Oh, how we laughed. The Chinese are going to sell their cars here? Good luck to them - and we were right. The first examples from The Red Dragon were absolutely dreadful. While they didn’t sell too badly, their poor quality and after-sales service killed them off for good in South Africa - or so we thought.
Memories of the Chery QQ3 and Hafei Lobo still terrify us to this day, but it didn’t keep the Chinese from trying. Chery has yet again re-entered the market, with a promising looking family SUV. But it’s Haval who have largely, by themselves, changed the way South Africans think about cars from China.
Their original H6 C (still on sale today) was the first truly impressive car to come from a Chinese car maker. Following that was the H2 and gargantuan H9 - which offered Toyota Prado size and luxury and Toyota RAV4 prices.
Their vehicles weren’t just good “for a Chinese car.” They were good, full stop. Yes, they had their flaws - perhaps they weren’t as economical as rivals - but overall, they were a great improvement on the first examples SA were burdened with.
With that quick rate of improvement, it won’t be long before these manufacturers are setting the standards for everyone else. You may roll your eyes at that, but remember, everyone doubted Honda and Toyota all those years ago.
And there are signs of this. Take the Haval Jolion that we’ve been driving recently. Not only is it absolutely bewitching to look at, but it’s got a gorgeous interior that has been stuffed full of standard features. What’s more, our test unit (a range-topping Super Luxury) costs just R398 900.
For not much, you receive a host of standard equipment. Six airbags, climate control, lane-keep assist and a panoramic sunroof are all part of the standard price. What’s more, you also receive a decent five-year/60 000 km service plan and five-year/100 000 km warranty plan.
All Jolion’s are powered by the same 1.5-litre turbopetrol, producing 105 kW and 210 Nm of torque. It’s not going to make for blistering acceleration, but it’s sufficient for a vehicle of this sort. It’s also nicely refined, keeping to itself in town driving and remaining hushed at highway speeds. That being said, push the accelerator and the four-cylinder can sound a touch strained, the engine note permeating the cabin slightly.
The ride comfort, despite the standard 18-inch alloy wheels, is very good. We’re very impressed with the strides made in this department - compared to the old H2, it rides far better and also has better steering. It’s weightier and more direct, eschewing the artificial feel of the forebearer.
The interior is arguably the highlight of the package. As mentioned, it’s exceptionally well-equipped but it also feels solid. There are one or two places where we see room for improvement, but overall it’s a lovely place to be. Great detailing really adds to the ambience of the cabin, the artificial leather giving a sense of luxury. Digital dials give a high-tech feel and remarkably, is a standard feature - something you pay dearly for in luxury German vehicles. We also thought the knurled, metalised gear selector is a nice touch.
As a family vehicle, interior space is important. And the Jolion doesn’t disappoint. Not content with being a good looking (and well-specced) SUV, the latest from Haval boasts a long wheelbase (2 700 mm) which benefits passengers. There is plenty of space in the front and rear, the electrically adjustable drivers’ seat providing many adjustment options. Fold the rear seats down and you turn the decently sized 337 L boot into a cavernous utility space, with 1 133 L at your disposal.
It says a lot about Haval, that their latest product has already proven to be a sales hit. Seemingly everywhere, the Jolion seems to have struck a chord with South Africans - and why wouldn’t it? It’s not only good looking, well-equipped and refined - but it represents phenomenal value for money. At a time when consumers are pinching their pennies, it’s important to buy and own a car that gives you maximum bang for your buck. Yes, there are still whisperings of hesitancy around owning a Chinese car. But for those who’ve signed on the dotted line, they’re not looking back.