by Greg Wilson
Photos by Laurance Yap
A luxury SUV that’s not afraid of the rough stuff
A couple of years ago, General Motors bought Hummer from AM General, a niche manufacturer of military vehicles. The original Hummer H1, or Humvee, as it was first known in the 80’s, was designed to be a super tough, rugged military vehicle that could be used for a variety of purposes including troop and supply transportation, ambulance, weapons carrier, or mobile rocket launcher. It was most famously used in ‘Desert Storm’, and is still in use by the U.S. military today. Just as the famous Willys Jeep made the transition from military to civilian use, the Hummer H1 was introduced to the public in the early 90’s.
The H1 quickly emerged as a status vehicle and was driven by such high profile actors as Arnold Schwarzenegger. But its high price and utilitarian nature prevented it from becoming a big seller. Even today, the H1’s level of refinement, fit and finish, comfort, and ‘civility’ is way below most luxury sport utility vehicles. And its utilitarian design is really not compatible with ‘civilian’ use. For example, its huge ground clearance is created by a drivetrain that is mounted high in the centre of the chassis, creating a high, wide hump running the length of the passenger compartment. This hump is so wide, only four narrow seats can be fit inside its huge passenger compartment.
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General Motors however, recognized the potential of the Hummer name, perhaps thinking of it as a sort of ‘Jeep’ division for GM. After purchasing the Hummer brand, they immediately set about making a more user-friendly, luxurious, and less expensive version of the H1 which would take advantage of the Hummer’s distinctive styling and reputation. Diving into their full-size truck parts bin, and using a modified version of the current full-size pickup truck platform, they designed the smaller, friendlier, but still Hummer-like H2 model.
Though it’s been referred to as a ‘baby Hummer’, the H2 is not small. It’s actually longer and taller than the H1, but about 127 mm (5 inches) narrower. Still, the H2 is about 50 mm (2 inches) WIDER than a full-size Chevrolet Suburban. (You can imagine how wide the H1 is!)
Though the 2003 H2 comes standard with all the luxury features you’ll find in a luxury SUV, it is one of the most capable – perhaps the most capable – off-road vehicle on the market today. It’s equipped with a standard 316 horsepower 6.0 litre V8 engine with a stump-pulling 360 lb-ft of torque, a heavy-duty four-speed automatic transmission, two-speed electrically-controlled full-time 4WD system with rear differential lock, a four-channel anti-lock braking/traction control system, a 33:1 crawl ratio, a fully welded ladder-type frame with a modular three-piece design, a 237 mm (9.3 in.) ground clearance, underbody skid plates, and 17 inch off-road tires.
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2003 Hummer H2’s start at $70,745, but options can add almost $15,000 to the price. My test Hummer had just about every option available, including tubular running boards ($1,105); a huge power moonroof ($1,465); four roof-mounted off road lamps ($1,780); the air springs suspension package ($1,510) which includes a tougher off-road suspension, automatic load leveling, manually selectable rear height adjustment, and an air compressor for pumping up tires, balloons, and other inflatable objects; and finally, the outdoor series package ($6,055) which includes front brush guard and rear taillight protectors, chrome appearance package, double crossbar rack, in-dash 6-disc CD player, leather seats, front and rear heated seats, a tool kit and a first aid kit. The as-tested price of my test vehicle came to $83,785.
When I drove the original Hummer H1 in 1992, people asked me, “What is it?!”. With the H2, everyone knew it was a Hummer without asking, testimony to the Hummer’s strong profile in the marketplace. Keep in mind though, the Hummer H2 shares no body parts with the H1 – it just borrows the H1’s style. Common styling elements include the inboard headlamps, big air vent and grab handles in the hood (the air vent is fake), extra wide body and big tires near the corners, the almost-vertical windscreen, side windows inset into the body, and the ‘pressed steel’ appearance of the body panels. It’s a masterful styling job, in my opinion, and elicited favourable responses from both young and old observers. The bright yellow paint job may have also had something to do with it.
Inside though, the interior is completely different to the Hummer H1. The centre hump is gone, and there’s more room for passengers. It seats five, but an optional single passenger third row seat can bring passenger capacity to six. Many of the controls look like they’re borrowed from GM’s trucks, but there are a few distinctive features such as the ‘man-size’ transmission shift lever, the huge round air vents, the white-faced gauges, an assortment of grab handles, and the two-tone steering wheel.
The step-up height into the Hummer’s cabin is high, and the optional tubular step bar is a real help getting in and out. The cabin is tall and wide – it has the widest rear seat I’ve ever seen, so three adults will fit comfortably back there. The driver sits up high and has a great view of the road ahead and to the side. A huge spare tire in the cargo area partially obscures vision to the rear.
The driver and passenger power seats include power side bolsters and power lumbar support, so you can custom fit them to your body size. The front seats also have seat heaters for the cushion and backrests – three temperature selections for the cushion and one for the backrest. Even the rear (outboard) seats have heaters with two heat selections. Rear passengers also get their own radio controls and a fold-down centre armrest with cupholders.
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My car was equipped with all the niceties of a luxury car – leather seats, automatic driver/passenger climate control, 6-disc CD player, power windows, mirrors and seats, at least four 12 volt powerpoints, and OnStar remote assistance, but I was surprised that the 6-disc CD player was optional in a $70,000 vehicle.
The big disappointment for me was the size of the cargo area. With a huge spare tire taking up a third of the cargo area, it’s relatively small compared to other full-size SUV’s. The 60/40 split folding rear seats will fold down for greater versatility, but the spare tire still gets in the way. I think GM needs to relocate this tire, even if they put it on the roof.
