2023 Haval Jolion S Review

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Haval adds a sporty edge to its popular Jolion SUV with this new S model.

I don’t like cherries. Never have and, I suspect, never will now that I’m getting too old to be overtly impressionable. So, I’ve never really got caught up in the ‘cherry on top’ scenario as it isn’t something I’ve ever deemed desirable. It’s no wonder I had a rather poor first experience with Chinese-built cars some 12 years ago. Ironically, in a Chery J1 – notable for being the first new-car offering to land Down Under from China. For those unaware, the J1 is basically a Matiz-sized hatch that’s vastly inferior to the already questionable Daewoo.

There is a reason for the tangent because, when it comes to manufacturer origins, perception is everything. It’s particularly relevant in Australia given that in the past marques like Toyota and Hyundai have been held to the same public jury Haval (or GWM – Great Wall Motors) is currently navigating. However, there is good news as the Jolion S proves Haval has already made a leap forward, ushering in a USP that doesn’t solely revolve around bargain-basement prices.

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The new S variant tops the non-hybrid range at $36,990, an increase of $3000 over the Lux grade. It’s worth noting that the entry-level model starts at $28,490 and that all figures for the Jolion are driveaway. The latter point is vital because it means the fully loaded S variant tested here compares well against traditional small SUV foes like the Kia Seltos, Mazda CX-30, Nissan Qashqai and Toyota Corolla Cross.

For the extra spend over the Lux, the S gains black exterior accents and black 18-inch alloys, a power hike as well as independent, multi-link rear suspension, replacing the torsion-beat setup used in the rest of the range. The mechanical upgrades mean that adding the S doesn’t equate to a mere sticker pack. But more on that later.

On paper, where standard features rule, the Jolion S shines. No more so in terms of safety as the S gains technology such as active lane keeping with steering intervention, radar-guided cruise control, blind spot monitoring as well as AEB with pedestrian and cyclist protection. Haval also adds Driver Attention Alert which uses an A-pliar-mounted monitoring device to detect when you’re not looking at the road. The Jolion also gains a five-star ANCAP safety rating, an important accreditation given the family-focussed purpose.

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Those buyers also appreciate a long warranty and low running costs, of which a seven-year, unlimited-kilometre arrangement covers the former. It’s a boon in this market and should allay anxious minds. Furthermore, five years (or 70,000km – whichever comes first) of capped-price servicing is included, with the initial $210 visit occurring after 12 months or 10,000km. From then on you’ll need to return every 12 months or 15,000km with an average cost of $335 after the first 10,000km check.

Technically the Jolion S is classed as a small SUV. However, the reality is with dimensions of 4472 (length), 1841mm (width), 1574mm (height) and a wheelbase of 2700mm, it’s verging on the class above. If it were in a Mazda dealership the Jolion would sit between the CX-30 and CX-5 in terms of size.

The benefits are seen in the cabin, with room aplenty in both rows – it’s a veritable Tardis. The backseat offers ample toe and legroom, while headroom is still generous despite the panoramic glass sunroof. The rear bench is well padded, the centre armrest offers two cupholders, there are two charge points below the rear air vents and the floor is flat, aiding comfort when riding three-up. A family comprising a few lanky teens will struggle to find fault here.

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Boot space is decent for the small SUV class, besting many of its rivals at 430 litres. That expands to a useful 1133 litres with the 60/40-split rear seats folded. The floor is flat and underneath hides a space-save spare wheel and not a can of goo.

So far, the Jolion S is ticking myriad boxes. And the positive first impression continues when sliding into the electrically adjustable driver’s seat. The leather is soft and the general dash design is sleek despite being dominated by the central 12.3-inch screen (the instrument cluster is also digital). Fit, finish and build quality is surprisingly decent with pleasingly tactile materials, despite some hard, scratchy plastics.

There’s smartphone mirroring for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, aesthetically pleasing infotainment graphics and an easy-access wireless charge pad. The 360-degree view reversing camera is excellent, it even affords 16 different camera angles to gain a 3D view of the car, while front and rear parking sensors are also handy. The colour head-up display is a pleasing addition.

