IF YOU haven't heard of Haval, you're not alone.
It's a total tiddler in Australia today, even if - like every other ambitious immigrant to land on our shores - it has big plans for the future.
Haval is an upscale, SUV-only offshoot from the basic working-class brand Great Wall, which primarily sells utes.
It has been in Australia since last year with a four-model line-up, although so far it has managed just 286 sales. A new H7, with more of a coupe look than a boxy SUV, is on the way.
Despite modest sales in Australia, the H6 is currently China's best-selling SUV.
It's a Mazda CX-5-sized family wagon with a drive-away bottom line of $29,990. To put that in perspective, the CX-5 starts from $27,890 before on-roads and most of its opposition will be more like $35,000 with similar equipment and the drive-aways done.
That means, despite the upscale ambitions of the group, it's a challenger brand at the bottom end of the SUV scale.
As with the other challengers, it needs to under-promise and over-deliver on everything from design and cabin quality to - inevitably - a five-year warranty to give peace of mind to people taking a punt on a Haval.
There are two H6 versions but both have a 2.0-litre turbo petrol engine and front-wheel drive, with a six-speed dual-clutch gearbox from Getrag.
Even the basic Premium - there's also the fully-loaded LUX - gets all-round parking radar, a reversing camera, dual-zone auto air con, keyless entry and start, auto lamps and wipers and 17-inch alloys.
Moving up to the LUX at $33,990 drive-away brings bigger alloys, xenon headlights, a giant sunroof and heated seats with fake leather.
But there is no ANCAP safety rating yet and that's a big question needing answering soon, given the poor record of Chinese cars in crash testing.
On the road
I'm not expecting much from the Haval. My experience with Chinese cars shows they are underdone in quality and refinement, despite big promises and massive enthusiasm from a range of brands including Geely, Chery and Great Wall.
And let's not get started on reliability problems at Great Wall, or the asbestos found in some Great Walls that arrived in Australia.
But the H6 is surprisingly un-bad. It's a huge step up from the Mahindra from India I drove last year, and even my experience with the Holden Captiva.
The car looks good, the paint finish is good and the cabin quality - both the materials and how they fit together - is impressive. In a blind test without a badge, the H6 cabin could easily pass for something from a Japanese maker.
The H6 also gets along well, is pretty quiet in all conditions, has great air con and is roomy for my family.
Are you waiting for the but? Well, here it comes.
The tyres on the Haval are plain awful, which means a brittle ride, too much thumping over bumps and poor cornering grip in all road conditions.
They are from Cooper, an American company with a solid reputation and a wide range of products. I'm wondering if Haval has gone cheap on the rubber or made the choice, so I contact the importer - Terry Smith, a long-time friend - to discover he is also not happy with what Haval has done. He's even sent some of his people to talk direct to Haval.
Why make such a big deal about tyres? Because they show the Haval people still don't know what they don't know, and that's always dangerous in the car business. The tyres are also a major disconnect from the rest of the H6 package and ring alarm bells as I wonder what else has, or could, go wrong.
I'm also finding the external mirrors are way too big, obstructing my view at intersections, a space-saver spare is a negative and - for some reason - the warning lights for the rear seatbelts stay on throughout my test time.
But it's hard to argue against the car while in the driveway, or the excellent value in the H6 package.
Looking at how it fits in the SUV scene, it's definitely ahead of a Captiva and makes a value case against regulars with Honda and Nissan and even Toyota badges.
It's not a pacesetter or a frontrunner, but it is not as bad as I expected.
The H6 isn't great but I can see people looking at the price and standard equipment and warranty, then wondering if it's worth a punt.
For me, it's fine as a value purchase and the quality looks good, which is a big step up from Great Wall and its utes that were sharply priced but prone to problems. But the Great Wall history has me worried - and then there are the tyres.
I also wonder how it will go in ANCAP testing, particularly as the Ford Mustang - a car I expected to be at least a four-star success - recently got a lacklustre two-star score.
So, although the Haval H6 gets surprisingly close, it's hard to give it the nod.
Price: From $29,990 drive-away.
Warranty: Five years/100,000km.
Capped price servicing: $2388 for three years.
Service intervals: 12 months/10,000km.
Safety: Not tested yet.
Engine: 2.0-litre turbocharged petrol, 145kW/315Nm.
Transmission: Six-speed dual-clutch auto front-wheel drive.
Dimensions: 4549mm (L), 1835mm (W), 1700mm (H), 2720mm (WB).
Spare: Space saver.
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