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In a marketplace where SUVs are getting bigger, Hummer is moving in the opposite direction. First there was the military-based H1, and then the almost-as-imposing H2; now, for 2006, there’s the all-new H3.
Although it’s tempting to call it a “baby Hummer”, it’s still at the top end of midsize. It’s based on the Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon pickup, which will have many people dismissing it as simply a big box grafted onto a truck chassis, but that’s not the case. The H3 is one of the more capable off-road SUVs out there, and although it doesn’t have the sheer grunt of its two older brothers, its smaller size and nimbler handling means it can be the best of the three on close-coupled trails.
The problem, of course, is that the vast majority of buyers take it no deeper than the urban jungle, where its sheer bulk and high fuel consumption are so over-the-top that I was embarrassed by the disapproval of other drivers at traffic lights, and the smirks of those filling up compacts at the gas station. (Although for some reason, 20-something women just eat this thing up; if you’re a 20-something guy, this is your ticket to paradise.)
Built alongside the Colorado and Canyon in Shreveport, Louisiana, the H3 is the first Hummer made entirely by GM, without assistance from AM General. At the moment, all H3s are produced there, in one configuration; in future, a South African plant will supply the European market, and build H3s with market-specific alternatives, including right-hand-drive and a diesel engine.
The Shreveport facility dictated the H3’s design. Originally it was meant to be slab-sided like its siblings, but the assembly line couldn’t accommodate the extra width, and so composite fenders are added later in the process. They look surprisingly good, and do not compromise the design, which is unmistakably Hummer. Many people thought my test vehicle was an H2 until they took a closer look.
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The H3 also shares the Colorado’s 3.5-litre, 220 hp inline five-cylinder engine, which could turn out to be an issue with buyers since it’s the only powerplant available. A bigger engine simply won’t fit, and the European diesel isn’t planned for North America. Moving the H3’s bulk – 2,131 kg, or 4,700 lbs – is a lot to ask, and so acceleration is leisurely and long inclines will have you wishing for more power. Energuide reports fuel consumption at 14.7 L/100 km in the city, but in combined driving with an automatic transmission, I recorded a thirsty 17.3 L/100 km (which is also 17 mpg Imperial).
The base H3 starts at $39,995 with five-speed manual, although it doesn’t take long to load up the price tag with extras, including an available $1,920 four-speed automatic transmission, an enormous $1,160 power sunroof, $1,340 Adventure Series package for off-roading, and a $4,390 Luxury Series that, when added, stacks the H3 price-wise against the Jeep Grand Cherokee.
The H3 uses a two-speed Borg-Warner transfer case, and its full-time four-wheel-drive splits the torque 40/60 front-to-rear. There’s shift-on-the-fly 4High, and 4Low with 2.64:1 gear reduction. The Adventure Series reduces the final drive ratio to 4.03:1 and includes an electronic locking rear differential, which should take you through pretty much anything. The H3 has 231 mm (9.1 inches) of ground clearance, can ford up to 60 cm (24 inches) of water, can climb 40 cm (16 inch) vertical steps, and can tow 2,041 kg (4,500 lbs); StabiliTrak stability control program is included with the automatic transmission.
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The Luxury Series, meanwhile, adds such amenities as a six-CD player with Monsoon speakers, eight-way power seat, and leather upholstery that’s attractively trimmed with contrasting piping; it looks like you took this to a shop and had the seats custom-made. That’s on top of the standard H3 features, which include power windows and locks, 60/40 folding second-row seats, air conditioning, OnStar, traction control, fog lights and bumper-mounted recovery loops.
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The H3’s interior is one of the best GM has turned out in a long time, with quality materials and superb fit-and-finish. The designers continued the theme of a square box with round wheels throughout the vehicle: control dials are big, easy-to-use and rubberized, with a tread that makes them look like tires, while the centre stack is all sharp angles. The outside mirrors mimic the narrow windows, and the fender lines are softened only slightly on the edges. The company often has a tendency to combine squares and swoops, with awkward results (such as on the Chevrolet SSR’s rounded body and flat fenders), and so the H3’s purposeful, singular design cues are a welcome advance. It isn’t handsome in the traditional sense, but you’re still compelled to look at it.
