Driven - Apr 2021

The Chinese are coming… No, the Chinese are here!

If you take notice of the cars on our roads, you will see an abundance of models from the likes of Toyota, Volkswagen and Ford. You might also note a large contingent of premium brands – ranging in price and age but highly sought after on the new and used markets for those who have the cash.

So, to sum up our car market up in a simple phrase, it would be that we are fiercely brand loyal and we like nice things.
So how does an outlier make any inroads? Do you remember Renault back in the early 2000’s? Their reputation certainly wasn’t stellar and many flocked to the mainstream competitors in the wake of countless problems experienced with the French brand. 2013 comes around, the new Clio makes its debut with beautiful looks, up-to-date tech and a reasonable price. That was the catalyst for the brand and it’s that same recipe that competitors like Hyundai and Kia subsequently used in order to elevate their acclaim in the eyes of South Africans.

And what about the Chinese? Well, many have tried and failed. Actually, let me rephrase: many have entered our shores with low commitment and no knowledge of our market, which meant their time here was quite fleeting and did them more harm than good.
Then comes Haval/GWM – they’ve been in the country for many years now and since the very beginning, they have reinforced their intentions for our market. They’ve seen steady increases to their sales year-after-year and have garnered quite a positive reception from South African consumers looking for value and affordability. But they needed a game changer – something that will make people say ‘is that really a Haval?’ They needed their rendition of the Clio.


Enter the Jolion and what will be a massive turning point for the brand!

First of all, just look at it! It’s hugely attractive with great proportions and striking features. The distinctive headlamps and DRLs gives the Jolion’s front end quite a unique look, while the large grille and C-shaped taillights means it wouldn’t look out of place in fashionable European cities. No surprise then that it was penned by Phil Simmons – you might know his work from Land Rover and Ford.

The Jolion is intended to slot between the H6 and H2 in Haval’s local line-up, with the intention that the latter will soon be phased out. In terms of size, the Jolion measures at just under 4.5m long, which means its slightly larger than rivals like the Mazda CX-30, Hyundai Venue and Peugeot 2008. In fact, it could fall into a larger category where the likes of the Mazda CX-5 and Toyota RAV4 compete in. The boot can swallow 337l, which again outshines the rivals listed above. Good job Haval!

So, it’s got the looks and the space, but does it drive as well as the others? Let’s start with the engine – you only have one choice which is a 1.5-litre turbo petrol churning out 105kW and 210Nm. On paper this might not seem that impressive, but in the real world application it does a good enough job of lugging around its surprisingly large body. For comparison sake, the Peugeot 2008 produces 96kW and 230Nm from it’s 1.2-litre turbo petrol, while the Hyundai Creta makes use of a 1.4-litre turbo petrol that’s good for 103kW and 242Nm. So in essence, the Jolion is there or thereabouts in terms of power.

Utilizing the Chinese companies latest platform, which they call L.E.M.O.N, the Jolion’s overall ride comfort is vastly superior to any other product experienced from the Asian manufacturer. Most imperfections on the road are soaked up with ease but you will feel vibrations through the steering wheel when tackling more jarring surfaces. The suspension is tuned to a softer setting which makes every day cruising quite enjoyable, although body roll is evident when tackling corners with a bit of vigour. But that’s a compromise we will always accept when it comes to a crossover.

Lesser models make use of a 6-speed manual gearbox while the more expensive derivatives get the luxury of of a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. We only experienced the latter from launch and initial impression were positive. The gearbox reacted intuitively to throttle inputs and shifted through the gears without much of a fuss. However, the lower-end turbo lag didn’t do the gearbox many favours as it sometimes struggled to find the right gear, particularly when faced with an uphill or an overtaking situation.

In terms of safety features, there is adaptive cruise control with autonomous emergency braking, lane departure warning with lane keeping assist and a lane centre assist system that will steer the vehicle for a few seconds without driver input. While these are fantastic features, they are slightly intrusive – particularly the lane keep assist which became rather annoying as it constantly tried to pull you back in line. If you have the know-how and time, these systems can be turned off.

Although there have been no crash-tests conducted, consumers can feel at ease knowing that the Jolion is fitted with dual front airbags, ABS brakes, electronic stability control, driver fatigue detection and a tyre pressure monitoring system. While the higher spec models gain curtain airbags.

The real party piece of the Jolion is the interior which is extremely well-equipped and furnished in tasteful materials of a sturdy build quality. A 12.3” touchscreen takes pride and place where you can control most operations of the car. The operating system is easy to navigate and is responsive to your touches. There is a smaller touch-sensitive panel below the screen that provides shortcuts for certain functions. While the placement is convenient, I did find that I often rested my arm on the panel whilst navigating through the touchscreen, meaning that I would sometimes mistakenly press one of the buttons. A small bugbear but one I’m sure Jolion owners will get used to.

Other notable features on our range-topping Super Luxury model are a 360° parking camera, high beam assist, heads up display, electrically-adjustable leather seats, 18” alloys, a panoramic sunroof, LED headlights and multiple driving modes. The list of standard specification is plentiful even on the entry-level models. These are features one can expect to pay quite handsomely for in premium brands and here you are getting it in a Haval!

The range kicks off with the 1.5T City manual which retails for R299 900 and goes up to just under R400 000 for our Super Luxury model. These prices aren’t just good, they’re extremely good! At the launch event, I cheekily asked the National Sales Manager whether they were even making a profit on these cars, to which he just laughed. I don’t understand how Haval have managed to include so much tech and amenities into a car that is priced that low?

And that’s why I believe that the Jolion will be a game changer for the brand – it ticks every single box a consumer is looking for at a very competitive price with features that many brands simply cannot compete with. If you look back to the competitors we mentioned earlier, most of them start at the R400 000 mark, so in fact the Jolion’s true rivals are a segment below with the likes of the Suzuki Vitara Brezza and Hyundai Venue.

I have been to China twice with Haval, and having seen their factories, R&D centres and design studios, I can unequivocally state that this is a brand to watch out for. With even more new products on the way and the hopes to expand their dealership network to over 100 dealers by the end of the year, Haval is truly flying high!

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