Alpha. The leader of the pack. In the case of Hummer, the H3 Alpha is definitely the leader of brand.

To create the H3 Alpha, GM added a 300-horsepower, 5.3-liter V-8; heated leather seats; Monsoon stereo system; 16-inch chrome wheels; chrome door handles and chrome outside mirrors.

The best thing about adding V-8 power to the H3 is the way it civilizes the truck. The 5.3-liter is smooth and quiet, and its low-speed torque gives near-instant throttle response, whereas the standard five-cylinder needs some revving to get it moving.

The Environmental Protection Agency rates the V-8 at 13 miles per gallon in the city and 16 on the highway. The five-cylinder is rated at 14 city and 18 highway. The V-8 has a maximum towing capacity of 6,000 pounds.

The small H3 is the most sensible of all the Hummers. It is 16.9 inches shorter, 6 inches lower and 6.5 inches narrower than the H2, yet the cabin feels more spacious and the cargo space more practical. Prices start at $30,160 for the base model and $38,725 for the Alpha. For those who want an even brighter H3, the Alpha can be equipped with the H3 X chrome pieces.

The H3 is derived from GM's midsize pickup trucks, the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon.

The H3 Alpha has a 4.10 rear axle ratio that gives it plenty of low-speed muscle for serious off-road use. Hummer engineers tested the H3 on California's Rubicon Trail, and if it can conquer that, then it can master just about anything. The H3 can climb 16-inch vertical steps or rocks and ford 16 inches of water at 20 mph or 24 inches of water at 5 mph.

Buttons on the dash engage the four-wheel-drive system. In addition to high and low range, the H3 also has an available locking rear differential and traction control.

Large tires and short front and rear overhangs play important roles in the H3's ability to climb up and down off-road obstacles.

I drove the H3 Alpha only on the street, as I suspect most buyers will do. In spite of the rather generous step up to get inside, it didn't feel big and bulky. The side windows are narrow, and rear visibility can be challenging because the spare tire intrudes on the view.

The interior is simple but elegant, which might seem surprising for a vehicle with a rugged character. The instrument panel had few seams, nice textures and expensive-feeling controls. The steering wheel rim was a bit too thick for my taste.

Front bucket seats were firm, with good side bolsters, and there was decent legroom in back. The split-folding rear seat can accommodate cargo of many sizes.

To fold the rear seat, first pull the bottom seat cushion forward into the foot well area. Then release the seat back and fold forward. The front of the load floor is about 6 inches higher than the back because of the seats. Ribbed rubber covers the cargo load floor and the back of the seats.

The side-opening tailgate is great for loading. The cargo area is 37 inches tall and 42 inches wide. Maximum length is 63 inches.

GM's StabiliTrak electronic vehicle stability control is standard on the Alpha, along with anti-lock, four-wheel disc brakes, traction control and side-curtain airbags with rollover protection.

The H3 Alpha comes with one year of OnStar service.

Price The base price of the H3 Alpha is $38,645. The test vehicle had a power sunroof, rearview camera, trailer hitch and metallic paint. The sticker price was $41,745.

Warranty Four years or 50,000 miles with a five-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty.