Challenger: Haval H6 GT helps put paid to the ‘Made in China’ stigma, easily able to take on its rivals produced by the more established marques
If you were to look at China’s car-making prowess on a linear scale of time, it would be in its infancy, compared with the wall-poster brands that are celebrating centenaries.
However, if you look at it in terms of progress, brands like GWM’s SUV arm Haval are on a meteoric rise.
This, for me, was confirmed by a separate, but happily coinciding, test of Haval’s H6 GT, which was followed by a tour of the GWM mega-factory where it’s assembled in Baoding, China.
Nearly a decade ago, I tested my first vehicle, a GWM Steed 5E. Naivety ruled, and objectivity was an afterthought, as I was mesmerised by what are now garden-variety features, such as turbos and colour infotainment screens.
I soon learned that the 5E I held in such high regard was severely flawed compared to its mainstream peers. Fast-forward some years and the Steed’s replacement, wearing a P-Series nameplate, surpassed some of those aforementioned rivals.
It had its flaws, mind you, but the value it offered was undeniable.
What is the point of this anecdote? In a single life cycle update, GWM has made a leap that has taken some popular brands twice as long.
The Haval H6 GT conforms to the same narrative. A few years ago, we were driving plastic-wrapped SUVs from Haval’s parent company GWM and now its cars are competing with the segment leaders.
The “Made in China” stamp no longer carries the “slapped together with tape and wishes” stain. I mean, just look at the GT. Under the design directorship of Phil Simmons, known for his work at Range Rover, who took the creative reins at Haval’s design studio in 2021, the brand is churning out some striking cars.
The aggressively reworked front end and slim headlights, the sweeping coupe roofline and, to add some drama (and probably work around some mathematically challenging aerodynamic problems), there are those dual spoilers.
The interior is similarly well put together with premium-looking and -feeling materials and, to add to the GT-esque nature of the H6, bright green trimmings.
It’s also generous on the tech front, with a 10.25-inch digital driver’s display and a 12.3-inch central infotainment screen that delivers reasonably crisp graphics and a touch-based interface for easy navigation.
Is it perfect? No. It might be construed as nit-picking but the option to have a cabin without the bright green or, even better, with exterior-interior colour coordination would have been welcome.
Also, the steering wheel’s rim feels too thin for my personal preference. I would have liked to see a chunkier tiller on something advertising the GT lifestyle.
But how does it drive? With 155kW on tap from the 2.0-litre turbocharged engine and a bubbly 325Nm of torque, the H6 GT delivers surprisingly spirited forward momentum during relatively normal driving conditions, making it easy to forget that it is an SUV at heart.
The steering is well weighted and precise, providing a good connection between the driver and the front wheels, even if the steering wheel’s rim is on the thin side.
Despite the sporty 19-inch wheels, the suspension does a fine job of gracefully dealing with Gauteng’s bumpy, pothole-infested roads.
Back to the engine, though, and the fact that it is a 2.0-litre turbo delivering on GT aspirations feels like a conflict of promise and ability when looking to extract maximum power potential.
It must work hard because max power is only available between 6 000 and 6 300r/min.
The 7-speed dual-clutch transmission at least works well to translate available power to the blacktop, even if the emanating sound and blurry nature of the passing scenery don’t necessarily resemble conventional Grand Touring with something of a heftier cylinder disposition.
Still, the engine is a hard worker; fuel consumption certainly is in the realm of GT-ing with everyday, attentive driving registering a low
9 litres for every 100km.
The suite of on-board safety features somewhat makes up for the vehicle’s lack of eco-consciousness, with items such as lane-keep assist, blind spot detection, a pre-collision warning with autonomous emergency braking for unaware pedestrians and cyclists and even a 360-degree camera.
Its crown jewel is undoubtedly the adaptive cruise-control system that works seamlessly for the most part. Noted the “most part” bit? On highways, it’s oversensitive towards gradual curves and overreacts at the sight of even the gentlest directional changes. I’m sure it works fine in other markets, but for South Africa and its serial tailgaters, its purpose is defeated.
Several culprits came close to sampling the GT’s safety credentials during the test period as it unexpectedly braked for no obvious reason. It is a bit jarring but I’m positive that a simple software tweak would remedy the situation.
All things considered, the Haval H6 GT is testimony to the progress that Chinese carmakers, particularly Haval, have made in recent years. This stylish and well-crafted vehicle competes with the segment leaders.
While it has its quirks and imperfections, the H6 GT gives good performance, advanced safety features and a comfortable, tech-laden interior offering undeniable value.
As Haval continues to grow and refine its offerings, the H6 GT helps to reshape perceptions and redefine the potential of this Chinese brand.
Price: R629 950.