Haval H9 VS Mercedes-Benz GLA-Class
- Ride and gearbox both great
- Space galore
- Unbeatable value proposition
- Some electrical gremlins
- Huge lag when taking off
- A longer warranty with public capped-price servicing would help
- Exterior styling
- Interior and cabin appeal
- Rear space, and space overall
- Lack of boot space
- Driving position not too high for some
- Engine noise slightly un-sexy
From almost the moment carmakers began popping up in China, we've talked of the soon-to-arrive boom in Chinese new-car sales in Australia.
They're coming, we said. And no, they're not much chop right now, but they'll get better and better and better, until they're one day giving the best from Japan and Korea a run for their money.
That was years ago now, and the truth is, they never really got good enough to seriously rattle any cages here in Oz. They inched closer, sure, but there was still a heap of daylight between them and the competition.
But we've just spent a week piloting the updated Haval H9 large SUV, and we can report that the gap hasn't just shrunk, it's near-enough vanished, the daylight reduced to a sliver in lots of important areas.
So is this the beginning of the Chinese revolution?
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
Apparently there is an ugly Kardashian, but you don’t care, or if you do, you shouldn’t, so let’s talk about the Hemsworth brothers instead.
In any other family, Luke Hemsworth would probably be called handsome, if a little short. Unfortunately for him, standing next to Liam and the God who walks amongst us that is Chris (I had to interview him once, he really is dreamy), Luke looks like he’s barely keeping his chin above the water line at the shallow end of the gene pool.
The Mercedes-Benz SUV range has quite a variation of lookers in its family tree as well, but I would argue that the new, entry-level GLA is pretty much the Chris of the range, or at least the Liam. The unfortunate, slightly large-foreheaded GLB would obviously be the Luke.
The only problem with all this, of course, is that the car that originally gave birth to the GLA - the A-Class - is more attractive than all of them, and Craig Hemsworth, sire of the family, doesn’t quite pull that off.
The point is that the new GLA is going to be even more popular than the original one, which sold a staggering one million units worldwide, because it is not only bigger and taller, but better looking, inside and out.
And let’s face it, no one is buying an urban SUV like this for the way it can climb a snow-covered alpine pass. Even all-wheel drive is optional.
But the GLA has this niche nailed, and the new one - thanks to its style, space and the effortless way it rides - is going to be an even bigger success.
|Engine Type||2.0L turbo|
|Fuel Type||Premium Unleaded Petrol|
The Haval H9 Ultra is proof that Chinese cars are at last living up to the hype. The value proposition is unbelievable, and a five-year warranty helps calm any ownership concerns. Is it bang-on against the competition? Not quite. Not yet. But you can be sure that other vehicles in the segment can feel the H9's hot breath on the back of their necks.
Would you consider a Haval, or do you still doubt the Chinese? Tell us in the comments below.
You can tell that this car is going to be a success just by looking at it. For a lot of people, to see one will be to want one, and when they sit in that hugely high driving position and gaze upon the future-fabulous interior they’ll be even more sold.
It’s fair to say the GLA 250 does everything well - aside from providing boot space - and with great comfort, and in terms of looks, inside and out, it reaches the level of outstanding.
Personally, I’d take the lower and sleeker A Class every time.
It's a big and slab-sided beast, the H9, and it's unlikely to win too many beauty contests. But then, few in this category do, or attempt to, and it looks tough and purposeful, which is probably more important.
Front on, it looks positively massive, with its giant and silver-slatted grille, huge headlights and a jumbo foglight perched like alien eyes in the furthest corners of the front end.
From the side, lashings of silver (a touch too blingy for our tastes) break up an otherwise fairly bland profile, with the rubber-gripped sidesteps a nice touch. From the back, a large and largely unremarkable rear end is home to a massive, side-hinged boot opening, with the pull handle mounted to the far left.
It's not perfect in places, though, with some panels that don't quite match up, and more gaps between others than we'd like, but you have to look closely to notice.
Inside, the fit and finish is pretty good, with a giant faux-wood centre console home to a one-touch gear lever, an electric handbrake (a luxury still missing in some Japanese models) and most of the four-wheel-drive functions. The "eco" leather on the seats and the soft-touch dash are both nice under the touch, as is the steering wheel, and the second and third rows are pleasantly furnished, too.
