2009 Hummer H3T
2009 Hummer H3T. Click image to enlarge

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General Motors of Canada

Review and photos by Howard Elmer

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2009 Hummer H3T

Fresno, California – The Hummer brand is changing – size is out and utility is in. Look at the lineup: the civilian H1 has been dropped and the hulking H2, while not dead, is on life support here in North America. Only the mid-size H3 is moving, adding a model for 2009 called the H3T. This four-door pickup is rugged and tough – everything that lovers of this brand expect – but it’s small and it looks like that’s the way Hummer will stay.

This new H3T is a standard five-passenger H3 (which itself is based on the mid-size GMC Canyon pickup) to right behind the four-door cabin – where it then morphs into a proper pickup truck with a wheelbase that is stretched by 57 cm (22.3 in.).

2009 Hummer H3T
2009 Hummer H3T. Click image to enlarge

What’s been added is a longer ladder frame and a five-foot (1.5 m) cargo box centered over the solid, leaf sprung axle. With the tailgate down the H3T offers just over 2.0 m (6.5 ft.) of bed space. For width, 1.2 m (4.0 ft.) is maintained just over the sunken wheel humps for carrying sheets of building materials.

Coming to dealers in October, the 2009 H3T with a standard 239-hp 3.7-litre inline five-cylinder engine and five-speed manual transmission has a base price of $33,245; the H3T Alpha model equipped with a new 300-hp 5.3-litre V8 coupled to a four-speed automatic transmission has an MSRP of $39,027. The V8-powered H3T Alpha will tow up to 2,676 kg (5,900 lb) – up from 2041 kg (4500 lb) with the I-5 motor. A tow-haul package is available.

I drove both versions of the new truck up into the high Sierra Mountains of central California. On a “Jeep” trail running up the mountain to over 8,000 feet in elevation, the truck routinely scaled boulders that left one or two wheels hanging in the air – a situation where locking differentials are a must – and (as it turned out) the single clearest example of where the Hummer brand is going.

Hummer has always been a specialty vehicle – one that got caught up with a toxic dose of useless Hollywood glam – but now that is so over, and it looks like the brand can get back to the business of being just a serious off-roader doing duty around the world where, frankly, its greatest potential lies.

2009 Hummer H3T
2009 Hummer H3T
2009 Hummer H3T. Click image to enlarge

Being built as left- and right-hand drive models in a South African auto plant, the new H3 (and the coming “T”) is showing sales promise competing with off-road masters like Toyota, Land Rover and Jeep. In fact, this off-shore H3 will be getting a diesel engine next year, like its rivals, though we won’t get it here.

But for ’09, we do get a new capability: a new front differential locker joins the existing rear diff-lock. Now with full-time 4WD and 32-inch tires, it can scale a sheer 41 cm (16 in.) wall and easily ford up to 61 cm (24 in.) of water. With these two electronically actuated diff-locks, it’s possible to evenly power all four wheels (in low-range only) – and that, frankly, is the true definition of four-wheel-drive.

This was the message I got on that boulder-strewn mountain trail. See, in a “normal” 4WD system, when the centre locking two-speed transfer case is sending power to both front and rear axles (what most people call 4WD), momentum can still be squandered by open differentials (front and rear) that push that power to the wheels in the air (torque follows the path of least resistance)! But getting the power to the two wheels that have traction is what diff-locks do. So with the push of a button, I forced power to my two planted wheels and the truck crawled up the 30-degree slope.

Now, because these are electronic, it’s possible to turn them on and off – one or both – as needed. Add to this four separate armored skid plates protecting the underside of the H3T, and you have a world-class off-roader that we soon might be seeing on the evening news carrying armaments rather than kayaks.

To my knowledge, this makes the H3T the only mid-size pickup with these features currently available anywhere in the world (and, the Dodge Power Wagon is not mid-size – so please don’t e-mail me).

2009 Hummer H3T
2009 Hummer H3T
2009 Hummer H3T. Click image to enlarge

While I appreciate this baby Hummer for its utility and off-road prowess, GM has no intention of losing customers to more nattily-dressed trucks. So, this year it is offering five trim levels (including leather) in the H3T as well as 75 accessories specially designed for the H3, including many that fit the fixed equipment rails in the sidewalls of the H3T bed. These can be cherry picked for a customized look or bought as a package, like the H3X, which includes bright roof crossbars, a chrome fuel door, a body-colour grille, spare tire cover, special tires, wheels, centre caps, and a brush guard. Also standard this year is Bluetooth connectivity and satellite radio setup.

Standard safety features on all H3s include head curtain and side-impact air bags, StabiliTrak (electronic stability control), anti-lock brakes with traction control, dual-stage front air bags, tire pressure monitoring and rear child seat anchors.

While the driving – on-road and off – went well, it has to be noted the bulk of the day’s conversation with Hummer staff centered on more social matters – like whether the publics’ typically schizophrenic reaction to Hummers would affect sales. Currently it will, and negatively, I think.

But what is even stranger at the moment is doing this introduction while wild rumours of the imminent sale of Hummer make the news almost daily. And while all this speculation has left me a bit dizzy, through this haze of emotion I still see a future for Hummer – whether GM owns it or not.

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