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Expert Reviews 1 of 13
By Joe Wiesenfelder
August 12, 2005
The H3's timing could be better; gasoline prices have been relatively high for months leading up to the model's introduction, and they show no sign of dropping. Things could also be worse. Reacting to complaints about the larger H2's fuel economy before the price spikes, Hummer fitted the H3 with a five-cylinder engine. It results in EPA-estimated fuel economy of 16/20 mpg (city/highway) with the standard five-speed-manual transmission and 16/19 mpg with the optional four-speed automatic. This falls right in line with other midsize, body-on-frame sport utility vehicles equipped with four-wheel drive (which is standard on the H3):
EPA Fuel Economy Comparison
Fuel Economy (city/highway, mpg)
Hummer H3 automatic**
Chevrolet TrailBlazer 4WD
Ford Explorer 4WD
Honda Pilot (AWD standard )
Toyota 4Runner 4WD
*All vehicles equipped with base engines when a choice is offered
**For equal comparison; manual transmission is 16/20
As always, better fuel economy comes at a price: acceleration. Or does it? My first drive was in a manual H3, which has a nice, substantial gearshift that's simple to operate. It launches pretty nicely, and the five forward gears seem well chosen, but it's not a quick truck. (That's not code for "it's a slow truck." It's just not quick.) The torque peak of 225 pounds-feet comes at 2,800 rpm, reasonably early for this engine's 6,300-rpm redline. The power improves as the engine speed increases, but not dramatically — not as much as I wanted.
The four-speed automatic does the job. It doesn't react as quickly as some of GM's transmissions do, but it's still better than average in terms of kickdown lag. The launch and steady pull up to speed are similar to the manual's. I must say, the 3.5-liter engine is relatively smooth for a five-cylinder, but it isn't quiet. In place of the H2's V-8 roar, partly caused by the engine-mounted cooling fan, the H3's inline-five sounds more like an engine working hard.
Its cooling fan also is driven off the crankshaft, which raises the question of how well it can keep both the engine and cabin cool while crawling over rocks at less than 1 mph. On an offroad excursion in Moab, Utah, last year, I found that the H2 SUT's air conditioning couldn't keep up with the midday heat. Hey, GM: Electric cooling fans — they aren't just for front-wheel drive anymore.
The H3 felt like it lacked get-up-and-go, no doubt, but when I looked at the reported numbers, I found that its 0-60 mph times were almost identical to the H2's. So why did the new model's acceleration stand out? Do we expect smaller vehicles to be quicker? Is the H3 noisier than it is quick? ... What are you looking at me for? I'm asking you!
The H3 handles reasonably well. It feels stable, and, when equipped with the automatic, adds the peace of mind that comes with Hummer's first application of StabiliTrak, GM's electronic stability system. The H3 also seemed to turn an exceptionally tight circle. I checked the numbers, and this time I'd been tricked in the other direction — it wasn't as great as I'd thought. At 37 feet, the turning diameter is slightly larger than those of the Chevrolet TrailBlazer and Ford Explorer, and 1 foot smaller than the Honda Pilot's.
My No. 1 disappointment with the H3 involves ride and structural rigidity. Hummer aficionados were thrilled that the only thing the GM-engineered H2 seemed to share with its platform mate, the Chevy Tahoe, was its urbane ride quality. In short, it felt more refined than its tough-guy exterior let on.
The same thing has happened again, except this time the Hummer is based on the compact/midsize pickup truck platform of the Chevy Canyon and GMC Colorado. As a result, the H3's structure is about as rigid as an erector-set structure that's short on hardware. It has more twist than Chubby Checker, more jiggle than Kirstie Alley. (I know there's a reality TV show in this somewhere.)
The H3 shudders after each bump or dip it traverses. Nowhere is the solidity that added to the H2's macho composition. There may be people out there who like this, who think it makes a truck feel like a truck. To me it makes the H3 feel like a lesser vehicle — more so than its size or price.
One area where the H3 improves on the H2 is its interior. The design and materials quality are a step up, maybe two. The complaint one could make is that it no longer says Hummer. I don't mean text. I mean you could see this interior in another GM truck and it wouldn't seem out of place. You'll need to get the optional power driver's seat if you want to adjust the cushion height — unfortunate because the H3 has dreadful rear visibility. (Yep, it's a Hummer.)
Hummer has eliminated the cargo limitations imposed by the early H2's spare tire by mounting the H3's on back of the swing gate. This is a simpler solution than the H2's: a swing-out spare tire bracket over a liftgate. A swing gate is intended to be easier for shorter folks to operate. A gas-charged spring helps open the gate on the H3 — actually, it doesn't help; it opens the gate. I suspect that smaller folks might need help closing it instead.
I haven't gone into the offroading issue because, though it's a defining Hummer characteristic, it's exploited by few owners. From all accounts, it's exceptionally capable off road, as a Hummer should be. It combines the ginormous tires and long suspension travel of the H2 with a smaller size, making it more versatile still. As with all Hummers, the H3 has permanent all-wheel drive, a dual-range transfer case and an optional locking rear differential.
GM promised potential dealers something a few years ago when the H2 was in development: a more affordable model with mass-market appeal. What is difficult to tell is whether the H3 is what the masses want, what current owners want ... or what anyone wants. While fuel economy is in line with other midsize truck-based SUVs , fuel prices have hurt sales of full-size and even midsize models. Hummer points out that people don't buy Hummers to go fast or to get great fuel economy. I suspect they're right. Hummers are image vehicles, and this one seems to carry that torch just fine.