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The tailgate swings out and is hinged on the left; the weight of the spare tire means a bit of grunt to get it going, but once the gate starts to swing in, it all but closes itself. With the rear seats up, there’s 65 cm of cargo space; they fold to increase that to 145 cm, although they don’t fold flat in line with the cargo floor, leaving a 15 cm rise. The rear seat offers considerable legroom, and even a long trip will not be a hardship for passengers back there.
The H3 is all testosterone; it’s a tall step up for the vertically-challenged, the steering wheel is too chunky for small hands, and both the auto and manual shifters are huge. The window buttons are set back in the door handle, and if you have to sit close to connect with the pedals, as I do (they aren’t available with power adjust), you’ll have to reach back to adjust the glass. GM says it’s expecting 40 per cent female buyers, as opposed to the 20 per cent the H2 commands, but my guess is that it really translates into more women accepting their husbands buying an H3 as their primary transportation, as opposed to women actually buying these trucks for themselves.
The H3 has an extremely tight turning radius, which makes it easy to manoeuvre, although its high sides and short windows aren’t the final word in visibility. The huge all-terrain tires contribute a floaty ride, especially on the highway; at times, it almost feels like you’re riding in a hovercraft. The suspension features 46 mm monotube gas-charged shocks at each corner, with front and rear stabilizer bars, short long arm (SLA) torsion bars in front, and leaf springs in rear. Everything in the undercarriage is tucked up inside the heavy steel frame, including the exhaust; the H3 has been very thoughtfully designed for the roughest trails.
Locking the system into 4High or 4Low is a simple matter; just press a button on the dash and wait until it stops flashing. The optional locking rear differential is engaged the same way. I had the opportunity to drive an H3 on an off-road course, including a slippery 45-degree slope that the instructor didn’t think the truck could tackle, but it did, and it gave me a newfound respect for its ability. At home, it was fun to enter my rural driveway by driving off the road, down and up the ditch, over a hill and then up another hill to a spot by the house. A couple of times I finished up to realize that other drivers had stopped to watch the show. Of course, that’s probably one of the few H3s that will ever be asked to perform even that light duty.
The H3’s base price puts it $26,395 under the H2. The cynic in me wonders if the majority of buyers will be those who really want an H2 but are settling for the Hummer they can afford, as opposed to wanting the H3 strictly for itself. It’s not as ridiculous as the H2, a vehicle many buyers might have purchased because they really wanted the $125,000-plus H1, but it still doesn’t know the meaning of the word “practical”. If you’re willing to get this truck dirty and scratched up out on the trail, it’s one heck of a utility vehicle that’ll handle the worst you can throw at it while coddling you in comfort. If you’re not, it’s just a well-made and well-designed, oversized and overdone gas-guzzler stuck on a downtown street.
Technical Data: 2006 Hummer H3
|Options||$10,050 (Luxury Series $4,390; 4-speed automatic $1,920; off-road suspension package $1,340; chrome appearance package $1,230; power sunroof $1,160; trailer hitch and harness $395; $385 credit against CD player due to Luxury Series upgrade|
|Price as tested||$51,195 Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives|
|Type||4-door, 5-passenger midsize SUV|
|Engine||3.5-litre inline 5, DOHC, 20 valves|
|Horsepower||220 @ 5600 rpm|
|Torque||225 @ 2800 rpm|
|Tires||LT285/75R16 Bridgestone Dueler all-terrain|
|Curb weight||2131 kg (4700 lbs.)|
|Wheelbase||2842 mm (111.9 in.)|
|Length||4742 mm (186.7 in.)(with rear tire carrier)|
|Width||1897 mm (74.7 in.)(without mirrors)|
|Height||1892 mm (74.5 in.)|
|Ground clearance||231 mm (9.1 in.)|
|Approach angle||39.4 degrees (with 33-inch tire)|
|Departure angle||36.5 degrees (with 33-inch tire)|
|Maximum towed load||2041 kg (4500 lbs.)|
|Cargo capacity||835 litres (29.5 cu. ft.)|
|Fuel consumption||City: 14.7 L/100km (19 mpg Imperial|
|Hwy: 11.4 L/100km (25 mpg Imperial)|
|Warranty||3 yrs/60,000 km|
|Powertrain Warranty||3 yrs/60,000 km|