Impressive both on road and off
I'd thought the Hummer H3 wouldn't be much good. It's got the look, but in a car focussed on the rough-and-tumble of everyday duties rather than the violence of cross-country warfare associated with the originator of the breed.
Yet bar a few relatively minor quibbles I came away impressed with this car's talents, both off-road and on.
For a start, although it doesn't immediately look it, it's actually shorter than a Ford Territory - 74mm shorter, if wider and taller. From the front and side it screams 'Hummer' so forcefully it creates its own optical illusion - you simply perceive a bigger, rougher car. Only from the back do its true proportions stand out - though even then the wide track that's part of its impressively successful dynamic equation is obvious.
The original Hummer from 1991 was a sharply-focussed army vehicle - interior space, comfort, and ordinary human requirements went by the board. GM bought the brand in 1999, renamed the original Hummer the H1, and introduced the H2 in 2002. The first true GM Hummer, this H3 was launched three years ago, with H1 production ceasing in 2006.
Meanwhile the H3 has sold like the proverbial. It's responsible for three quarters of Hummer sales, which makes this the fastest-growing SUV brand in the US. It's a truly global car, engineered for both right and left-hand drive, with right-drive variants built in South Africa.
Sounds like a dream for GM, except for all that the Hummer myth attracts a certain type of customer, it also creates an image problem. For the immediate assumption is a Hummer is too big for real-world roads and too excessive for the new eco-environment, let alone for rising fuel prices.
GM Holden says it's practical, thirst is on a par with similarly-sized petrol SUV competitors, and H3 will appeal to entrepreneurial, confident non-conformists who want a lifestyle SUV - or a genuine off-roader.
Ironically it's the latter market that'll take more convincing. Ironic, because this thing has some serious off-road skill honed in Utah's Moab desert, in the mud of North Carolina and on the fabled Rubicon trail.
That it got stuck on our test route wasn't down to the car - but to a poor decision by its driver.
The Hummer H3 has a traditional fully-welded steel ladder chassis. It can climb a 60% slope, traverse a 40% side slope, wade up to 610mm of water, climb a 407mm step and cope with 37.5-degree approach and 35.5-degree departure angles.
The standard H3 has an electronically controlled two-speed Borg-Warner transfer case that'll work in four-high, with 60% of power at the rear wheels; high lock, for slippery surfaces, with power sent for and aft as needed and both prop shafts turning at the same speed; and four low lock for crawling through bogs, reducing the ratio of each gear by 2.64:1.
The Adventure takes it further, the transfer ratio now 4.03:1, the lowest on any GM production vehicle. The standard H3 has a crawl ratio of 45:1 in manual format. The Adventure, 68.9:1. Plus an electronic full-locking rear diff that locks the rear axle shafts at under 4.8kph.
On the standard road-oriented tyres fitted at launch the H3 clambered up steep rocky slopes, turned sharply round trees (the 11.3-metre turning circle will also be appreciated round town) and plugged through or straddled deep ruts with impressive ease.
But most impressive for most owners was how well it handled higher-speed stuff. Perhaps the longish wheelbase and wide track helped stability, for it rocked and rolled less than expected. But the front independent torsion bar, rear multi-leaf suspension's good too - at high speed over bumpy gravel passengers were barely aware of the jolts and bumps going on beneath the wheels. Impressive.
The 3.7-litre in-line five-cylinder petrol powerplant is nice enough, its 180kW and 328Nm (90% of it from 2000 to 6000rpm) making short work of our drive. Fuel consumption is claimed at 13.9l/100km for the manual using 95 octane (4.0-litre Ford Territory claims 12.8, 4.0-litre Toyota Prado, 13.1), which we marginally beat at launch. Shame there's no diesel, as it makes up the bulk of NZ's SUV sales.
A shame, too, about the tow rating, at 2040kg (auto, to auto Prado's 2500kg) which could be better. Not to mention the poor rear vision mandated by the design - I strongly recommend rear park sensors (dealer fit, $590 plus fitting).
Otherwise the interior is comfy, well laid out, with good ergonomics and just enough character. It's a bit plasticky in there, but that could be seen as part of the rugged appeal. Meanwhile specification levels are decent, with even the base of the three-model line-up including front and curtain airbags, stability and traction control, fog lamps, alloy wheels, and such off-road stuff as underbody protection, though for a family vehicle the lack of a cargo cover for the boot seems a bit stingy.
Overall, though, the H3 is impressive. As rough, tough and capable as it looks, yet better on-road than many other off-roaders; more practical round town than expected (good turning circle, not too big) provided you fit parking sensors; and priced appropriately at $61,990-$70,990.
Hummer H3 Specifications
Dimensions L/W/H/WB: 4782/1989/1904 (with roof rails)/ 1872 (without)/2841mm
Engine: 3653cc five-cylinder in-line dohc petrol engine, 180kW at 5600rpm, 328Nm at 4600rpm
Gearbox and driven wheels: Five speed manual or four-speed auto drives all four wheels
Performance, 0-100kph seconds: N/A
Fuel economy (overall): 13.9l/100km (claimed)