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Love for Great Wall Motor's Haval H8

What the heck is a ­Haval? I can already hear you asking the question before I have even begun my spiel. I don’t blame you, because the marque was a mystery to me, too, before testing the H8 Luxury. I had barely laid eyes on a Haval, much less driven one.

So let’s establish its credentials before going any further. Haval was created in 2006 as a sub-brand of Chinese ­carmaking giant Great Wall Motor, and its thing is SUVs – that’s all it builds. So far, it seems to have made a decent fist of it, selling more than 650,000 vehicles worldwide last year. To put that into perspective, off-roading icon Land Rover sold 487,065 units (a record for the brand) during the same period, and only Jeep (with 1,237,583 sales last year) stands ahead of Haval as a purveyor of SUVs.

As reflected by these numbers, Haval is clearly doing something right, although I wondered if its burgeoning sales figures were more down to a captive audience in its home market of ­China. After arriving at the Sheikh Zayed Road dealership in Dubai, I’m mildly horrified to discover the test vehicle I’m to pedal for the next three days is festooned with large, bright orange stickers all over the flanks that spell the vehicle’s identity. Needless to say, it isn’t the example you see pictured.

Looking past the garish livery, I can see the H8 Luxury’s styling incorporates a mélange of design cues that borrow heavily from the previous-gen ­Volkswagen Touareg, Chevrolet Captiva, Hyundai Santa Fe… and I can even glean a bit of BMW X5 in there. That said, the overall package looks well-resolved, and although it’s hardly original, no one is likely to be offended by the proportions.

Stepping into the elevated cabin (the door closes with a reassuring “thunk”, rather than a tinny “clang”), I’m greeted by a layout that’s surprisingly hospitable. The sumptuous leather seats are extremely comfortable – even the pews in the back are massively spacious and cosseting – and the sweeping surfaces on the dash and door trims are quite elegant. That said, the wood trim inserts look somewhat like faux timber. I couldn’t quite tell.

Overall kit levels are good. The H8 Luxury’s standard features include cruise control, ­parking sensors, a reversing camera, rear vents with individual controls, rain-sensing wipers, eight-inch touchscreen control for audio/vehicle settings, electric tailgate, alloy side steps, roof rails, 19-inch rims, a huge glass sunroof, front/side/curtain airbags, ­”intelligent” lighting, hill-­descent control, hill-hold ­control and self-levelling suspension. You also get a 10-­speaker Infinity sound system.

So far, so good, but will it all go pear-shaped the minute I trundle away from the dealership? Here, too, a surprise is in store. The H8 Luxury is quiet and soft-­riding, and its levels of refinement aren’t too far removed from the German luxury SUV brigade. Most road-surface irregularities are effortlessly soaked up, although the cushy ride comes at the cost of handling dynamics that are best described as roly-poly. Don’t bother trying to hustle the Haval. Far better to cruise at moderate pace and bask in its comfort and quietude.

Propulsion comes from a ­turbocharged 2.0L four-cylinder engine, and although its outputs of 218hp and 324Nm are respectable, it has its work cut out in hauling around the 2,130 kilogram SUV. Its cause isn’t helped by a mushy throttle pedal, which needs to be stamped on with venom to extract anything resembling decent acceleration. On the plus side, the six-speed auto gearbox is beautifully smooth and seamless, so much so that you’re barely aware of it swapping cogs.

In normal driving conditions, the H8 Luxury sends drive to the rear wheels only, but a torque-on-demand system automatically shunts a percentage of torque to the front if there’s a loss of traction at the rear. But let’s face it, the typical buyer for this vehicle isn’t going off-road. As an urban chariot, the Haval is very agreeable.

As an overall entity, there isn’t too much wrong with the H8 ­Luxury. It ticks most of the boxes in terms of merit, but its biggest challenge is presented by its country of origin – which is still associated with dodgy quality in motoring circles – and the fact that Haval has no track record in the region. Faced with the dilemma of unknown reliability and resale values, most consumers will probably be more inclined to stick with a contender from the established Japanese/Korean horde.

Interestingly, Haval hasn’t gone in with a killer price to attract buyers to the brand: the H8 Luxury’s ask of Dh117,000 isn’t exactly bargain-basement territory. I hope this doesn’t stymie its prospects, because it deserves to succeed.

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