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GWM Haval Jolion 2024 review: Hybrid long-term | Part 1

Joli good then (or is it?) (image: Tom White)

The Haval Jolion is a car of the moment: The right SUV, at the right place, at the right time and at the right price.

While storied small SUV rivals from Japan and Korea are plagued by increasing prices and long waiting lists at a time when budgets are tighter than ever, this Chinese alternative owes much of its success to simply being available to a mainstream buyer today at a price which won't force you to refinance your mortgage.

Since it's initial 2021 arrival, the Jolion has followed the MG ZS in rocketing up the sales charts, and now, several years on, its range has expanded to include the more powerful S variant, alongside an intriguing plugless hybrid - the same kind of hybrid which has made Toyota such a default choice in households across the country.

For this review we'll be mainly focusing on the hybrid version - it could be Haval's watershed moment - the budget, cleverly packaged fuel-sipper your balance sheet demands.

However, due to a scheduling conflict I ended up in the sporty combustion alternative, the Jolion S, for almost the entire first month of this review.

My fuel card's loss is your gain, as this offers me the alternative to test the two variants back-to-back. At a similar price, what's the difference, and which is better? Let's find out.

The two are almost identical when it comes to standard equipment, too. (image: Tom White) The two are almost identical when it comes to standard equipment, too. (image: Tom White)

How much does the Haval Jolion cost - and which version is the best?

It's no secret the Jolion's primary appeal is price. Entry-level versions of the car cost from just $28,490 drive-away definitely enough to get buyers in the door, so many buyers in fact the Jolion is now one of Australia's best-selling small SUVs, now ranking third behind only the Mazda CX-30 and MG ZS.

The two variants we're looking at for this review, though, are the top-spec versions of both the combustion and hybrid range. The S which I've been driving for most of the month costs $36,990 drive-away, while the Ultra Hybrid I've just hopped into costs $40,990, although both can be had for $1000 less as part of special offer that's available until September 30, 2023.

The two are almost identical when it comes to standard equipment, too. Standard gear is 18-inch alloy wheels, LED headlights, a 12.3-inch multimedia touchscreen with wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, a big sunroof, wireless charging, a digital instrument cluster, a head-up display, synthetic leather interior trim, dual-zone climate control, and keyless entry with push-start ignition.

The two variants we’re looking at for this review, though, are the top-spec versions of both the combustion and hybrid range. (image: Tom White) The two variants we’re looking at for this review, though, are the top-spec versions of both the combustion and hybrid range. (image: Tom White)

The real difference is the black styling pack on the S as opposed to the more chrome look of the hybrid. The S also gets its own sportier suspension tune with independent rear suspension in place of the standard torsion beam, and it also squeezes an additional 20kW/50Nm out of the 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine.

The hybrid instead scores the same 1.5-litre engine, sans turbo, mated up to an electric motor for better fuel consumption.

It sounds like you get the choice between a driver's car and an economic car, but as it turns out, the hybrid shines in so many unexpected ways.

The screens look nice, but have frustrating software - a common trait amongst Chinese cars. (image: Tom White) The screens look nice, but have frustrating software - a common trait amongst Chinese cars. (image: Tom White)

What is the Haval Jolion like on the inside?

It's alright. There are bits of it which I like a lot. The design is very modern with a terraced design, adorned with big screens, and a tasteful mix of materials, there's a good blend of hard plastics and soft-touch finishes.

To me, at least, the design on the inside is a bit less derivative than that of this car's MG ZS rival.

For the most part, this SUV punches above its size and price bracket with a voluminous interior. (image: Tom White) For the most part, this SUV punches above its size and price bracket with a voluminous interior. (image: Tom White)

I don't so much like the abundance of Haval badging on four of the five seats, nor am I a fan of the synthetic leather material, which isn't convincing anyone. At least it seems easy to clean.

The seats are also quite comfortable, although only the driver gets power adjust, even on the Ultra grade.

The floor is also flat in both positions - the result of clever packaging, which gives this car some of the benefits normally only reserved for EVs. (image: Tom White) The floor is also flat in both positions - the result of clever packaging, which gives this car some of the benefits normally only reserved for EVs. (image: Tom White)

The screens look nice, but have frustrating software - a common trait amongst Chinese cars.

I primarily use Apple CarPlay which looks great, and runs fast enough, but there's no volume dial. Only the driver gets a toggle on the steering wheel, so if you want to adjust the volume it's through a slide-out touch interface on the distant left-hand side of the multimedia screen. Annoying.

There are, mercifully, shortcut buttons for the climate functions below the panel, but there are some things, like fan speed and recirculation which can only be adjusted via the touch menu.

The dual-clutch has been swapped out for a two-speed electrified transmission. (image: Tom White) The dual-clutch has been swapped out for a two-speed electrified transmission. (image: Tom White)

Is the Haval Jolion practical?

For the most part, this SUV punches above its size and price bracket with a voluminous interior.

The front seat feels spacious and wide despite its relatively small exterior footprint, and the same can be said for the back seat, which has a massive open space, offering me (at 182cm tall) plenty of legroom and headroom.

The floor is also flat in both positions - the result of clever packaging, which gives this car some of the benefits normally only reserved for EVs.

I primarily use Apple CarPlay which looks great, and runs fast enough, but there’s no volume dial. (image: Tom White) I primarily use Apple CarPlay which looks great, and runs fast enough, but there’s no volume dial. (image: Tom White)

This includes plenty of space for an adult to put their feet in the centre position, and a big pass-through storage area under the centre console in the front.

There are also a host of clever little storage spaces throughout the cabin, with the front offering slots for phones and wallets, a wireless charger in both the S and the Ultra hybrid, complete with a pass-through from the console below should you want to use a cable. Tidy.

