- All-American styling
- Totally owns off-roading
- Alpha dog's V-8
- Hazy brand future
- Slow, no matter what
- Handles on road like an off-roader
- What, a four-speed automatic?
- Rear visibility is lousy
Even if you crave a red, white, and blue look in an SUV package, think twice before buying the cramped, thirsty HUMMER H3.
HUMMER's a flashpoint for controversy. It's a brand so reviled by tree huggers, its dealerships have been firebombed. Of course, that's a badge of honor to its die-hard fans, who'll gladly give up their HUMMERs-and you can pry them from their cold, dead hands. The partisanship blurs the big issue with the small HUMMERs. Even if you're politically inclined to love them, the H3 pickup and SUV just aren't good enough at their everyday missions to recommend them over more useful utility vehicles like the Nissan Frontier and Xterra, our favorites in this class.
At their best standing still, the HUMMER H3 and H3T are the picture of unadulterated swagger. They have less in common with the Schwarzenegger-style H1 military vehicle than they do with GM's own Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon trucklets, but they ape the look so well, you might confuse them for the larger H2. The windows are slits, the fenders have blocky protrusions that will make Transformers turn to steroids in jealousy, and the big seven-bar grille remains a huge reminder to Jeep that it shares some history with the estranged GM brand. There's just nothing else out there that looks like a HUMMER, and in its carefully constructed butch-patriotic frame, it looks swell. Inside there's less of the rugged individualism to go around. The instrument panel styling is remarkably generic, with rounded edges that contrast with the exterior. It doesn't scream "HUMMER" in any way except for the badges.
It's the same story on the road. HUMMER gives the H3 anemic performance in base versions. The nearly 5,000-pound H3 struggles with a base 3.7-liter inline five-cylinder engine that has only 239 horsepower. Worse, it's hooked to a four-speed automatic that feels outdated enough to consider the five-speed manual. The manly option is the Alpha edition; its 300-hp, 5.3-liter V-8 and four-speed automatic have more on-road authority. Fuel economy with either drivetrain is terrible, at 14/18 mpg for the five-cylinder and 13/16 mpg for V-8s, but the V-8 will tow 6,000 pounds.
If you're an average driver who will never set a tire on anything so dirty as dirt, this (or any) HUMMER is not for you. On-road feel is vague and disconnected, and the big tires dull any sensations from the tires through corners, though it rides fairly softly and fairly well. The H3 excels at off-roading, thanks to an electronically controlled four-wheel-drive system with off-road-tuned traction control, underbody shielding, an optional rear locking differential, and the buyer's choice of two tire packages, Goodyear 32-inch all-terrain tires or Bridgestone 33-inch off-road tires. All H3s have plenty of ground clearance, as well as tight approach and departure angles for maximum rock-crawling capability.
Extreme off-duty talent should have taught the cabin a lesson or two, but the tight, confining H3 feels less roomy than other mid-size trucks and SUVs. With a short pickup bed and the same cabin space, the H3T pickup is marginally more useful than the H3 ute-but neither will win awards for packaging, interior room, or comfort. Inside, the front seats are fine, but the cabin feels claustrophobic, thanks to the low roof and the tall dash. The rear bench seat on both models is high, doesn't have much legroom for big adults, and isn't particularly easy to climb into. On the H3 truck, the rear seat folds up to open up floor space for cargo, and in all, the H3 HUMMERs will carry up to five passengers. Cargo space inside the H3 SUV is fine for light duty, but you'll never mistake it for the gargantuan spaces inside GM's own similarly priced GMC Acadia.
It looks safe, and the HUMMER H3 and H3T have proven their mettle in crash tests. The SUV version earns a mix of five and four stars from NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) for front- and side-impact safety, with three stars for rollover protection; the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety) has rated the H3 "acceptable" in the past. Each H3 has standard front, side, and curtain airbags; stability control; and four-wheel drive. Don't skip the optional rearview camera and rear parking assist; with all the blind spots it offers, driving an H3 can feel like piloting a tank.
Every HUMMER H3 and H3T comes with power windows, locks, and mirrors; air conditioning; cruise control; an AM/FM/XM/CD player; and Bluetooth. GM offers a navigation system as an option, along with a rear-seat entertainment system, leather trim, and pickup-only features like a bedrail accessory kit. Locking differentials are optional, too, in case your H3 is headed off-road, and HUMMER provides a range of off-road accessories if you're so inclined.
With all the political backwash, a HUMMER's not an easy vehicle to swallow. It's about to get worse: Chinese investors are angling to buy the brand, which will neatly undercut its "buy American!" bona fides. It doesn't matter much, though-there are better choices out there, like the Nissan Xterra and Frontier twins, and even a Jeep Wrangler if you want your jingoism minus the "Mission Accomplished" aftertaste.