The days of affordable gas are irrevocably over. Filling a 20+ gallon tank after every hundred miles has suddenly become a pain in the neck (and wallet). GM has taken some ferocious flak lately for spending scarce R&D dollars on their upcoming full-size SUV line’s revamp, in the face of mounting evidence of a gas price explosion. Luckily for them, a few product planners at GM must have seen the writing on the wall–single-digit mileage figures are as passe as Ryan Seacrest. Thus we present to you the smallest, lightest and most efficient truck yet from the paramilitary purveyor of SUVs–the 2006 Hummer H3.
If you’re wearing an eyepatch, or otherwise have problems with depth perception, you can be forgiven for mistaking the H3 for the old H2. Scale is by far the biggest difference between the two. The trademark styling cues are present by the proverbial truckload, from the gun-slit windows, seven-slot grille and bricklike profile down to the fake shock tower covers flanking the hood over the front shocks.
Inside, though, is all-new–and the H3 has the more desirable cockpit of the two. Despite a startling lack of content–our tester was missing heated seats, a moonroof, power and leather even for the driver, and even a trip computer–the H3 evinces a sturdy, solid look. Everything feels hefty; we especially appreciated the stainless steel console trim surrounding the smart-looking stereo and HVAC controls. The window and lock switches are the excellent new GM pieces, and everything that swings out, open, or up is well-damped. The standard stereo itself puts out good sound for a variety of musical genres, although we suspect many owners will add another subwoofer or two (there’s just no ‘bling’ in a stock system). We did miss having control buttons on the steering wheel, but the H3 is ergonomically comfortable, and nothing is really out of reach. We repeat–the H3’s cockpit is, all told, nicer than its bigger brothers’–thoroughly modern and in many ways every bit as good as many other upscale SUVs.
And ‘cockpit’ is definitely the right word for the H3’s innards; the driver and front passenger are ensconced almost as tightly as in the original H1, without that monster center console for an excuse. Space isn’t a problem per se–it’s a comfortable SUV, although a lot of the overall footprint’s space is wasted due to the thick doors and narrow body between the flared fenders.
Does it sound as if we’re fawning? Because we’re not. Besides the obvious argument against the dreadful gas mileage (we averaged 16.9 mpg in mixed driving), we were underwhelmed with the H3’s on-road performance. Powered by the 220-horsepower inline five from its progenitors (the Colorado/Canyon pickup twins), the 4700 lb. H3 can be sluggish in many typical situations. Uphill, for instance. Seriously, passing even on level ground requires mashing the throttle, causing an abrupt downshift from the 4-speed slushbox. Note here, though, that a 5-speed manual is available in the Hummer–joy! Although torque, at 225 lb-ft. is sufficient enough for around-town cruising, the H3 suffers from a serious lack of steam over about 60 m.p.h. (which it takes a leisurely ten seconds or so to reach).
The driving experience is also hindered by the weight and height of the H3. It’s tippy at speed (although no more than it ought to be), although it feels sure-footed when braking, despite the momentum factor. On the other hand, the ride is surprisingly supple. We napped in the passenger seat once for over an hour at 80 m.p.h. For a truck-based SUV, there’s remarkably little bounce and even severe suspension impacts are handled with aplomb. Steering and brakes are similarly linear, although road feel is numb.
While we’re by no means off-road experts, we did take the truck over some rather rough terrain (mainly for the photo shoot). In its element, the H3 performed most admirably here; confidently hopping rocks and climbing dirt hills without even breathing hard. Ground clearance of 9.1″ and approach/departure/breakover angles among the best in class don’t hurt, either. Mud-busting can be just as much fun as S-curves and switchbacks, and if serious off-roading is your cup of tea, the H3 delivers, without being totally unwieldy in day-to-day driving.
Otherwise, there are few substantive complaints. Wind noise is about what you’d expect from a brick, with brick-shaped outside mirrors, on four wheels taller than most midgets. Map pockets are shallow and thin, and there’s no good place for even a cell phone–except the two cupholders, which are stationary, not adjustable, and probably not so suited for holding a lot of your bigger cups. Perhaps the biggest carp comes as a result of the H3’s smallest-of-anything-anywhere windows; visibility is a real problem here. Adjust your mirrors the right way (ask Click and Clack; they explain the procedure well), check to the side every time you change lanes, and hope for the best–it’s almost impossible to see over the cliff-high beltline to notice anything next to you, if it’s lower than, say, a Peterbilt.
Yes, it’s essentially a Chevy with a body kit and a custom interior–as we’ve hinted, it shares engine, transmission and platform with its lesser pickup siblings. But at least it’s better than the bad old days of GM platform sharing, when the only differences between the Chevy Cadavalier and Cadillac Similarron were a couple extra ounces of chrome on the grille and “leather” seats (that honestly had the exact same tactile feel as the cheaper car’s vinyl).
Will the H3 catch on with the rappers, off-road enthusiasts, and extroverts that constitute much of the brand’s core customers? We’re not sure, but the public sure seemed to like it. On the road, nearly every neck we passed turned to check us out, and when stopped in a public place, positive comments were plentiful (except for a couple folks asking if post-hurricane fuel costs had us looking for lease loopholes). In our own assessment, the H3 is a success on many levels–as long as you understand what it really is. It’s a decent off-road machine, and an SUV with “notice me” written all over it–“at a popular price,” as they used to say. Inside is a treat, and outside is all rugged good looks. It’s not much of a driver’s ride, but if you go too fast, you can’t be seen behind the wheel anyway. If nothing else, we like the H3 a lot more than the bloated H2 (or the ridiculous civilian H1, for that matter). In fact, we like it a lot within the $30,000 SUV category.