On The Road Review: Hummer H3T

Dear readers: Don’t reel in horror that a Hummer is before you this week. I only collected two Priuses and one Mini Cooper in the H3T’s toothy front grille all week, proving once again that Hummers don’t consume every living thing on the planet.

It seems that you can’t talk about GM’s smallest division without addressing the wrong-headed prejudices that surround the Hummer brand. Far too many drivers see these off-road oriented trucks as ostentatious representatives of an industry’s excesses, while others see the Hummer brand in a far different light — as a user-friendly version of some of the toughest vehicles on the planet.

Eschewing the hype used by some competitors, the Hummer brand has developed a solid reputation by winning numerous off-road races and desert challenge events, as well as providing incomparable support for emergency and relief agencies around the globe. Hummers are built in Russia and South Africa, as well as in Louisiana, and sold in 34 countries.

The Hummer brand is clearly defined by the smallest vehicle in its lineup now, the H3. A midsize sport utility, the H3 is loosely based on GM’s small Colorado/Canyon pickup series with significant chassis upgrades added to accomplish the brand’s off-roading performance goals. All Hummers must be able to climb a 60-degree grade, parallel a 40-degree side slope, and fjord through 24 inches of water. The H3T, with a 5-foot pickup bed, is the latest addition to a lineup that may not have a great future, as GM works to diminish declining assets.

General Motors never intended for the Hummer brand to become a volume seller, just a niche lineup that could improve profitability. At first, there was one Hummer, the H1, that is derived from the military’s HUMVEE vehicle. This diesel-powered truck is no longer available for retail sale.

After the H1 sold in far greater volume than anyone anticipated, only a few thousand units in total, a business case was made to expand the line with another, more user-friendly model. The upscale H2 was developed from GM’s Tahoe/Yukon platform and sold very well during the run-up in SUV sales during the early part of the 21st century.

Wisely, product planners created a third model — the midsize H3 — as it appeared that large SUV sales had crested. The H3 now accounts for 78 percent of Hummer’s overall sales, a number that is considerably less than the brand’s heyday. Last year, Hummer sold only 27,485 vehicles, a decline of 51 percent from 2007. Hummer sales were just .009 percent of GM’s sales and only .002 percent of the whole industry — barely more than Porsche, Smart car, Jaguar, and even GM’s own Saab brand — a peripheral product undeserving of such hyperventilated media scorn.

My test truck was the latest Hummer, the H3T pickup with the Alpha V-8 engine package. Base H3’s come with GM’s 239-hp 3.7-liter five-cylinder motor, an engine that provides adequate power and good control for off-roading. The Alpha option — GM’s venerable 5.3-liter small-block V-8 with 300 hp — gives the H3T the power needed to pull up to 6,000 pounds of trailer while providing additional oomph for daily use.

Backed by a smooth yet concise four-speed automatic, the full-time four-wheel-drive Hummer packs big-boy punch on the road, plus ample torque to make low-speed work off-road a cinch. Using an independent front suspension, the Hummer is the only truck of its type to also offer fully locking diffs up front — unlike Jeep’s stiff, solid axle arrangement.

Teamed with a 4.10-rear axle gear ratio, plus the optional off-road package with 33-inch on/off-road BF Goodrich tires and electric locking differentials front and rear, the H3 was the most sure-footed vehicle driven this winter — nothing Mother Nature created impeded the Hummer’s progress.

Impressively, the Hummer is also a pretty comfortable daily ride. One extended four-and-a-half-hour stint — without stopping — created no sore points or numb-butt as the H3 was surprisingly quiet at highway speeds. The truck delivers excellent path control and a composed, albeit firm, ride. The cabin envelopes you with high doors, low windows, big ‘A’ and ‘B’ pillars, and a roofline that reaches forward over the vertical windshield. Access is a stretch up yet the cockpit is not claustrophobic, at least not with the optional sunroof. There is good driver and passenger space, front and rear, plus the rear bed gives the H3 more versatility than previous editions — as well as the extended wheelbase length that improves the truck’s ride character. Despite the added overall inches, the H3T only needs 37 feet to initiate a U-turn, an essential measurement for off-road maneuverability and a bonus in tight parking spaces.

