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A Jol-ion good car: Chinese brand Haval keeps revving it up

A Jol-ion good car: Chinese brand Haval keeps revving it up
The new Haval Jolion HEV hybrid. (Photo: Haval SA)

When it comes to monthly sales, the Jolion, which is now also available as a hybrid, is causing a ruckus in the local car market.

In 2013, I was invited by Great Wall Motors (GWM) to attend the Shanghai Motor Show. Back then, us snobbish motoring journos regarded Chinese cars as a bit of a joke – an embarrassment, really. But, hey, this was a trip not to be sneered at. Not only would we be popping into the famous motor show, but a trip to the Great Wall of China and a stay over in Beijing was on the cards – I’d finally be able to stand on Tiananmen Square and pay homage to the students who were massacred in 1989.

Over the next few years, I continued to sneer at the idea of ever praising a Chinese-made car, let alone owning one.

About three years ago, I began noticing more and more Haval-branded cars on South African roads, but I remained a sceptic. However, the official Naamsa sales charts were telling a similar story and as much as I didn’t want to believe it, nothing short of a Chinese motoring coup was taking place on homegrown soil. 

The Jolion S. (Photo: Haval SA)

Since its introduction to the local market in 2017, Haval is now undoubtedly one of the fastest-growing foreign manufacturers in South Africa, regularly maintaining a top 10 ranking in the Naamsa sales reports. However, prejudice can run deep and I was still not convinced when I recently took two Jolions on back-to-back tests.

First the Jolion HEV, a hybrid that comes in two model derivatives: Luxury and the top-of-the-range Super Luxury, which was the one I had on test.

The Jolion HEV’s diamond black grille. (Photo: Haval SA)

Before even opening the driver’s door, I was struck by how damn good this car looked with its standout Diamond black grille, svelte curves, sporty alloys, silver roof rails and hard-to-ignore LED daytime running lights. After sliding behind the leather-wrapped steering wheel, the cabin shouted “Quality!” with soft-to-touch finishes and a large, 10.25-inch Multimedia Touch Display dominating the dashboard. 

And then there’s the panoramic sunroof that opens smoothly with a single touch. Was this really a Chinese car? With its premium finishes and sporty (albeit synthetic) leather seats, it felt a lot like a far more pricey German product. 

Well, maybe they’d got it right when it came to the exterior and interior styling, I grudgingly admitted, but surely this Haval was going to disappoint when it came to driving it? 

Supported by a 1.5-litre turbo-petrol engine that’s mated to an electric motor with combined outputs of 140kW and 375Nm, I soon discovered that this self-charging hybrid was no slouch. 

As I took it out on a 200km test run, much to my surprise, with a bit of a determined right foot, I experienced it as bordering on sporty on pull-off and on open roads! And so I sat back to enjoy a brisk, noiseless and effortless ride. 

My route also included a fair amount of gravel over which the Jolion HEV solidly sailed. But, surely, like most manufacturers, Haval must be exaggerating the claimed fuel consumption of 5.0 litres/100kms – much to my surprise, I landed up coming damn close, with an average of 5.5 litres.

However, it was the generous bouquet of safety and drive systems that ultimately got my stamp of approval. Along with all the usual basics like Electronic Stability System, Traction Control, ABS and EBD as standard, the Super Luxury Model also has cool stuff like a 360° Panoramic Camera, Adaptive Cruise Control, Traffic Jam Assist, Intelligent Turning Assist, Lane Departure Alert and Lane Keeping Assist, which kicks in if you veer too close to a white line – I did find it a bit intrusive for my liking and struggled to find the right screen to turn it off. Gripe aside, this kind of tech is usually only seen in much more expensive SUVs, which come at a hefty price. 

I did find the boot size somewhat compromised (because the large battery is housed in the back); however, with rear seats down, you get a generous 1,000 litres. Another bugbear is that the steering wheel is adjustable for height, but not for reach.

While the Jolion HEV is not cheap, it has so many impressive premium add-ons and such excellent fuel consumption that, when you do the numbers, it makes perfect sense as a strong competitor to the RAV4 hybrid in the New Energy Vehicle market. 

A week later, I also got to take the non-hybrid Jolion S Super Luxury model out for a couple of days. It’s positioned as the sport model of the range and priced between the entry-level straight Jolion and the more pricey HEV. Like its hybrid brother, it’s also a looker with the trademark Haval honeycomb grille and gloss-black 18-inch alloy wheels. 

The trademark Haval honeycomb grille. (Photo: Haval SA)

Engine-wise, it’s a 1.5-litre petrol turbo producing a respectable 130kW and 270Nm. There’s even a launch control system included, although one would hardly call this a racer, and there are four driving modes available: Standard, Eco, Sport and Snow.

While its drive on tar and on gravel was well balanced and grounded, I had a few niggles as it felt a bit laggy at times, and when I was too hard on the throttle it sometimes jerked. 

Unlike the hybrid model, which really was a smooth and surprisingly frugal drive, in an urban setting I found the Jolion S quite thirsty, averaging 10.5 L/100kms as opposed to the manufacturer’s claim of 7.6 litres/100kms, (although out on the open road I managed to get it in at around 9 litres). 

The Jolion HEV’s up-market cabin. (Photo: Haval SA)

Once again, I was impressed by the quality and modernity of the cabin with its 12.3-inch touchscreen and 7.0-inch digital instrument cluster. There’s also a handy heads-up display and a wireless charging pad, and the S has the same premium safety and drive assistance features as the Super Luxury hybrid. And it must be said that the boot space of 337 litres is noticeably better in the Jolion S than in the hybrid.  

Much like the cynicism when South Korean manufacturers Hyundai and Kia first started producing cars, historically there’s been scepticism around Chinese cars when it comes to drive quality, fuel consumption and resale value. But one would have to be living under a rock not to notice how many local motorists are embracing Chinese brands like Chery and Haval, which both keep catapulting up the sales charts. 

And with the appearance of a third player, BAIC, in the mix – which recently launched the extremely well-priced BEIJING X55 – Chinese cars are here to stay and will undoubtedly keep on ballooning in sales volumes. DM

Pricing: 

Jolion 1.5 T City  — R342,950

Jolion 1.5 T S Super Luxury  – R479,950

Jolion 1.5 HEV Super Luxury – R579,950 

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