However, it is not without frustrations. There is rake, but no reach adjustment for the steering wheel, meaning getting the perfect driving position can be tricky. The smartphone mirroring is wired only and the USB ports are awkwardly located, almost hidden within the centre console. DAB digital radio is also non-existent.

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Despite adding some physical buttons for basic climate controls, you’ll need to delve into the screen’s menus to change fan speed before searching deeper to turn on the heated front seats. It’s all very distracting for a car that warns you incessantly when you’re distracted. If you’re wondering, yes, you can turn that system off. But it requires flicking through several menus and needs to be switched off every time you start the car. And you’ll want to turn it off every time.

Driving dynamics are unlikely to be high on the priority list in this segment, however, there is an S in the nomenclature. It isn’t solely for show, either, as the 1.5-litre four-cylinder turbo petrol gains a boost to 130kW/270Nm, sending it exclusively to the Kumho-wrapped front wheels. Fuel consumption also drops 0.6L/100km to 7.5L/100km despite the extra grunt. On-road it’s easy to forget the diminutive cubic capacity as the torquey midrange provides generous punch for city traffic and highway overtakes. It isn’t noticeably thrashy either, meaning you can shift the circa 1400kg Jolion S with surprising ease.

Yet, there are some caveats to the driving experience. Initial throttle response is lax at best, requiring a heavier input, by which time the Jolion seemingly decides you’ve asked for all its 130kW and will even chirp the front tyres. If you’ve ever driven a Ford Territory turbo diesel, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Taking off from a standstill in a linear fashion is almost possible unless you’re incredibly judicious with the accelerator.

The experience is exacerbated by the seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox. Slow-speed behaviour can be delayed, with an almost slipping-clutch sensation. It’s much happier on the run with up shifts mimicking a conventional torque-converter automatic the most. You can take control yourself with the steering wheel-mounted paddles.

Trading the torsion-beam rear suspension for an independent, multi-link setup hasn’t turned the S into a sporting SUV, but the handling is sufficient for the intended purpose. The urban ride quality is impressive, and while there is some unwanted rebound and body roll as the speed rises, the overall driving experience is pleasant and satisfying – it fulfills the brief.

However, that’s if you discount the reactions of the lane-keeping system. Its inputs are less than subtle. The issue continues while trying to navigate a corner with cruise control active as the Jolion sees an input of steering lock as impending doom and ham-fistedly applies brake pressure.

Eschewing these safety programs reaps the most reward for an unhindered driving experience but ultimately you can learn to work with most of the quirks. Commendation is warranted as the Jolion doesn’t scream cheap and cheerful from behind the wheel thanks to its compliant ride, strong turbo torque, capacious cabin and impressive NVH levels. The age-old blindfold test would be interesting given I think few would pick what they’re in without seeing the badge.

And that’s where the notion of perception is strongest. The $36,990 ask might not seem as cheap as it ‘should’ be, but then, price creep means that few small SUVs on the market can match the kit and space on offer. MG is already profiting from this same ideal. Look to Japan for a like-for-like comparison and that figure will invariably start with a four – or even five. With 875 Jolions sold in January 2023 and 815 in February as an example, it seems Aussies are liking Haval’s formula.

The Haval Jolion S is a worthwhile addition to the range with the mechanical upgrades returning positive improvements. Yes, there are gripes that would benefit from addressing, but they aren’t wholesale changes. A rethink of the active safety software, a simplification of the ergonomics and a tweak to the driveline calibration would add icing to the mix. This Haval Jolion S might not be the ultimate cherry on top for everyone, but as it stands, it won’t leave a sour taste in your mouth.

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Haval adds a sporty edge to its popular Jolion SUV with this new S model. I don’t like cherries. Never have and, I suspect, never will now that I’m getting too old to be overtly impressionable. So, I’ve never really got caught up in the...2023 Haval Jolion S Review