In 10 years as a car reviewer, I am trying to recall if I have ever been massaged by a car before.  I have experienced being jostled, bounced around, and pushed back deep in my seat.  But no, not even the most expensive Mercedes-Benz has ever given me a back rub.  These thoughts run through my head as the soft knuckles in the Haval H9’s seat knead into my lower back, move up to the thoracic spine, then down again.  It is hard to be impartial when the subject you are reviewing is treating you to a day in the spa—while in the middle of Edsa.

Needless to say, the Haval H9 is not your garden variety SUV.  It is the latest premium seven-seater from Chinese automaker Great Wall Motors, a marque that may be unfamiliar to local ears, but which has been producing cars in China since 1984.  The company’s SUV line is branded as Haval, and it sounds more like a name from the Middle East than the Middle Kingdom. Local distributor Handyware Philippines sells this range of compact to mid-sized SUVs, such as the M4, H2, H5, and H6.  Their flagship, of course, is our H9 here.

Tall and husky, the H9’s body is 1-1/2 inches longer, 2-1/2 inches wider and 2-1/2 inches taller than the Ford Everest, making it larger than even the biggest PPV.  The front has a large grille that takes after the one on the Chrysler 300C.  The upswept headlights have xenon bulbs and LED DRLs inside, while the foglamps in the bumper are framed in chrome. The H9’s best angle, however, is from its side.  The lengthy profile with the short windows and high doors makes it look like an American SUV.  Along the D-pillar are vertical taillights, with a side-opening tailgate between them. There is a silver scuff plate underneath the bumper, and the tailpipe is detailed with a rectangular finisher.  Most Chinese car brands have a tendency to copy and paste styles from other car brands.  While the H9 borrows a few cues here and there, the design remains pretty original and restrained, making for one fine-looking SUV.

The only nitpick we have is with the logo.  The red box with the name spelled out in italics does not look very premium.  If your vehicle projects “HAVAL” on the floor via laser beams hidden under the side mirrors (which the H9 totally does), it better have an impressive insignia.

Inside, the cabin looks bright and airy, thanks to the beige ceiling and moonroof.  The interior has a distinctly upmarket feel.  The dashboard is mostly charcoal, but highlighted by silver accents and some faux wood garnish.  The dial and button arrangement is neat and organized, harking to a German style that is a bit of Volkswagen.  At the center is an eight-inch touch screen that controls audio, climate, vehicle settings, and seat functions.  This LCD also acts as the feed for the reversing camera with park assist.

8” touch LCD pipes to 9 speakers and a subwoofer

The orange-brown stitched cowhide in all three rows adds to the sunny disposition. The thick-cushioned, electronically adjusted front buckets envelope the occupants as snug as a mother’s embrace. The shape and color look very similar to the Mercedes-Benz ML 350 that we reviewed a few years ago.

But the real story is what these seats can do.  First is a welcome feature when you have been sitting for hours—AC cooled cushions. Perforations in the leather allow for two levels of cold air to pass through to the back of your legs and buttocks.  Second, while cooling your posterior, you can treat yourself to a nice rotating massager built right into the seatback. These invisible masseuses have two modes, hard or soft.  These amenities not only make traffic tolerable, but dare I say, enjoyable.

Opulent, comfy, leather-bound masseuses

Control-laiden, thick leather wheel

The rear seat passengers are given the first class treatment, as well, with dual monitors mounted on the front-row headrests, which are able to play video files from USB ports.  Apart from their own independently controllable AC vents, this section also has an air purifier to keep the cabin smelling fresh. The second row is wide enough to fit three people comfortably, and legroom is generous.  The 60:40 benches slide forward for access to the third row, which can seat two passengers.  When not in use, folding this aft-most section into the floor is made effortless by electronic buttons.  When it comes to luxurious refinements and features, the H9 is loaded to the nines.

Powering this Haval is a 2.0-liter petrol engine. If the displacement sounds small for a large SUV weighing 2,250 kg, be heartened that it is assisted by a turbocharger that whips the horses to 160 kW and the max torque to 324 Nm at 4,000 rpm.  When rubber met road, and the mode dial was set to Auto, there was a noticeable lag between pedal push and actual acceleration.  It felt like the engine was sluggish in pulling the weight, even with a complement of only two people.  We picked up the pace, though, by setting the option to Sport, but to the detriment of fuel efficiency.

Finding the 6-speed transmission too routine, the paddle shifters provided great relief and made the H9 accelerate adequately.  It may not go very fast, but the H9 can go anywhere.  There are Sand, Snow, and Mud settings in the mode dial for traversing terrain outside of concrete and asphalt. The H9 did 3.69 km per liter during heavy traffic, at an average speed of 15 kph.  We are told that Haval is currently developing a six-cylinder diesel powerplant for the H9, and that future variant should have better torque and economy.

6-speed AT mated to 4W

Big body overworks the 2.0.-engine

Handling is light and easy, considering the heft of this truck.  The double wishbone suspension in the front and multi-link in the rear did a good job of protecting the cabin from any undue bouncing. Not having a diesel engine meant no rattle, and external noises were kept to a minimum, contributing to the Zen in the cabin.

If you think all products from the Middle Kingdom come cheap, then the Haval H9’s price tag should dispel that notion. With the cost of ownership pegged at P3million, it is the same price as a basic Toyota Prado or Dodge Durango.  Meanwhile, the top-spec Ford Explorer costs only P2.74 million.  Of course at this price point, the other marques cannot offer the level of pampering that the H9 does.  None of them can give you a good shiatsu, either.

Brand-bias be damned, the H9 is an SUV that has ultra-luxury features in a (relatively) affordable package.  For those who want to have their cake and eat it too, you can really have it all with the Haval H9. AD

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