H3 Better Than Siblings

H3 Better Than Siblings
Hummer H3 better than siblings in the real world

August 8, 2005


At last, here's a Hummer that makes sense -- if ANY Hummer makes sense. It's the 2006 Hummer H3, which is smaller, cheaper and far more fuel-efficient than other Hummers.

The approximately $128,000 Hummer H1 is a military vehicle that became famous in the Gulf War and was one of the slowest and most noisy, uncomfortable things I'd ever driven when I tested it a few years ago.

The civilian $52,340 H2 is a lot better because General Motors owns Hummer and the H2 is based on GM's large Chevrolet Tahoe SUV. But the swaggering H2 guzzles fuel and is too big to comfortably garage, park on streets or maneuver in congested areas.

The $28,935 H3 has the same assault vehicle styling of the H2, with its extremely vertical windshield, round headlights in square holes, seven-slot grille and spare tire on the cargo door. It's smaller than the H2 because it's based on Chevrolet's mid-size Colorado pickup truck. That keeps the H3's cost down, but traditional Hummer styling makes it look nearly as big as an H2, if there's no H2 around for comparison.

The H3 is 16.8 inches shorter than the H2 and is about the length of a mid-size sedan. It's also 6.5 inches narrower and 4 inches lower, with a 10.9-inch shorter wheelbase.

The H3 uses the Colorado pickup truck chassis and drivetrain, but is beefed up and has more ground clearance and underbody shielding to give it a Hummer's rugged off-road prowess.

A full-time all-wheel drive system with low-range gearing and locking center differential help off-road, and that drive system provides better grip on slippery roads.

Get the $1,025 Adventure Preferred Equipment option with its locking rear differential, low-ratio transfer case, off-road suspension and on/off road tires if you're a diehard off-roader. Trouble is, you can't get that package with the shiny $800 chrome alloy wheels, which will be hard for some H3 buyers to resist.

My test H3 had the chrome wheels and the $3,125 Luxury group, which features such items as leather upholstery, heated power front seats and an upscale sound system with a 6-disc CD changer. It also had $325 satellite radio and $850 Chrome Appearance package with its chrome door handles and outside mirror caps and roof rack.

No wonder my test H3's list price was $36,925, and it didn't have extras such as the $800 power sunroof or $395 head-protecting side curtain air bags with rollover sensors.

That's not to say that the H3 doesn't have a good amount of standard equipment. It includes air conditioning, tilt wheel, cruise control, AM/FM/CD player and power mirrors, windows and locks with remote keyless entry. There's also split-folding back seats, a rear wiper-washer and even a tire pressure monitor.

The standard traction control helps during slippery on-road driving, as do the huge tires, anti-lock brakes and a tight 37-foot turning circle. Want more stability? The GM Stabilitrak anti-skid system comes with the $1,695 automatic transmission, although it's only a four-speed unit instead of a more modern five-speed automatic transmission.

This is the first Hummer offered with a manual gearbox, although it isn't available with Stabilitrak. It's a five-speed unit that might be a pain for some in town, but should work really well for off-roaders who get the Adventure group with its special transfer case.

The H3 has decent steering and handling, although the generally composed ride can become truck-like on some roads. After all, this IS a truck. Braking distances are average, but the pedal has a nice linear action.

The new Hummer stands John-Wayne-tall. Getting in and out with any grace thus calls for above-average agility. It helps to be at least six feet, with long legs. Narrow rear door openings don't help, but occupants sit high.

The slippery $595 tubular side steps on my test Hummer looked good but are too narrow to be anything but a hindrance when getting in or out. I suspect the $520 running boards aren't much, if any, better.

The H3 has a 3.5-liter five-cylinder engine that produces 220 horsepower with its dual overhead camshafts and four valves per cylinder. It has variable valve timing to be more responsive at all engine speeds.

Performance of the H3 is acceptable -- at least with just a driver aboard. It hits 60 mph from a standing start in 10.5 seconds, and the 65-75 mph passing time is decent. But the H3 could use a six-cylinder or V-8 engine for more punch because it weighs approximately 4,700 pounds.

The payoff with only five-cylinders is the best Hummer fuel economy -- by far. The H2 gets approximately 9 to 11 mpg in the city and is lucky to reach the low teens on highways. But fuel economy of the H3 is an estimated 20 mpg on the highway with the manual transmission -- a figure Hummer was really shooting at -- and 19 with the automatic. The estimated city figure is 16 mpg with both engines.

My H3 interior has good materials and looks surprisingly upscale, especially with the Luxury package. The easily read gauges resemble nifty classic Stewart-Warner hot rod gauges. And there are supportive seats, handy dual front cupholders and large, easily reached controls. However, the front console bin and glove compartment are small.

Hummer calls the H3 a five-passenger SUV. But, while there's plenty of room for four tall adults, the center rear area is very uncomfortable for a fifth occupant.

The cargo area has a high opening. But it is large, and its size can be increased by folding the back seats forward -- although they don't fold far enough to allow a totally flat cargo floor. The bulky full-size spare tire attached to the swing-open cargo door makes it somewhat difficult to open, especially if you're parked on an angle.

The tire obstructs driver vision through the back window.

As with the H2, the H3 isn't for everyone, but fits much better in the real world than the H2. It's a serious off-roader, but its size, price and fuel economy mainly should attract new Hummer buyers -- not to mention the unique Hummer image.