I have to say that it’s quite an effort for a car company to get me interested in the look of an SUV, but from its tough, bold and yet stylish grille to its taut back end and BMW-aping rear light cluster, the new GLA really is a looker.
I had the good fortune to bring our GLA 250 test vehicle home and park it right next to the previous model, in the same colour, thus properly ruining the day of one of my neighbours.
The growth in size is clear - the new car is 12cm taller, 30mm wider and has a 30mm-longer wheelbase, yet overall it is 14mm shorter, which makes it look neater as well as stronger - but it’s the little tucks and tweaks of design that have really improved the look. The rear-light cluster is worth mentioning again, as it's just so much nicer.
While the original GLA was simply a case of making an A Class on stilettos, its success has encouraged Benz to really pour some effort into its successor, and the result is clear. This thing is a real looker.
Very practical, thanks for asking. It's a behemoth (4856m long, 1926mm wide and 1900mm high), so space is really no problem in the cabin.
Up front, there are the prerequisite brace of cupholders, mounted in a centre console so wide you could play football on it, and the seats are big and comfortable (and they'll give you a massage to boot). There is room in the front doors for bottles, and the infotainment, while a little slow and clunky, is easy to understand and operate.
Climb into the second row and there's heaps of space (both leg and headroom) for passengers, and you can, without doubt, fit three kids across the back. There is a storage net on the rear of each of the front seats, room for bottles in the doors and two more cupholders in the pulldown divider.
There's no shortage of niceties for backseat riders, too, with air vents and temperature controls and heated rear seats. And there are two ISOFIX points, one in each window seat.
Things aren't so luxurious for third-row passengers, with thin-and-hard seats mounted in cramped surrounds. But there are third-row vents and a cupholder for seats six and seven.
The side-hinged boot opens to reveal a laughably small storage space with the third row in place, but things improve considerably when you flatten (electronically, no less) the rear seats, with a gigantic storage area that will have your phone ringing hot every time one of your friends is moving house.
The main goal of the GLA’s new, more SUV-like shape, in practicality terms, seems to have been to lift the driver even further off the ground, because the command-seating position is obviously a big selling point for someone who finds the A Class too ground-hugging.
So, while some of that growth in height has been used to increase head room to the point where I could easily wear Abraham Lincoln’s hat while driving, much of it has gone to making the driving position a full 10cm higher than in the previous GLA (it’s also 14cm higher than in an A Class).
Personally, the height of the seat drove me slightly spare, and every time I got in I tried to lower it, only to find it doesn’t go any lower, but, tellingly, my wife - who is not far off being an elf - loved it.
What I did like was the back seat, which is truly voluminous. Through clever packaging, Benz has managed to liberate no less than 12cm of extra legroom back there, and I could properly stretch out.
With its standard double-paned panoramic roof and huge windows (part of huge doors, which do come close to scraping on any gutter higher than a match box), it’s a very glassy interior indeed, and visibility is excellent.
There are two cupholders between the front seats, and there’s storage for big bottles in each door. Oddment storage is plentiful, although they could have more if they did away with the now redundant mouse pad and the so-called “arm rest” behind that, which feels more like a gear-shift lever they forgot to remove when they put the shifting functions up on a column stalk.
There’s no need for the track pad any more because the giant and truly very lovely 10.25-inch touch screen does everything via touch, and sits next to another screen the same size that acts as your dash readout, making the whole thing look like a particularly long iPad.
While other car companies, including Audi, which has long been the winner in any interior-design conversation, are still just jamming big screens on top of dashboards, Benz has turned its entire dash into a digital display, and it looks amazing, and futuristic. Like a concept car you can actually buy.
The overall feeling of quality and tech - particularly at night when it all lights up beautifully in a colour of your choosing - in this alluring interior is one of the main reasons buyers will flock to the new GLA.
The seats are not as sporty as some, but they’re comfortable enough.
The one letdown, however, which comes as a shock with all that space in the rear, is the boot, which is just 435 litres, compared to the Audi Q3’s far more practical 530 litres. It really is a surprise when you open the back and see so little there, and that really does lower the practicality mark.
Price and features
Let's be honest, Haval hasn't been around anywhere near long enough in Australia to sell on anything even resembling badge loyalty. So if it is any hope of increasing its 50-odd sales a month (March 2018), it knows it has to sweeten the pot on price.
