FIRST DRIVE: WEY to go - Haval's premium brand launches the VV7
Baoding, China – Ever heard of WEY? Well, perhaps you have but probably not, as it is one of seemingly a thousand different nameplates in the Chinese auto trade.
However, this one is different, and the impressive, world-class testing ground at Haval’s Xushui plant in Boading, China, was the venue for our first taste of a WEY and a selection of new product from the biggest producer of SUVs and pickups in China being considered for possible introduction to South Africa.
Gleaming under a sunny spring sky on the tarmac of the test track, commissioned in 2013, were the revamped and upgraded GWM Steed 7 bakkie, the brand-new Haval H6 SUV, the new Haval F7 and F7x and a WEY VV7 – the first product from Haval’s new premium brand.
The WEY trademark, first introduced in April 2017, is to Haval (and Great Wall Motors) what Lexus is to Toyota, Genesis is to Hyundai and Infiniti is to Nissan. Named after the founder and chairman of GWM, Jianjun Wei, also known as Jack Wey in the Western world, the marque was established with the sole aim to produce China’s first premium quality SUV.
More than 1600 experts from all over the world was brought together to form a top global research and development team and they spent four years to create the VV7, WEY’s first model, introduced in 2017. Its unique logo is inspired from the Big Flagpole of the Zhili governor-general’s office, the symbol of Baoding City, the birthplace of Great Wall Motor as well as the hometown of its founder.
The brand also pays homage to GWMs’ origins as “an established pioneer of the first Chinese premium SUV” and the WYE line-up now consist of five models and one concept vehicle: the hybrid powered P8, the VV7-Hi4 and VV5-Hi4 hybrids, the traditional petrol-powered VV7 and VV5, and the X-EV concept.
The VV7, penned by a design team under the leadership of former BMW designer Pierre Lecrercq (replaced earlier this year by Phil Simmons from Jaguar Land Rover) has low, clean and sporty lines for a SUV. Interestingly, it has traces of E-Pace in its design but is still not as adventurous as some of the latest Lexus executions.
Thin LED headlights, vertical daytime running lights and front fog lights emphasises the sporty front end and at the rear it has high-placed brake lights, rear fog lights and reflective strips and the body lines are sharp and simple to create an overall sporty look.
Powered by a 2-litre, four-cylinder direct-injection GW4C20A petrol engine with turbocharging delivering a healthy 172 kW at 5 500 rpm and 360 Nm of torque from 2 200 to 4 000 rpm, the VV7 felt quite powerful and fast for a mid-sized SUV.
Mated to a smooth-shifting 7-speed DCT transmission the engine pulled strongly from standstill, and with an independently sprung sports suspension, a low centre of gravity and 20-inch tyres its handling was flat, sharp and predictable – as we found on a 500 m slalom course set out on the 1,140,000m2 testing ground.
Pushed too hard, it displayed signs of controllable understeer, and its braking performance was also of high calibre. While we could not spend lots of time behind the wheel, our first dynamic impressions of the VV7 were very favourable.
However, the biggest surprise was the high quality of the materials used in the (recently redesigned) interior, with soft-touch surfaces throughout the cabin and the details and finishes matching that of any self-respecting premium European SUV.
The simple, neat and classy layout of the control buttons on the dashboard and centre console is remarkable, and the brushed aluminium look of the instrument panel added to its sporty feel. Even the wood grain veneer used in another test model was good-looking, and the soft leather seats supportive and comfortable.
Image: Ferdi de Vos
Moreover, the read-out on the 12.3-inch colour virtual dashboard and the 9-inch TFT LCD was of very good quality and easy to understand and manipulate – adding to the quality interior ambience. So much so that if you did not know, you would never have guessed this is a product from China…
Another revelation was its roominess at the rear – courtesy of a long wheelbase (2950mm, with a total length of 4979mm) – but luggage space is average, even with a thin run flat-spare tyre fitted in the boot. On bad road surfaces – part of the 10 modules and 76 kinds of typical test roads emulated on the test grounds – the WEY was comfortable, while not completely squeak-free, and while it did display some wind noise, there was no questioning its stability at speeds of over 180 km/h on the high-speed loop…
A new perspective
Judging by some of the fantastic traits of the VV7 it is clear Haval, and specifically its WEY brand, is well on its way to change the perception on the quality of Chinese vehicles for good. And the fact that they are normally more affordable than their competitors, must not be viewed as an indicator of below-par quality but rather as a gauge for genuine value for money.
While Haval is planning on bringing the new H6, as well as the new F7 and F7x (more on these models later) to South Africa, the manufacturer has given no indication on whether the WEY brand is being considered for possible local introduction.
Well, after this initial introduction to the brand and its first model range it is something the Chinese company should seriously consider – as WEY, despite the quirky name, and the VV7, if competitively priced, will be well received in South Africa. So, beware Jaguar, Audi, BMW, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz, the Chinese premium auto vanguard is here…