Focus groups, advertising, and product placement in movies and television cost big bucks, all aimed at making a vehicle more appealing to a certain group of people. Hundreds of highly educated marketers meet in stylish offices brainstorming, trying to figure out who their customer is. By the reaction I got while driving the 2002 Hummer H1, AM General must have saved hundreds of thousands of dollars in marketing costs, because the customer is exhaustively obvious.
It’s the American 10-year-old.
Unfortunately, the age 35 to 50 crowd that could possibly afford the H1’s $102,000 price tag look upon the Hummer as one would gaze upon a shockingly bad hair weave. First, they stare in amazement because something just doesn’t look right. Then, a look of pity spreads across the face, for the Hummer is obviously compensation for some emotional shortcoming.
Twice in a week, fearing for my own emotional well-being, I had to quickly divulge that I did not own the baby-blue homunculus.
Older teenagers react similarly. I picked up my 16-year-old nephew from his job at the local supermarket. Instead of becoming palpably excited by the prospect of driving away from his co-workers in a $100,000 vehicle, he instead rolled his eyes to the point that his irises were no longer visible.
I can see his point. In normal, everyday traffic, the Hummer H1 is a hairy-knuckled, mouth-breathing lummox. Powered by a 6.5-liter turbodiesel, the Hummer H1 chokes down fuel at an alarming rate. Since the EPA doesn’t rate vehicles with a gross vehicle weight over 8,500 pounds, there are no estimates for fuel consumption. However, I drained the H1’s 42-gallon fuel capacity in just over 450 miles, for about 10 miles per gallon. You don’t buy a Hummer to sip fuel.
But you may buy one to climb a mountain. This is a vehicle better suited to wide-open, off-highway use. The H1 will climb a 31-degree grade. It will drive on a side-slope of 22-degrees. It can ford a stream nearly a yard deep, and the tires can be inflated and deflated on the fly by the Central Tire Inflation System. A massive Warn winch hangs off the front bumper for crawling up steep inclines and tearing out pesky arbor vitae. The Hummer H1’s 16-inch ground clearance bests any other vehicle for sale in the United States by about half a foot.
But there’s a penalty for the ability to climb over the rock wall in front of my house. Off road, most vehicles get hung up on suspension and running-gear when driving over rocks and stumps. When the government determined the military-issue Hummer’s specs, it eliminated those issues by tucking the entire drivetrain up within a cavity in the body. Looking underneath the Hummer H1, you’ll see no hanging transmission, transfer case or axles. Since you paid dearly for it, those thoughtful folks at AM General have placed the driveline where you can be familiar with it: inside the passenger cabin.
Consequently, the four seats in the open-top H1 are separated by an enormous bulkhead running down the center of the vehicle. Unlike the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, or Humvee, used by the military, the H1 features creature comforts like heat, power windows, and cupholders, all placed in this binnacle. For 2002, AM General has reshaped the bulkhead to allow for more front seat passenger room. But with the distance between the seats and the moan of the heavily lugged 37-inch tires, front seat passengers might as well be riding in the car next to you.
The H1 nomenclature signals something new from AM General, namely, the H2. The manufacturer is on the eve of launching this all-new vehicle, which stands between the mundane and the extreme. From the outside, the H2’s DNA is obvious, but inside the truck runs on the much more civilized GMT800 platform at the core of the Suburban, Tahoe, and Yukon. Expect to see the H2 on sale sometime in the summer.
Since the H1 has such a wide stance, it doesn’t fit readily into parking spot . It’s easy to mislead yourself and search for spots recently vacated by Ford Excursions, but the Hummer H1 is about 61/2 inches wider.
What saves the Hummer from scrabbling in traffic like a turtle on its back is its agility in relatively small places. The 25-foot turning radius is impressive, but to me the Dunkin’ Donuts test is the true measure of steering diameter. The drive-thru at my local Dunkin’ Donuts is bordered by a sheer, poured concrete cliff and terminates in a 90-degree left turn. I’ve had sports cars that were unable to negotiate it, and sedans that bumped a tire up on the curb on the left side. The Hummer negotiated the hard left, though I did have to fold in the right side mirror.
As the Hummer H1 rolled through town, I was a little dejected by the lackluster reaction. I expected double-takes and wide-eyed stares. All I got were hostile looks and a few giggles. I was just about to return home when I got behind a school bus picking up a bunch of fourth-graders. As I stopped, I read over the Hummer’s hefty price tag. The lights on the bus stopped flashing, and I looked up to return to driving. The entire busload of 10-year-olds was plastered up against the back window for a view of the H1. The emphatic waves and extended thumbs left just one nagging question: Where are these kids going to get 102 grand?
2002 Hummer H1
Base price: $93,650
As Tested: $102,837
Torque: 430 lb.-ft
Wheelbase: 130.0 inches
Length: 184.5 inches
Width: 86.5 inches
Height: 77.0 inches
Seating: 4 passengers
Source: AM General and AutoSite.com
Handling. The Hummer H1 is a lot more capable on the road than you’d think. Being this big commands respect in traffic. The solid steel brush bar out front helps.
Having to use a cellphone to communicate with passengers. No air bags. Just because the government doesn’t mandate them for vehicles this size doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be there.