No vehicle has a more polarizing effect throughout different layers of American culture than the Hummer H2. Emotions run higher than just having a simple opinion about the vehicle. People take action. From the bling-blingers who trick out their rides to make sure it doesn't go unnoticed to the eco-terrorists who vandalize them to get their cause noticed. Even the once clearly defined line between church and garage has blurred as religious pundits debate if Jesus or Pontius Pilate would drive a Hummer H2.
The H2 was introduced at the top of the biggest wave of both SUV popularity and scorn. Although based on the GMT800 platform that supports all of General Motors' fullsize trucks and SUVs, the H2 was designed to compliment the original Hummer, which is now called the H1. The Hummer is a civilian version of the High Mobility Multi-purpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV), or Humvee for short, built by AM General for the military since 1985. After the Humvee earned its hero status in Desert Storm, AM General released the Hummer in 1992 to the delight of battlefield wannabes and macho icons such as Arnold Schwarzenegger. When GM acquired the brand rights to the Hummer name, the automaker set out leverage the Hummer's character and popularity by building an even more civilized, luxurious version called the H2. It also didn't hurt that a tax loophole made purchasing a Hummer a bargain to those with knowledgeable CPAs.
Entertainers, athletes and wealthy mallrats paid up to $10,000 over sticker price to have one of the first H2s in the showroom. Owners quickly dressed up their rides with huge wheels, O-ring tires, wild paint, plush interiors and ear-busting sound systems. TV shows and magazines followed so many buildups that one thought a Hummer was required equipment for the beautiful people.
The SUV category was already a frequent target of critics who despised the vehicles' ostentatious size, emissions and poor fuel economy. Sadly, the Hummer H2 rallied the anti-SUV troops to the point that a few radicals started burning and vandalizing Hummers. For the first year, no one could have an impartial opinion of the Hummer. You were either for personal freedom or against polluting gas guzzlers.
Soaring oil prices and the diminishing novelty of owning a combat poseur has led to falling sales. Through September of 2004, Hummer sales are down about 20 percent over the previous year. To pump a little energy into the brand for the 2005 model year, GM released the Hummer H2 SUT, a pickup version that's a little more expensive than the SUV model. Now that the furor had resided, I was looking forward to a long drive in a $58,000 truck that hopefully wouldn't draw unwanted attention.
The SUT removes considerable bulk from the standard Hummer body design with the 20-inch deep cargo box. Since the SUV Hummer had the spare mounted in the cargo area-a constant complaint from owners-GM had to implement a tire carrier on the back bumper. The beefy carrier swings away for access to the tailgate but adds about a foot to the already long 203-inch body.
As a pickup, the 59-inch wide bed is more useful and versatile than it appears. Cargo volume is 22 feet, and the lined bed features drains for easy cleanup. The floor length is just under 35 inches but the SUT features a fold-down midgate that increases the floor length to just under 73 inches and cargo volume to 52.7 cubic feet. That's helpful in loading lumber, motorcycles or other large cargo but the move also eliminates the rear seating and exposes the front occupants to the outside elements. Our test vehicle had a locking hard tonneau cover that could be removed for large items.
The SUT does like the outside air, however. A sunroof is standard, and the midgate window can be rolled down with the rear seat in place for extra ventilation. It's a perfect atmosphere when going off road. I took the SUT for a spin around the dunes at Pismo Beach in Central California. I had driven an H1 Hummer a couple years earlier on the dunes. With its central tire inflation, wide track and long wheel travel, the H1 is completely in its element on the sand and an absolute thrill to launch over the crests. But I quickly learned the H2's limitations. I didn't air down the tires, so couldn't go as deep into the dunes as I wanted. The H2 has an ABS/traction control system that helps provide power to the tires with traction. There's also an electronic-locking rear differential that can be engaged only in 4-LO. On the sand, however, momentum and speed are more desirable so I couldn't try it.
On a trail, the SUT should do well as it has been tested numerous times on the famed Rubicon. The approach and departure angles (40.4 and 36.5 degrees, respectively) and ground clearance (9.9 inches at the differential) are excellent. The truck is designed to ford water up 20 inches deep. However, the SUT tanks out at 6400 pounds and is over 81 inches wide (hence, the roof marker lights). It may not fit where a Jeep Wrangler or even Land Rover can squeeze through. The upcoming H3 will be a better suited for some extreme trails. The H2 does come with skid plates, tow hooks and rocker-panel protection. Also, there are receiver hitches fore and aft that accept an optional winch.
