Might Haval one day be as successful in markets outside China as Land Rover and Jeep are today? Today, it seems fanciful. Tomorrow? Who knows. The export drive has begun at least, and the brand’s smallest SUV is impressive.

That Great Wall Motor is trying out its SUV brand in a market as tough on 4x4s as Australia speaks volumes for how serious it is. The strength of the sun can fade, melt and crack dashboards, split seats open, and destroy poorly applied paint. Meanwhile, roads can be extremely unkind to suspension systems that haven’t been properly engineered for the often poor quality bitumen, not to mention the tens of thousands of kilometres of unsurfaced tracks. 

It’s hard to assess the durability of any vehicle over just a week but the example that Haval’s importer lent me uttered not one squeak, let no dust in and overall felt like it had been built to last. Not to mention it had a surprisingly compliant ride for a car with a relatively short – 2,560mm – wheelbase. The H2 measures 4,335mm end to end so think of it as Renegade-sized. 

The comparison with the littlest Jeep is a useful one as it shows what Great Wall is up against in markets outside China and just what needs to be improved. The main fault with the H2 is its engine in combination with automatic transmission. When cold, it can be heart stoppingly slow off the mark out of a junction. The 1,497cc four-cylinder petrol unit (code: GW4G15B) is turbocharged and there is a lot of lag. Power is a competitive 110kW and torque is 210Nm but the latter is developed fairly high up in the rev range. 

There’s certainly a lot of noise (turbo whine, mostly) when you boot it but not a lot of action. Then, a second or two later, the car surges forward. Weight is some of the problem, with the 4×4 version quoted as 1,575kg, which is 80kg more than the front-wheel drive versions (Chinese market numbers). It’s a pity there’s no diesel option, which could be a far better bet. Perhaps manual transmission with the petrol engine would also improve things in cold-start conditions. 

Once the engine is warmed up, all is well, and the handling is much better than you might suspect. The steering is fairly direct, body roll is checked and rolling acceleration is good too. Gripping the wheel also gives you a strong first impression of the interior plastics. These are soft where you would want them to be and everything is perfectly aligned, while all the doors shut with a solid clunk.

The HVAC controls are a bit 1990s, as is the matte silver finish on the door pulls but none of that is going to affect the durability. The only thing I would say the interior lacks is somewhere to store drinks bottles of one litre or larger: the door pockets are too narrow and the cupholders need a larger diameter. If you have kids I would avoid the light interior but the back doors have room for water bottles and there are seat-back nets for iPads. Plus, there are two more cupholders in the flip-down armrest.

There’s a lot of branding in and on the H2 but when there’s 24 million new vehicles appearing on China’s roads as happened in 2015, you can see why. The word HAVAL is on the front, sides and  twice on the tailgate, all in big letters, and also on the wheels. There’s no symbol, instead HAVAL is in silver on a red background. Inside, the word is in red on the lid of a flip-top ashtray in the driver’s door, and this is the same colour as you’ll find illuminated as a puddle lamp when you unlock the car and the mirrors swivel into place. 

On the subject of ashtrays, there is a cigarette lighter inside a compartment in front of the auto transmission selector. The glossy finish and hard to reach location of this cubby meant it wouldn’t be suitable as an ashtray, so instead there is a flip-top container in the driver’s door. Guess what’s on its top? HAVAL.

As a good value car for a small family, you can certainly make a case for the H2, and the styling seems to work too: a few people had a look at it on Sydney’s main Pacific Highway arterial route, changing lanes to see what it was, and the same happened when I parked in the city centre. And to answer the obvious question: in Australia at least, the importer says the brand name should be pronounced to rhyme with gravel. 

No local sales data for Haval in the Australian market were available at the time of writing but the H2 is part of a three-model line-up as part of the brand’s recent local introduction. In China, the H6 is selling stronger than ever, with the Haval brand up by 30% in February, the most recent month for which numbers are available. A total of 50,017 Haval vehicles were delivered during the second month of the year and 124,182 in the first two months. The H6 comprised 33,062 of the February number, enough to make it China’s third best seller. As for the H2, it managed 11,022 registrations, and 28,290 over the two months, making it the best selling B-SUV.