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Sierra Club Goes After HUMMER
Again by Joseph Szczesny (8/2/2004)
New Web pitch puts GM to task for new H3.
When GM’s HUMMER brand became a reality at the 2000 Detroit auto show, the future couldn’t seem brighter for the Terminator-tested, Terminator-approved brand. The U.S economy was in passing gear, glints of a turnaround could be seen within GM, and the company’s deal to mass-market the most capable military brand ever had been locked down.
Then, just when HUMMER came into being, a perfect storm of terrorism, recession, and SUV backlash hit the brand — which nonetheless launched to massive sales success.
Today the economy is back to better health, and GM’s turnaround seems to be one-third of its way to completion, particularly at Cadillac. But the early days of HUMMER mania are over; sales are off 25 percent so far this year, and even the coming of the smaller, more efficient H3 hasn’t cued the Sierra Club to turn down their anti-SUV Web campaigns. And now, in the post-Florida, post-9/11, post-$1 gas world, HUMMER has the toughest non-combat task it’s yet faced — turning the obvious marketing success of the original H2 into a sustainable portfolio of vehicles.
How they’ll do it, GM execs say, is diversity. The H2 SUT (“sport-utility truck”) is the first offshoot of the so profitable but so 2002 H2 SUV. And it’s the way of the future for HUMMER: many unique models spun off three basic architectures — the military-derived H1, the full-size H2, and the coming Colorado-based H3).
If the idea of a gargantuan SUV styled like an Iraqi neighborhood watch vehicle turns you off, you might want to revisit our review of the Toyota Prius instead. But if you groove on the idea behind the H2, the SUT might titillate you even more. It’s essentially an H2 with a brief, flexible-length, open-air cargo bed in place of the SUV’s sheetmetal backpack.
2005 HUMMER H2 SUTEnlarge Photo
The SUT borrows its flexibility from other GM trucks. The Chevy Avalanche pioneered the midgate design, but the midgate in the SUT actually owes more to the same design in the GMC Envoy XUV, because of its power-down midgate glass. As in both of those niche trucks, the forward bed wall of the SUT folds down along with the rear seats in the cabin to extend the SUT’s bed to a more usable 4x6 size. When it’s vertical, the midgate blocks off a compact bed that holds 30 cubic feet of stuff, and is lined in durable composite material.
If you’ve never sampled the midgate setup, you’ll be amazed at what can be wedged into the petite bed. A queen-size mattress? For a normal-size queen, no problem. Unless you’re subbing in on weekend drywall jobs or regularly haul manure and the horses that create it, you’ll rarely miss the full-size bed of a Sierra or Silverado. Too, the potential for art-car type fun seems boundless: “caulk the bed so it’s watertight, fill it with Jell-o and hire some off-season elves,” our most twisted friend suggested before he was excused from passenger duty.
Like the other GM utes with the midgate system, the bed can be outfitted to taste. Rubber bed liners can keep the plastic pristine. A locking hard tonneau panel keeps prying eyes off your precious cargo.
If you use an SUV essentially as a two-seater, the SUT’s the better choice among H2s. It’s far noisier and more exposed with the midgate down, but since the spare tire is relocated on the SUT to a swing-out carrier mounted off the back of the vehicle, as opposed to wedged into the cargo area, there’s more usable cargo room.
The folding back seat notwithstanding, you’ll notice few differences in the SUT interior from the H2 SUV. HUMMER execs admit the H2 interior was a bit rushed at the end of the project, and minor upgrades this year are still short of what you might expect from a $50,000 truck, but in all it’s a tony, luxurious place to work on your skeet shooting or your pedicure, supposedly one of Ahnuld’s favorite beauty treatments.
A new “ebony” leather interior (there’s no McCartneyesque “ivory” on the order sheet) mutes the interior on some vehicles; tan leather is still available, and both come with seat heaters. With the ebony and accompanying metallic trim on the door sills and inside the door handles, the H2 moves a step closer to the refinement GM is trying hard to capture in all its vehicles.
2005 HUMMER H2 SUTEnlarge Photo
Equipment is lavish. OnStar service is standard for a year with the H2 SUT. A new XM-capable radio head unit is available, as is a GPS navigation unit with a six-inch display built into the dash, 3-D flyover views of the route ahead, and ironically, voice instructions in French, s’il te plait.
The biggest improvement will be noticed by claustrophobics, if you can convince them to step into the truck in the first place. The SUT comes with a big sunroof, relieving some of its low-ceiling feel. And one power-window switch can lower the midgate glass and all four windows at once, giving the cabin an open-air feel unlike any spider hole you’ve had to take refuge in to avoid capture. Anti-lock brakes, traction control, and dual front airbags are standard.
All Hummer underneath
All the off-road, hardcore goodness of the SUV returns in the SUT. GM’s 6.0-liter V-8 is chief among the pleasures, surprisingly motivational in this too-heavy-for-CAFE piece. With 325 hp and 365 lb-ft of torque, it’s reasonably swift, responsive at highway speeds and not terribly labored at a steady 80-mph cruise.
The body retains its remarkable visual kinship with the military Humvee. You won’t slide into the parking lots at Louis Armstrong International Airport any easier in the SUT, though, and the sheer size of both H2s just isn’t manageable in most cities. Parking’s the least of your worries; rolling over unoccupied MINIs, while hilarious, is disconcerting to GEICO and their spokeslizard.
Few off-road obstacles will deter any H2 from their appointed rounds. Driving through Indiana muck, slick-rock Moab trails, and the Kroger parking lot, the SUT effortlessly proofs GM’s homework in making their vehicle as capable as any other SUV on the planet. It’s a combination of full-time four-wheel drive, a true low gear with a locking rear differential for the worst hurdles, and a recalibration of the electronic throttle so that in low range, it delivers power more gradually — better for gentle ascents than the instant on-ramp throttle required for the streets. Every time we’ve chauffeured folks in an H2, the most surprising comments are how quiet it is and how comfortably it rides.
Other features that come in handy for lifestyle-type vehicles include tiedowns in the SUT cargo bed that can hold up to 500 pounds (that’s two WWE wrestlers, in case you’re costing out your next Smackdown video), an air outlet in the bed for inflating mattresses, bike tires, or lifelike companions, and drains for the cargo bed to keep it hose-out friendly. Take it from us: it’s better to decide first if you actually have a lifestyle, than to just to spend 50 large as if you did. You can get inflated much cheaper at the corner BP.
HUMMER guys say the SUT is an important vehicle. It’ll plug the leak in H2 sales and flesh out the lineup while leaving ample ground for the 2006 H3 and a potential HUMMER pickup truck. And even if the cultural meaning of HUMMER has changed, the vehicles haven’t. In the words of one soon-to-be prison bitch, that’s a good thing.
2005 HUMMER H2 SUT
Base price: $51,995
Engine: 6.0-liter V-8, 325 hp/365 lb-ft
Drivetrain: Four-speed automatic, four-wheel drive with low range and locking rear differential
Length x width x height: 203.5 x 81.2 x 78.5 in
Wheelbase: 122.8 in
Curb weight: 6400 lb
EPA City/Hwy: N/A; est. 11 mpg combined
Safety equipment: Anti-lock brakes, traction control, four-wheel drive, dual front airbags
Major standard equipment: AM/FM/CD player, power windows/locks/mirrors, full-time four-wheel drive, swing-out tire carrier
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles