Chinese brands are growing in popularity as mainstream makers ditch their more affordable models and ratchet up prices across their ranges.
Great Wall Motors and its SUV arm Haval have sold roughly twice as many cars as Honda this year and almost as many as Nissan.
THE JOLION IS HAVAL’S CHEAPEST CAR
But this isn’t the cheapest Jolion. The range starts from $28,490 drive-away, but our Haval Jolion S test car is the most expensive petrol model, priced from $36,990 (although Haval is offering $1000 off until June 30).
Black wheels are the easiest way to spot a Jolion S, which benefits from a more powerful engine and revised suspension, as well as a subtly reworked interior that has extra buttons under the touchscreen. There’s also a small “S” logo on a tailgate that has more badges than a police graduation ceremony.
YOU GET A LOT OF CAR FOR THE CASH
Haval’s premium compact SUV is loaded with kit including a digital dashboard and 12.3-inch touchscreen with smartphone mirroring.
The cabin makes a strong first impression, helped by faux-leather seats with contrasting highlights, plus a panoramic sunroof and padded dashboard. It looks impressive, particularly if you’re trading up from an older model. The back seat is surprisingly roomy for a car this size, and the boot is truly spacious.
A seven-year, unlimited kilometre warranty brings peace of mind, and a turbocharged engine mated to a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission promises a VW-like driving experience.
BUT IT HAS SOME ROUGH EDGES
A boosted version of the Jolion’s 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo engine sends 130kW and 270Nm to the front wheels, 20kW and 50Nm more than the regular model.
But the laggy engine has a tendency to deliver power somewhat suddenly, which isn’t a good match for an occasionally jerky auto.
It’s not great at low speed, particularly during parking manoeuvres or three-point turns that require you to fiddle with a rotary transmission shifter.
Folks hoping the Jolion S will deliver a sporty drive might be disappointed with its wooden-feeling brake pedal and a suspension tune that feels brittle over bumps and roly-poly in the bends.
IT’S LOADED WITH SAFETY GEAR
A five-star safety rating reflects the Jolion’s impressive array of driver assistance features. It’s a leap beyond days when choosing a car from an emerging brand meant missing out on vital features.
This Jolion has an in-your-face approach to safety, though, including a prominent driver monitoring camera mounted near the driver’s side mirror. The car will beep and chime if it isn’t happy with your driving style, and cover the central display with messages such as “Hey, don’t stray” that require you to look away from the road and tap the screen to dismiss the notice.
Other frustrations include an over-reliance on the central touchscreen – there’s no volume knob for the radio, and you need to tap and swipe through the screen to access the airconditioning controls.
IT ISN’T THAT CHEAP
There are fierce compact SUV rivals at this price, although they aren’t as roomy as the Jolion.
Mitsubishi’s ageing ASX starts from $10,000 less at about $26,000 drive-away, while the better Eclipse Cross starts from a touch more than $34,000.
You can easily buy a front-drive Kia Seltos or Hyundai Kona for this sort of cash, though we’d lean toward the turbocharged Hyundai i30 N-Line hatchback for about $36,000 drive-away.
If it has to be an SUV, check out the smaller Honda HR-V for $36,700 drive-away with heaps of kit, or the bigger CR-V in basic run-out trim for $35,900 drive-away.
The Mazda CX-30 is another good option. They’re not as well equipped as the Jolion at this price, but better engineered.