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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Following a trail through the thick hardwood forest, I maneuver my vehicle up and down steep inclines, through water crossings and across deeply rutted mud tracks at the back-end of a convoy. We're on a mission and only the "tailgunner" follows behind. "Engage 4-Low, first gear and, when you get to the big uphill, lock the rear differential," calls the lead scout over the radio. Completing the instructions, I gently apply throttle and climb the slick, precipitous uphill with ease.
We're on a reconnaissance but, although our vehicles might look the part, it's not a military reconnaissance mission. Instead, our task is to evaluate the all-new "baby HUMMER" both on and off the road, in conditions that range from the city streets of Chicago, to the Illinois freeways, and the four-wheel-drive trails and obstacle course on the grounds of the 320-acre HUMMER Academy. Here, in northern Indiana, at a facility originally designed for the HUMMER H1, is an obstacle course (rock piles, off-camber moguls and hill climbs with sheer angles of approach, departure and sidehill) and a proving grounds for The General's H2.
We're not referencing the General nicknamed "Stormin' Norman," however, who became associated with the version of HUMMER made famous by CNN, as we watched it storming the dunes of Kuwait in the Gulf War. Dubbed the "High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle" or HMMWV (hum-vee) for short, the military-spec version was first built in 1985, by AM General. Seeing the success of this attention-grabbing model, General Motors purchased the nameplate and, borrowing its Chevy Tahoe platform for underpinnings, has spawned a new, more street-friendly version, the H2. But, don't expect it to be too friendly. The latest model is not too soft, not too hard, and for many, it will be just right.