After I got over the H2’s imposing appearance and started driving down the street, I realized that this big machine is more refined than it looks. The cabin is quiet, the suspension isn’t as firm as you might expect, the steering effort is moderately easy, and it rides comfortably and smoothly on the highway. The big 6.0 litre V8 makes a lot of heavy breathing noises under acceleration, but it’s no worse than other big utes, and much quieter than the H1.
Despite its astounding 2909 kg (6400 lb.) curb weight, it jumps off the line and accelerates briskly. According to AJAC Car of the Year performance testing results (www.ajac.ca), the H2 accelerates from 0 to 100 km/h in 10.6 seconds and brakes from 100 to 0 in 48 metres (157 ft.). That’s about half a second slower than a Lincoln Navigator and about 1.5 seconds slower than a Range Rover. AJAC reports that braking distances are longer than average: about five metres longer than the Navigator and nine metres longer than the Range Rover. The reason? Though the H2 has standard four wheel disc brakes with four-channel ABS and dynamic brake proportioning, it’s considerably heavier: about 485 kg (1069 lb.) heavier than a Navigator and 657 kg (1448 lb.) heavier than a Range Rover.
On the freeway, the H2’s V8 engine does only 1800 rpm at 120 km/h and 2300 at 120 km/h, so you can barely hear it. The transmission is smooth, but tends to change into lower gears with a bump on occasion. A driver-selectable Tow/Haul mode automatically alters shift points to accomodate a heavy trailer – I’ve tried this transmission in other GM trucks with a trailer in tow, and found it a very useful feature: it changes down gears when descending a hill, and shifts occur earlier for engine braking. It even changes down when you press the brake pedal, depending on the conditions. The H2 can tow up 3039 kilograms (6700 lb.).
I had to laugh at the GM-provided specifications for fuel consumption. It reads “not applicable”. That’s because it’s an over 8500 GVW vehicle, and they don’t have to be government-tested for fuel economy, but suffice to say, the H2 is a gas hog. Roadcompanion.ca reports its average fuel consumption as 15 litres per 100 km (19 mpg), but I think it’s probably closer to 18 l/100 km (16 mpg). Have your gold card ready when it comes time to fill up the 121 litre fuel tank. There is one blessing though: it takes Regular gas rather than Premium.
I found the H2’s handling surprisingly stable for such a big, tall heavy vehicle – chalk that up to its very wide track, big LT315/70R-17 inch tires (which are also surprisingly quiet on the highway), and its massive gas shocks and stabilizer bars front and rear.
The only real driving concern is its width – the H2 is so wide that you have to keep well over near the centre line in order to avoid parked cars and concrete dividers. As well, the H2’s 1976 mm (77.8 in.) height plus a roof rack will keep it out of some garages.
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Off-road performance is exemplary. Normally, the H2 runs in full-time four-wheel-drive splitting torque 40% to the front and 60% to the rear. On really steep or slippery roads, the driver can select a Low Range gear simply by pushing a button on the dash. In addition, a centre differential lock can be activated which splits torque 50/50 front to rear, and a rear Eaton electric differential lock locks both rear wheels together. If traction control is activated when the centre diff is locked, it will automatically allow more wheel spin to accomodate soft dirt, mud, snow of gravel.
This combination of 4WD options, combined with its high 237 mm (9.3 in.) ground clearance, short front and rear overhangs, wide track, grippy light truck tires, and good visibility enables the H2 to tackle extremely steep or uneven surfaces. With its very low 2.64:1 reduction in Low Range, the H2 has enough engine braking to crawl down steep slopes without the need to brake, and climb steep hills without stalling. Unlike some luxury SUV’s, the H2 is a true off-road machine that’s also surprisingly civilized. See Jim Kerr’s First-Drive for further off-road driving impressions.
The Hummer H2 competes with luxury full-size SUVs like the Lincoln Navigator ($69,995), Cadillac Escalade ($74,970), Lexus LX470 ($98,200), Range Rover ($104,000), and Mercedes-Benz G500 ($107,400). On a price basis, the H2 is comparable with domestic competitors, but much cheaper than import luxury SUVs. Though the H2 has more horsepower and torque than most of its competitors, its acceleration and braking distances are greater due to its heavier weight. The H2’s towing capacity of 3039 kilograms is not class-leading, but acceptable. Fuel consumption, though miserable, is on par with vehicles like the Navigator and Escalade.
Distinctive looks, excellent on and off-road performance, and a roomy cabin are the pluses, but its small cargo area and abysmal gas mileage are disappointing.
Technical Data: 2003 Hummer H2
|Price as tested||$83,785|
|Type||4-door, 5 or 6-passenger sport utility wagon|
|Layout||longitudinal front engine/4WD full-time/part-time|
|Engine||6.0 litre V8, OHV|
|Horsepower||316 @ 5200 rpm|
|Torque||360 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm|
|Transmission||4-speed automatic with Tow/Haul mode|
|Curb weight||2909 kg (6400 lb.)|
|Towing capacity||3039 kg (6700 lb.)|
|Wheelbase||3118 mm (122.8 in.)|
|Length||4820 mm (189.8 in.)|
|Width||2062 mm (81.2 in.)|
|Height||1976 mm (77.8 in.)|
|Ground clearance||237 mm (9.3 in.)|
|Cargo area||2451 litres (86.6 cu. ft.) (seats down)|
|Fuel consumption||Average (est.) 18 l/100 km (16 mpg)|
|Warranty||3 yrs/60,000 km|