Rear amenities include bottle holders in the doors and a drop-down centre armrest, while the console offers dual adjustable air vents and dual USB-outlets. I'd actually go so far as to say it's one of the best rear seats in the class.

It features a digital instrument cluster. (image: Tom White) It features a digital instrument cluster. (image: Tom White)

There's 430 litres of boot space which seems plentiful. Actually, it's one of the few small SUVs I've tested in recent memory which can fit our large dog bed without having to contort it or put the seats down, so points for pet owners there, and it will fit the whole three-piece CarsGuide luggage set, too.

Aside from the annoying touch interface features, then, the Jolion, in S and Hybrid Ultra specs, is one of the more practical options in the small SUV space.

What's the Jolion like to drive - is the Jolion S or Hybrid better?

There's a clear winner here.

I've been driving the S for a month, covering 836km, which included a long drive to Canberra to mix-up the day-to-day suburban traffic duties I normally subjected it to.

The S is very impressive when you consider where Haval has come from in recent memory, and I think it has more appealing attributes than the MG ZS which, even at the best of times, has a clumsy ride and the feeling of imminent understeer. Instead, the Jolion feels more resolved and balanced when it comes to cornering.

The real difference is the black styling pack on the S as opposed to the more chrome look of the hybrid. (image: Tom White) The real difference is the black styling pack on the S as opposed to the more chrome look of the hybrid. (image: Tom White)

To sell its sporty positioning, the S swaps out the standard rear torsion beam for multi-link rear suspension, but it also gets a much harder suspension tune, combined with a trim weight, this makes for a brittle, hollow experience over bumps and corrugations.

The steering is nothing to write home about, feeling a tad numb, and the dual-clutch transmission can be a little clumsy at low speeds.

It's far from the worst dual-clutch system I've used, and it's rare for a Chinese car to feel as though it has more than enough power with the turbo surge from the tweaked engine in the S offering a bit of rare fun factor in a category often filled with whitegoods performance.

The hybrid instead scores the same 1.5-litre engine, sans turbo, mated up to an electric motor for better fuel consumption. (image: Tom White) The hybrid instead scores the same 1.5-litre engine, sans turbo, mated up to an electric motor for better fuel consumption. (image: Tom White)

I'm not sure I'd go so far to say the S is worth picking over a standard Ultra or Lux, though, as the hard ride is a trade-off and the additional power doesn't seem worth the extra dollars.

This became especially true once I hopped behind the wheel of the hybrid and was greeted with a completely different drive experience.

The Hybrid is quieter, orders of magnitude smoother, and feels just as powerful. The dual-clutch has been swapped out for a two-speed electrified transmission.

The S squeezes an additional 20kW/50Nm out of the 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine. (image: Tom White) The S squeezes an additional 20kW/50Nm out of the 1.5-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine. (image: Tom White)

The system is clever and looks like it works in a similar fashion to Toyota's very well received ‘Hybrid Synergy Drive'.

The initial hop of the dual-clutch engaging in the S is replaced by a silent push from an electric motor, with the engine seamlessly engaging at higher speeds.

The two-ratio system effortlessly swaps between electric and combustion drive, depending on which is most efficient at the speed you're travelling, with the change being imperceptible to the driver.

Standard gear includes LED headlights. (image: Tom White) Standard gear includes LED headlights. (image: Tom White)

This is unless you're under particularly heavy acceleration, when the engine will break the immersion by surging up to speed. Dare I say, it's almost as good as the Toyota system it was no doubt inspired by.

It's by far the best Jolion to drive around town as a result, and even the ride quality is better in the hybrid despite its rear torsion bar, thanks to a bit of additional weight giving it a more confident heft over the bumps, whilst remaining balanced in the corners.

To be clear - it's no handling hero - but it's at least getting close to its rivals from Japan and Korea.

A final note is how annoying the active safety suite is in this car and how it only serves to make the hybrid even better.

Bizarrely in the S, I was forced to turn of the entirely counter-intuitive driver attention alert system every single time I started the car.

To be clear - it’s no handling hero - but it’s at least getting close to its rivals from Japan and Korea. (image: Tom White) To be clear - it’s no handling hero - but it’s at least getting close to its rivals from Japan and Korea. (image: Tom White)

The system monitors your face with a camera, and sounds a chime if it thinks you're not paying enough attention to the road.

It's easily confused by hats and sunglasses, and is distracting to operate as you have to acknowledge a tiny button on the central touchscreen to get it to stop beeping.

For some reason, I'm able to permanently turn it off in the hybrid. A feature I am very thankful for.

For longer journeys, I'd also want to turn off the lane keep software. To be fair to Haval, Kia's interpretation of lane keep tech is just as annoying and heavy-handed, and there are worse offenders in this space like Chery, but the Haval's system comes with the additional annoyance of commandeering the digital dash cluster.

The cluster looks okay, but if you want to use one of its many screens, like the trip computer or the hybrid monitoring panel, you have to turn the lane keep software off every time you start the car otherwise it's the only screen available to you.

Software update please.

After only an hour or two behind the wheel of the Jolion Hybrid, though, I'm sold on it as the by far the best version of this car to drive. It has the best ride, the best transmission, and it has a few less annoying features compared to the S.

Whether it can beat the 7.2L/100km I scored in the S and if so by how much remains to be seen. Tune in next month to find out if the hybrid Jolion can hold a candle to its Toyota Corolla Cross rival.

Haval Jolion S

Acquired: August 2023

Distance travelled this month: 836km

Odometer: 6760km

Average fuel consumption this month: 7.2L/100km

$24,290 - $40,485

Based on 762 car listings in the last 6 months

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