And it doesn't get much sweeter than the $44,990 sticker glued to the H9 Ultra. That's about $10k cheaper than the cheapest Prado (and a staggering $40k cheaper than the most-expensive version), and the Ultra is absolutely swimming with kit for the money.
Outside, the alloy wheels are 18 inches, there are LED daytime running lights, front and rear fog lamps, dusk-sensing headlights with a follow-me-home function and standard roof rails.
Inside, the faux-leather seats are heated in the first two rows (and ventilated in the front), and there's even a massage function for the driver and passenger. The windows are powered, as is the fold-flat function for the third row, and there's a sunroof, leather-wrapped steering wheel and aluminium pedals, too.
On the tech front, an 8.0-inch touchscreen (but no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto) is paired with a 10-speaker stereo, and there is standard navigation, keyless entry and push-button start.
Finally, there's a heap of safety and off-roading kit, but we'll come back to that under our other sub-headings.
I find it hard to believe I’m saying this about a Benz, but at a starting price of $66,500, the GLA 250 4MATIC does seem like quite a lot of car for the money. This might be influenced by the fact that I know a couple who recently dropped more than $70K on the smaller A Class (they actually went shopping for a GLA, but then fell in love with the look of the little hatch).
There, are of course, always issues with the Germans when it comes to what you do and don’t get for your tempting entry price, and in the case of our test vehicle it would stick in my craw quite badly to pay $385 extra for its Polar White paint. Yes, white paint costs extra.
While the Titan Grey Pearl and Black Lugano Leather is nice, it’s only in the car as part of the $2838 AMG Exclusive Package. Throw in the Sports Package at $1915, which gets us the sexy 19-inch AMG alloys, and the Driving Assistance Package for $1531 worth of extra active safety, drop on a dollop of LCT at $1329 and the asking price for our urban SUV hits a less-enticing-sounding $74,498.
Your standard inclusions for the $66,500 are a very lovely panoramic electric sunroof, heated and electronically adjustable front seats, with memory function, lowered comfort suspension and sports-direct steering, plus the Off-Road Engineering Package, while the standard, non AMG wheels are also 19-inch alloys, presumably just less sexy ones.
And you don't have to pay extra for Apple CarPlay, which is nice.
Engine & trans
It's like a diesel in disguise, this 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol engine, making 180kW at 5500rpm and 350Nm at 1800rpm. It's paired with an eight-speed automatic gearbox, and drives all four wheels. That means a sprint to 100km/h of "just over 10 seconds” - about two seconds faster than the car it replaces.
Haval's All-Terrain Control System is also standard, meaning you can choose between six drive settings, including Sport, Mud or 4WD Low.
The GLA 250 comes with 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder petrol engine that makes a handy 165kW and 350Nm, which is sent to all four wheels using 4MATIC all-wheel drive. The claimed 0 to 100km/h time is 6.7 seconds.
Your silky smooth gearbox is an eight-speed, or 8G-DCT automatic, in Benz speak.
The engine feels powerful enough, without being exciting, and sounds pleasant enough, without sounding sporty - it's pretty much Goldilocks for an urban SUV.
Haval reckons you'll get 10.9 litres per 100 kilometres on the combined cycle, with emissions a claimed 254g/km. The H9's 80-litre tank will only accept premium 95RON fuel, which is a shame.
We did a lot of kilometres in the Haval (perhaps subconsciously we were waiting for it to fall over), and over all sorts of road conditions, and it never skipped a beat.
The obvious standout is the ride, which is now very good, and disposes of CBD bumps and corrugations without fuss. At no stage does it feel dynamic or overly connected to the road, but it creates a comfortable disconnect that makes you feel you're floating above the ground. Not good for a performance car, sure, but it suits the character of the big Haval just fine.
The steering has a wafty vagueness, though, and it doesn't inspire confidence on anything twisty, with plenty of corrections when you're tackling something challenging.
The rolling delivery of power is surprisingly strong and smooth when you plant your foot. But there are downsides to a small turbocharged engine shoving the size of a block of flats around. For one, the engine has this staggering delay when you first plant your foot from a standstill - as though you're playing chess with the engine and it is figuring out its next move - before finally surging into life. It makes overtaking moves a heart-stopping challenge at times.
