear more imposing. The interior is, as Haval has accustomed us, sincerely top-notch: it looks, feels and oozes premium under the eyes and the fingers. A very impressive achievement for its price, that would make it one of the cheapest SUVs in market outright both in the USA and Europe. But it’s the sporty drive that closed the missing link for me – dynamics being the entire reason I want to actually drive Chinese cars. The H6 behaves in a completely different world as the larger and heavier H8 and H9 I drove myself. Braking is impressively abrupt and the car holds itself in-line – no tail-end movement – even during brutal direction changes and braking. The next step would have been testing it off-road as Haval prides itself in offering AWD variants for almost all its models. All-in-all a very satisfying experience with the Haval H6, which thoroughly deserves the #1 SUV title it has held for 5 years. I’m impressed.