The H2 comes with a 4.10:1 axle ratio. Combined with a 2.64:1 low-range ratio in the transfer case, the H2 offers a final crawl ratio of just over 32:1 when the Hydra-matic 4L65-E automatic transmission in is first gear.
Our test vehicle had the optional air suspension package that lifts the vehicle a little higher to help clear trail obstacles. In fact, the ramp breakover angle increases from 25.8 to 26.6 degrees with the air suspension engaged. The air suspension is also self leveling to correct any attitude changes from cargo or trailer-tongue weight. Since our travels didn't include a mountain trail this time, the option didn't see action.
Even though the H2 is very capable off-road, it's unlikely that many people would buy it for its trail ability. It's just too expensive to scratch up. The practical approach would be to take the $50,000 and buy a Wrangler Rubicon, then have $25,000 worth of hard-core off-road parts installed. But then no one would notice you until you scaled the highest mountain.
Highway driving is very comfortable and perhaps the main attraction for most Hummer buyers. Driving position is commanding and there is sense of power from that seat. But visibility is difficult through the rear window and over the hood. Switching lanes requires attention and caution so that you don't draw the ire of any SUV-haters. Parallel parking will be treacherous for those with minimal spatial talents.
But the ride is pleasant, and power from the 325-horsepower 6-liter V8 is adequate enough to tow 6500 pounds or haul a 2200-pound payload. The seats are cushy yet supportive enough to sustain an erect spine for long treks. The dash is bold and maybe slightly cluttered visually but all the controls are within easy reach. Originally the H2 took a somewhat lazy approach to luxury that drew complaints from many owners. But the company has taken steps to improve the interior surfaces on 2005 models. A new $3,740 luxury package includes up level Ebony leather seating, more leather on trim panels, 6-CD changer, XM satellite radio and aluminum door sill plates. There's also an available DVD-based navigation system.
The SUT should broaden the appeal of the Hummer line to include more recreation-minded buyers. Perhaps the hostility toward the vehicle has died down enough now that vandalism won't be an issue. Our truck never had eggs thrown on it; not that I didn't think about the potential for vandalism. I often walk along the beach and one morning last year I noticed a homeowner on the Strand had just purchased a bright yellow Hummer H2. But since it wouldn't fit in the garage (beach houses can be small), he had to park on the side of the house on a makeshift driveway. That week, a number of SUVs in the Los Angeles area were burned or sprayed with graffiti. Within a couple weeks, I noticed the Hummer owner had installed security cameras focused on his vehicle, not the house. The only foreign matter I encountered while testing the Hummer was a seemingly continuous swarm of insects on the windshield. True to its boxy nature, the windshield stands straight up on the H2. There is no chance that any bug will find an aerodynamic slipstream over the hood and roof.
Many of the problems and annoyances owners experienced with the SUV will carry over the SUT. Ingress and egress are difficult for the elderly and youngsters alike. The Hummer is an absolute nightmare to wash. As mentioned earlier, it's big and will not fit into some garages. The liftover height of the pickup bed rails is manageable for pro basketball players but few others. And for those expecting to see that tax loophole continue, don't wait until after Jan. 1 to buy your Hummer.
Despite the cult-like loyalty of some owners, the H2 has suffered in JD Power quality rankings. Owners rave about the styling and perhaps the comfort but vehicle has had maintenance and reliability issues. Just try pricing the replacement cost of those massive tires. To its defense, however, many of the complaints have centered on fuel economy. It makes no sense to criticize a vehicle for poor mileage when you know it's a gas hog before you step into the dealership. But the H2 isn't required to have an EPA estimate on the window sticker due to its 8600-pound GVRW, and the shock of $60 fillups apparently was too much for some owners. We logged 853 miles in one week with our test vehicle, using 72.8 gallons of premium fuel for an average of 11.7 mpg. Total fuel cost: $168.75.
The H2 SUT is an attractive but expensive fashion statement. It lacks the practicality of a traditional pickup but certainly offers many more intrinsic rewards to those who desire such a vehicle. With the novelty worn down, maybe now we'll see the prototypical Hummer owner emerge. Perhaps he is a true off-road enthusiast and a family man who feels more secure in an armored-car-like vehicle. Maybe he's not the type of driver who craves attention. Maybe he just wants to drive a Hummer and be left alone.