If you were to look at China's car making prowess on a linear scale of time, It'd be in its infant stages compared to wall poster brands already celebrating centenaries. However, look at it in terms of progress, and brands like GWM's SUV arm, Haval, are on a meteoric rise.
This, for me, was further confirmed with a separate but happily coinciding test of Haval's H6 GT, shortly followed by a factory tour where it's assembled in GWM's mega-factory in Baoding, China.
Nearly a decade ago, I tested my first vehicle, a GWM Steed 5E. Naivety ruled the roost, and objectivity was an afterthought as I was mesmerised by what is now garden-variety features like turbos and colour screen infotainment screens. I soon learned that the 5E I held in such high regard was severely flawed compared to its then-mainstream segment peers. Fast-forward some years, and the Steed's replacement, wearing a P-Series nameplate, surpassed some of those aforementioned mainstream rivals. It had its flaws, mind, but the value it offered was undeniable. As for the point of this anecdote? In a single lifecycle update, GWM has made a singular leap that, comparatively, 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 on the same plane as 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 penmanship at Range Rover), who, in 2021, took the creative reins at Haval's design studio, the brand is churning out some breathtakingly striking cars. The aggressively reworked front end and slim headlights, the sweeping coupe roofline, and to add some drama and likely work around some arithmetically-challenging aerodynamic reasons, 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" digital drivers display and a 12.3" central infotainment screen that rises from the dash delivering reasonably crisp graphics and a touch-biased interface for easy navigation.
Is it perfect? No. It may be construed as nit-picking, but an option to have a cabin without the bright green or, even better, an exterior-interior colour coordination option would have been a welcome addition. 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 155 kW on tap from the 2.0-litre turbocharged engine and a bubbly 325 Nm of torque, the H6 GT delivers surprisingly spirited forward momentum during relatively normal driving conditions, making it easy to forget that it is indeed an SUV at its 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 thin. Despite the sporty 19" wheels, the suspension does a fine job of gracefully dealing with Gauteng's bumpy and pothole-infested roads.
Back to the engine, though, and the fact that it's 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 since max power is only available between 6,000 and 6,300 r/min. The 7-speed DCT 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 low 9 litres for every 100 kilos.
The suite of on-board safety features makes up for its lack of eco-consciousness with items like 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 featuring as added-value standard add-ons. Its crown jewel is undoubtedly the adaptive cruise control system that works seamlessly for the most part. Noted the 'most part' bit? On the 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 SA and its serial tailgaters, it defeats the purpose. Several culprits came too close to sampling their safety credentials at the back of the GT during the test period as it unexpectedly braked for no reason. I'm positive that a simple software tweak will remedy the situation that can become jarring, though.
Still, considering the price tag of R642,550, there's really not much to complain about. Perhaps just its petrol-drinking habit if we're honest.
All things considered, the Haval H6 GT is a testament to the progress that Chinese carmakers, particularly Haval, have made in recent years. This stylish and well-crafted vehicle now competes with segment leaders, leaving behind the days of the Made in China stigma. While it has its quirks and imperfections, the H6 GT offers good performance, advanced safety features, and a comfortable, tech-laden interior – the value offered is undeniable. As Haval continues to grow and refine its offerings, the H6 GT clearly helps to reshape perceptions and redefine the potential of this Chinese brand.