My overall fuel economy actually exceeded the EPA estimates for the Alpha version. My lowest mileage was 15 mpg, while three tanks averaged over 16 mpg. While certainly not on the Sierra Club’s top choice list, the H3T’s mileage was better than two recent pickup trucks — which were not full-time 4X4. Base model H3s have EPA mileage ratings that match or exceed five different Toyota-badged SUVs, all three Land Rover trucks, and almost match the Volvo XC90. Oddly, I don’t see anyone going apoplectic over those vehicles. Even Jeep’s ever popular Wrangler only returns one-more mile per gallon than the H3.

There is a market for the Hummer brand, especially the likeable and functional H3T. It won’t be a huge market, but obviously it is a product that can meet the needs of users that have higher than normal expectations for specific performances.

Next week: The Tale of Two Compact SUVs, Part 1

Just the Facts: Hummer H3T

The H3 comes in four-door SUV or four-door H3T pickup with one trim level and two powertrains. Base model trucks, $30,750, feature a 239-hp in-line five-cylinder engine with a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. EPA estimates are 14/18-mpg. Optional Alpha model ($36,015) with 5.3-liter V-8 makes 300-hp with a four-speed auto. EPA estimates are 13/16-mpg. All Hummers come with full-time four-wheel drive with automatic, high- and low-range transfer case.

H3 has a 112-inch wheelbase, while the H3T stretches out to 134.2 inches. Base weight is 4,700 pounds. H3T Alpha weighs 5,070 pounds. Maximum tow rating is 6,000 pounds. A 27-gallon fuel tank is standard. H3s are built in Shreveport, La.

Standard gear includes: traction control, curtain side airbags, anti-skid system, OnStar, tilt steering wheel, split folding rear seat, XM satellite radio, auto-dimming mirror, outside temp gauge, rear privacy glass, fog lights, skid plates, alloy wheels, 32-inch tall tires and a full-size spare. Options include rear camera, front and rear electric locking differentials, rear cargo system, off-road chassis setup, 33-inch tires. H3T starts at $38,000.

Compare to Toyota FJ Cruiser, Jeep Rubicon, Nissan Xterra or Dodge Dakota.

A Brief History of the Hummer Brand

The Hummer name is derived from HUMVEE, the military vehicle first developed by the AM General Corp. in 1985. Standing for High Mobility Multi-purpose Wheeled Vehicles, more than 150,000 Humvees have been built.

AM General was a division of the former American Motors Co. created to build Government Products Vehicles, or GPVs, in 1971. Many of the products produced by American Motors and the Jeep brand come from the original Overland-Willy’s makers dating back to 1911.

In 1983, the LTV Corp., a defense contractor, bought AM General from American Motors.

By the Gulf War of 1991, the HUMVEE was well on its way to prominence as a functional combat assist vehicle. The American media couldn’t get enough of Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf and his affinity for the HUMVEE.

Soon, normal citizens were clamoring for civilian versions of this rugged diesel-powered truck. Actor Arnold Schwarzenegger was the first customer of such a version, called the Hummer H1, in 1992. By 1997, AM General was selling over 1,000 personal use HUMVEEs a year from its plant in Indiana.

In 1999, General Motors decided to purchase AM General in order to retail a niche product line of “highly capable off-road trucks”.

The first true civilian model, the H2 Hummer (code named Son of Hummer, or project Maria, after Arnold’s wife) debuted in 2000. The H2 pickup followed in 2004 and a midsize H3 came in 2006.

Nicole Ouellette

Nicole Ouellette

When Nicole isn't giving advice she's completely unqualified to give, she runs an Internet marketing company in Bar Harbor, where she lives with her husband Derrick and their short dog Gidget. She loves young adult novels, cooking and talking French to anyone who'll talk back. [email protected]