EXPERT REVIEW

Our view: 2002 Hummer H1

Even after 6 inches of snow, countless dropped jaws, two tanks of gas and a sore ego, I must admit something about the 2002 Hummer H1: I still don’t get it.

Sure, I’d get the Hummer if I could shoot a basketball really well, throw a 50-yard pass or hit a baseball into a bay.

But, then, I don’t make $2.3 million per year and play key chain roulette wondering which one of the 10 cars I’ll drive when I get up in the morning. If I did, the Hummer would be a natural.

Bored of driving behind some slow poke in the left lane of the freeway? Crush ’em.

Tired of the guy who honks his horn when you don’t move fast enough off the stoplight? Hit reverse and flatten ’em.

Ten years after AM General turned the four-wheel-drive Desert Storm Humvee (high-mobility, multi-purpose wheeled vehicle) into a civilian “oh-my-gosh” on wheels, the principles haven’t changed.

The best thing that can be said about a vehicle so impossibly big is that it flat-out reeks fun. Practicality? Not a chance. Utility? Not really. Parking ability in your driveway? Now that’s a real stretch.

When the 3-ton, 190.5-inch Hummer (that’s 15.8 feet, friends) isn’t taking up two spaces at the local drugstore, it’s barreling down on some poor soul who isn’t sure what’s hit him in the passing lane.

When it isn’t making you and your passenger hoarse trying to shout over the engine’s rumble while seated 10 feet apart, it’s snorting, stammering, grumbling and busting.

So exactly what is this maximus in motion really good for, besides being an interesting toy to tool around in and make you feel like you’ve just stepped (sorry, stomped!) your way into battle?

Snow.

When the serious flurries came out a few weeks back, the Hummer hummed. It made unplowed freeways into passing lanes. It made 65 mph not only an option, but a minimum speed. It made the woman next to me at a stoplight pretty mad. She told me so.

“Who do you think you are driving so fast in that thing?” she asked, rolling down her window.

Arnold Schwarzenegger, I replied. He owned five at last count.

With a price tag in the high 90s to start, the Hummer is the vehicle some of us wish we had, and many of us will never consider. It’s a dream, in 3-D.

It isn’t for people in witness protection programs. It isn’t for people interested in a family vacation – unless you own Exxon.

My 200-mile trip ate up two tanks of gasoline (it has a reserve tank that’s 17 gallons, in addition to the 25-gallon main), and it nearly left me deaf, real jiggly, or both. Kind of like those carnival rides when you were a kid that would spin you around while blasting the Gap Band over a central speaker.

Not exactly what the luxury level buyer has in mind when he or she slips out a hundred thousand.

Actually, it’s more he. Hummer says its demographic is older men who make more than $250,000 a year. They believe those buyers will enjoy the “commanding presence” o f the vehicle that AM General meant for the Army to use in more than 100 configurations, ranging from ambulances to mobile rocket launchers.

Ten years later, it’s still storming on – about 1,000 sales each year.

The H1, our tester, is available in several hard- and soft-top models. And this year, under General Motors’ leadership, they even introduced the H2, or “baby Hummer,” a softer rendition that’s not quite as brutish.

The H1 is the real deal. Throw out the air conditioning and Monsoon stereo and you’ve got, mechanically and structurally, the same thing that rolled over Iraq. Which makes it perfect for, say, downtown Detroit.

But step off the highway, and the Hummer comes to life. With 16 inches of ground clearance (twice your run-of-the-mill sport-ute), all-terrain tires that were Dutch windmills at 37 inches in diameter and all-time four-wheel drive, it demands the roughest roads or deepest trails. Hummer says it can cross a creek 30 inches deep. It can c mb 22-inch steps.

Step onto the highway (without snow) and it’s a loud, boring, lumbar wagon of a ride.

With all the weight of 10 Escorts, it rolls around corners, requires extreme caution in city stop-and-go traffic and lots of care on a tight turn or lane changes. After a bit of driving, intimidation gives way to advance planning. Where you instantly think you own the road, the Hummer actually squeezes into one lane. Where you think any sidewalk pedestrian is a moving target, the Hummer gets easier to drive with age.

GM’s turbocharged 6.5-liter V-8 diesel (195 hp) gets it going to 60 mph in about 18 seconds, but it breaks a different kind of sound barrier. Inside the Hummer, there are interesting features, but there is no ear protection. We’re talking jackhammer envy. And GM even says it’s improved. What?

Combine that with a drivetrain tunnel down the center that’s large enough it could link England and France and you have a unique setup: noise and separation. Passengers are time zones away from each other, almost in foxholes, and there is seating for only four.

There are also no airbags, no tilt steering and no such thing as a relaxing Sunday drive.

But there is a central tire inflation system, a CD changer, run-flat tires, a four-speed automatic transmission, power windows, cruise control and room in the back for a small army – which is kind of the point.

So is off-roading. Want to really hit the trail? Consider the Hummer, but only after thinking about a Land Rover for half the price or a Jeep for a third the price.

But this isn’t about price, is it?

It’s a status symbol. Something unattainable for most. Something unbelievable for many.

Believe this: Unless you’re desperately in need of attention or you plan on helping out in Afghanistan, leave the Hummer to army commandos and movie stars.

Arnold probably needs another one anyway.

2002 HUMMER H1

Rating: 2

High gear: With the ground clearance of a monster truck and off-road ability of a tank, the Hummer excels at what it promises – a wild ride in the wilderness. Nothing more. Nothing less. It’s huge. It’s hugely popular.

Low gear: Think luxury price, then throw out the luxury. There are no extras in this ride. Road feel is non-existent. Interior room and amenities are negligible. Need we say more?

Vehicle type: All-wheel drive, front-engine, four-door, four-passenger wagon. Standard equipment: Four-speed automatic transmission; anti-lock four-wheel disc brakes; front and rear air conditioning; cruise control; power mirrors; power door locks; AM/FM/cassette w/six-disc CD changer; full-time four-wheel drive; hi-lo gear selector; trailer hitch; rear reading lights; mechanical center differential; rear limited slip differential; automatic locking hubs; front power outlet; traction control; auxiliary gas tank.

Competition: Mercedes-Benz G-Class, Land Rover Range Rover

Engine: 195 hors epower, 6.5-liter, V-8 diesel

Torque: 430 foot-lbs. @ 1,800 rpm

Wheelbase: 130.0 inches Length: 190.5 inches

MPG rating: N/A

Manufactured: Mishawaka

Warranty: Basic warranty is three years/36,000 miles; rust perforation warranty is six years/100,000 miles; drivetrain is three years/36,000 miles.

Base price: $98,681 Price as tested (includes options, destination and delivery charges): $116,560

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