H3 is the affordable, approachable, people-friendly Hummer. It's the Hummer you can drive anywhere and in any company, and not be subjected to rude gestures or inappropriate speculation about the size of your vehicular needs.
That's because H3 packs all of the soldier-boy style and some of the off-road capability of the now-defunct H1 and house-size H2 into a mid-size, five-passenger package.
For 2007, H3 has a larger, more powerful standard inline five-cylinder engine. StabiliTrak electronic stability control comes standard on all versions.
Fuel economy is 15/19 City/Highway mpg for the five-cylinder with automatic transmission; Highway mileage increases to 20 mpg with manual transmission.
In addition to serious off-road capability, H3 offers comfortable and quiet performance on the highway. It's an impressive balance.
And the pricing is compelling. H3 provides the level of equipment that luxury-vehicle buyers expect, even though its base price is less than $30,000. Many buyers will want to add an automatic transmission and the Luxury Package with its leather seats and upgraded audio system; but even with the destination charge that adds up to just under $35,000. Add side-curtain airbags and satellite radio you're still under $36,000
And if you don't mind the stares, you might opt for the flashy new H3X, which is based on the H3 Street concept that appeared at the 2005 Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) trade show. H3X adds chrome, unique colors, and a honkin' Monsoon sound system to the basic H3 package. And it's still as capable at squeezing into tight parking spaces as it is picking its way over boulders on the Rubicon Trail.
Hummer H3 ($29,405); H3X ($37,545)
The Hummer H3 applies the design cues that made the Hummer H1 and H2 so popular and so unlike anything else on the road. The difference is the more compact package.
The H3 has an extremely upright windshield and side windows that more closely resemble those in a turret than a typical family wagon, as well as the very short front and rear overhangs and increased ground clearance that are vital for negotiating the sort of extreme off-pavement environments Hummers have to be able to survive.
One area in which the H3 differs from other Hummers is in the blistered fenders that cover its widely set wheels and large tires. The standard tires are 32 inches in diameter; special off-road tires developed for the H3 by Bridgestone are 33 inches tall.
Large round headlights are positioned on either side of an upright grille with seven vertical slots. Large fog lights positioned below the headlights underscore the vehicle's height. Its width is accentuated by amber signal lamps positioned outboard of the headlights, up above the front tires at the front of bulging front fenders.
Lending even more strength to the H3's face is a wide black bumper with a pair of bolted-in D rings, each of which can support the vehicle's full weight. A visible reminder that Hummers are at home away from pavement, the H3 has a skid plate, bright metallic underbody armor designed to protect its oil pan and other powertrain components from damage.
The hood has louvers that look like those on the H1 or H2 and a pair of air boxes at the base of the windshield supports. While the louvers are non-functional, one of the boxes draws air into the 3.7-liter five-cylinder engine.
Because of its military heritage as a Humvee, the wheels on the Hummer H1 had an integrated tire inflation system. The wheels on the H2 and H3 have a similar look, though they do not provide inflation on the go. However, the H3 does come with a standard tire-pressure monitoring system.
The rear view of the H3 is dominated by the full-size spare tire mounted on the back of the rear door. A hydraulic strut eases the opening and closing this tire-carrying door, which is hinged on the driver's side and thus can be loaded from curbside in parallel parking situations.
As at the front of the H3, a metallic skid plate protects the fuel tank and other underbody components at the rear of the vehicle's chassis.
The H3X looks more subtle than it sounds. The flash of its bright-chrome brush bar is offset by its body-color grille. Its flattened wheels look more like wheel covers. Aesthetically, we like the standard units, with their six double spokes plus ersatz tire inflator, better. Ditto the optional cab-top clearance lights, which strike us pretentious. A unique spare tire cover at the rear of H3X turns the Hummer-signature tire inflator into a stylized bar of bright trim.
Sport utility vehicles traditionally are built on pickup truck platforms, and the Hummer H3 chassis is based on the platform of the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon mid-size pickups. However, only 10 percent of the pickup trucks' components carry over into the H3, and the engine and transmissions account for most of that commonality. The other thing the H3 has in common with its pickup truck cousins is that it is built on the same assembly line in Shreveport, Louisiana.
While the Hummer H3 is capable of extreme off-road driving, its passenger compartment was designed and equipped for extreme on-pavement comfort.
Care was taken in designing the exterior to create nuances, such as the shape of the structure around the very upright windshield, to enhance both exterior aerodynamics and help keep the interior quiet at Interstate speeds. Special sound insulation materials and window sealing enable H3 occupants to carry on conversations without raising their voices even though the H3 we drove wore off-road tires, which have more aggressive and noise-generating tread.
The care that went into designing the interior might best be seen in the details of the vents in the dashboard for the HVAC system. Designers and engineers worked closely to create louvered vents that provide ample airflow but close flush with the surface of the dashboard when not being used.
The optional leather seating surfaces in our test vehicle were comfortable for highway driving yet supportive for the severe off-road conditions we encountered. Lumbar support is good and headrests are properly positioned close to back of the driver and passengers' heads. In addition to the standard front and side airbags in the front seats, our H3 had the optional side-curtain airbags, which enhance occupant protection in broadside crashes.
Color-contrast piping around the edges of the leather seats enhances the luxurious look and feel of the H3 interior. The interior can be ordered in all black (ebony) or with contrasting ebony and cashmere (a beige tone) or ebony and Morocco (terra cotta) colors for the seats and door panel trim.
Metallic-colored trim finishes highlight the dashboard and center console.
Switchgear is easy to find and intuitive in its use. Knobs for the HVAC (heat/ventilation/air conditioning) system are large enough to be easily turned by gloved hands. Gauges are large and easy to read. Our test vehicle was equipped with sun visors with pull-out extensions, a terrific feature for folks living in Sunbelt states where the sunrise and sunset coming through the driver or front passenger's windows can be brutal.
Positioning the spare tire on the rear door provides extra room for cargo inside the H3. Even with the second row occupied, there's room for nearly 30 cubic feet of gear. Capacity nearly doubles with second-row seats flipped forward.
The Hummer H3 comes standard with a 3.7-liter inline-5 that develops 242 horsepower and 242 pound-feet of torque, up from 220 and 225 last year. That might not sound like a lot for a mid-size sport utility vehicle that weighs 4700 pounds, but in fact it should be more than enough. When we drove last year's 220-hp model (once in increasingly inclement and icy weather), we found the powertrain more than adequate whether we were just driving around town, cruising at speed with left-lane traffic on the Interstate, or crawling our way over big boulders on a very difficult off-road trail.
Like other Hummers, the H3 was built not for 0-60 acceleration but for its ability to climb 60 percent (31-degree) grades, to handle 40 percent side slopes, and to ford 24 inches of water. That said, the H3 isn't at all sluggish when you enter a freeway on ramp, and the engine emits a nice growl as you accelerate to the speed limit.
The capabilities engineered into the H3 for off-roading also are beneficial in city driving, and especially in parking, where the tight steering and 37-foot turning circle combine to make parking, even parallel parking, a simple maneuver.
We were concerned that the upright windshield might impede the view of stoplights that hang above an intersection, but we experienced no such problem. But we did like the secure feeling you get driving or riding in a vehicle that gives you the sensation of being in a rolling fortress.
A suspension system designed to deal with the extreme hazards of off-road driving improves on-road performance as well, whether it's in the way the traction control operates on slippery surfaces or the way the shock absorbers and secondary jounce bumpers make smooth work of pot holes in the pavement.
Engaging low range readjusts the mapping of the engine computer to provide the slower throttle progression needed for safely stepping over boulders and other obstacles; low range also changes shift points in the automatic transmission to allow for higher torque in lower gears and linear rather than snappy shifts.
We were amazed how the stock H3 tackled a trail normally reserved for modified off-road vehicles. General Motors says its engineers and designers created the H3 to have best-in-class off-road ability. Our experience indicates that they achieved their goal. The H3 is an authentic Hummer.
The Hummer H3 offers outstanding off-road capabilities and, because of its smaller width, can fit into places where the bigger H2 can't go. The H3 also is an affordable Hummer. Its base price is less than $30,000. You can equip one with leather, power seats, and automatic transmission and you're still in the mid-$30,000 range, the heart of the mid-size SUV market. You're also spending about $7,200 less than you'd pay for the Land Rover LR3, perhaps the only vehicle in the category that might challenge the H3 off pavement.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Larry Edsall is based in the Phoenix area.