The petrol engine (which does a remarkable job of masquerading as a diesel) can feel a little rough and rugged when you really plant your foot, too, and you'll find all the useable power lurking at the low-end of the rev range. It is bloody comfortable, though. The vision is very good out of all windows, including the rear windscreen. And the gearbox is terrific, seamlessly and smoothly swapping cogs.
But... there were some electrical gremlins. For one, the proximity unlocking is the weirdest we've encountered - sometimes it works, other times its more complicated, and you need a textbook to figure out how it talks to the boot. The alarm went off twice despite me unlocking the doors, too. It might be some user error that I don't understand, but worth mentioning either way.
With such a high driving position, the worry is that you’re going to feel like you’re sitting on the new GLA rather than in it.
But the fact is that, once I became accustomed to the fact that I couldn’t get the seat as low as I wanted to, it all became comfortable enough, and I could get on with fully appreciating the ride quality.
While the GLA has a good, Germanic solidity to the way the interior is bolted together - the doors are almost too heavy, I fact, and can be tough for little people to close - it’s the way it sits on the road that really impresses.
The little Benz soaks up the bumps, particularly in Comfort mode, and provides the kind of ride and handling quality that you’d expect in a six-figure German car. Or a Benz of old, you might say.
Critics of A Classes past were heard to complain that they just didn’t ride as softly or richly as a Mercedes should, but the company has put things to rights with its smaller cars in recent years and you really feel like you’re getting the badge you paid for here.
Step out of the cruisy, snoozy Comfort setting into Sport, however, and the CLA feels out of its, well, comfort zone. It’s almost too toey for its own good, wanting to lurch around, holding each gear desperately and making noises that are merely loud rather than sexy.
Engine noise is a little intrusive whenever you try and accelerate fiercely in the GLA, in fact, but there is some handy pace there if you really need it.
Fast driving does feel out of character for the GLA 250 variant, however, and those who want that kind of thing should wait for the AMG-fettled version that will arrive in the next month or so, bringing 225kW and 400Nm.
As a cornering weapon, this car is more of a butter knife, smoothing its way around bends with minimal bodyroll. It’s an urban SUV, and it drives like one, albeit a very good one.
Typically, the steering is also light and easy to use rather than heavy and talkative.
Being the 4-MATIC variant, the GLA 250 also offers an Off-Road mode, which takes full advantage of its torque-on-demand all-wheel-drive system, but sadly our slightly brief introduction to the car didn’t provide us with the chance to hurl it down a scree-covered mountain side, nor to test out its version of hill-descent control.
The safety story starts with dual front and front-side airbags, as well as curtain bags that stretch across all three rows. You'll also find a revising camera, as well as front and rear parking sensors.
Happily, Haval has also embraced the newer technologies, so you'll get lane-departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert and blind-spot monitoring. Off-road, hill descent control is standard, and Haval claims a safe fording depth of 700mm.
The H9 received a four-star ANCAP crash rating when the outgoing model was tested in 2015.
The GLA has not been ANCAP or Euro NCAP crash rated yet, but the first car got five stars from the Euro test and was never ANCAP tested. It’s safe to say they design their cars around being damn sure they get five stars.
You’ll also be getting no less than nine airbags - front, pelvis side and window bags for driver and front passenger, sidebags for the rear occupants and a knee bag for the driver.
In terms of active safety, the Active Brake Assist - which works up to 60km/h - is standard, as is Blind Spot Assist, with exit-warning function, which alerts the driver to approaching cyclists or vehicles when they’re about to open their door. Active Lane Keep Assist is also standard, as are the Active Bonnet, Traffic Sign Assist and Cross Wind Assist.
But you will have to stump up for the Driving Assistance Package to get things like Active Lane Change Assist, Active Emergency Braking Assist and Evasive Steering Assist.
Your GLA comes with a five-year, unlimited-kilometre warranty, which is Japanese good, if not Korean good.
In terms of servicing, you can choose to purchase a Service Plan or pay as you go with capped-price servicing.
The costs for three annual services are $2050 for the Service Plan, or $2550 with the Capped Price Servicing (first is $550, second is $750, third $1250).
Service Plans can be bought in four or five-year lots, at $2950 and $3500 respectively.