Hummer H3 Luxury Automatic review
by David Finlay (29 September 2008)
The reactions of my friends, when they saw that I had a Hummer on test, were varied and in some cases quite inventive. One expressed surprise that there wasn't a machine gun turret on the roof, and I could see his point. The H3 may be a mere trifle compared with its formidable H1 and H2 relations (in the company's own words this is "the most accessible Hummer ever"), but taken in isolation it's a real don't-mess-with-me vehicle, the only car I can think of which gives the impression that guns should be included among the optional extras.
Another chum took one look at the H3 and said, "You could buy one of those and park it in the garden to impress people." That comment gave me pause for thought, but I saw the point after a few seconds. At first sight there is no obvious reason why anyone should buy a Hummer, and there are plenty of reasons why nobody should. Isn't this just a toy for people who can afford it?
I have to say that I was thinking along similar lines during the first few days of this test. I'd established quite quickly that the H3 is no fun to drive on tarmac, except in the sense that it's quite satisfying to be seen doing this. Admittedly, the 3.7-litre five-cylinder petrol engine is surprisingly quiet, and the ride quality is better than I'd expected it to be, at least as far as the suspension is concerned. On the road, though, you can feel large parts of the running gear shifting and creaking, none of which is very encouraging.
I can also report that on a twisty, hilly road, particularly in the wet, the H3 feels less secure than almost any SUV on the market, and possibly any pickup too. The only car I've driven in the last five years that has inspired less confidence is the Land Rover Defender, which is hardly a modern design. Hey, there were Defenders (in spirit if not in name) half a century before Hummers had even been thought of.
Perhaps the H3's lack of tarmac prowess is not an issue for you. Perhaps it's actually a reason for owning one - a way of showing that you're tough enough to cope with something that really is as forbidding as it looks. Even if that's true, there are still a couple of features that seem almost pointlessly annoying.
I can just about see why the rear door (not tailgate) is hinged on the left so that it opens the wrong way for UK users. Despite being built in South Africa, where they drive on the same side of the road as we do, the Hummer is unmissably American, and it would presumably be uneconomic to redesign the door so that it opened the correct way for markets which must make up a tiny fraction of H3 sales.
On the other hand, why is the speedometer principally marked out in kilometres per hour, with tiny addition mph markings that are much harder to read? Surely it wouldn't cost very much to produce a speedometer that worked the other way round, the way we need it to be in the UK? It's an odd omission whose only saving grace is that it makes the H3 seem even more outlandish, which may work in its favour among more eccentric buyers.
The more I got used to the Hummer, the more I enjoyed it. Even in standard form it's a real bling wagon which makes every pedestrian within a 50-yard radius stop and stare, and that's quite appealing. (Those pedestrians would be well advised to get their skates on if they saw an H3 sliding uncontrollably in their direction - Euro NCAP has not put this car through its safety programme, but if it did I imagine the thing would punch a hole in the wall of the test facility.)
It's also quite comfortable, and there's a lot of room, except perhaps for the legs of taller rear passengers. Despite its high floor, the luggage compartment is also usefully spacious, with 835 litres available when the rear seats are upright, 1597 litres when they're folded.
I also became more used to the H3's road manners, though I was grateful that it doesn't have a great deal of performance. That engine may produce a maximum of 242bhp, but the weight and aerodynamics are such that it can't reach 100mph. I didn't get anywhere near that, and wouldn't want to - it's hard enough to manhandle the H3 round corners without having to worry about going quickly in a straight line (and slowing down again afterwards) as well.
Despite all this, the H3 did start to impress me greatly towards the end of this test. The pictures on this page will already have given you a clue about this. A friend who runs a farm high up a hill told me that a track I was barely aware of actually continued for a further mile and a half beyond his house, and invited me to explore it in the Hummer. Which I did. And I loved every second of the experience.
A few stats for the serious off-roaders among you. The H3 has approach, departure and breakover angles of 37.0, 34.6 and 23.5 degrees respectively. It can drive up a 60% gradient and along a 40% slope, it will clamber over a 407mm obstruction, and it can wade through 610mm of water.
For the benefit of everyone else, the Hummer felt fantastically controlled on difficult (if by no means Land Rover-beating) terrain, including the few hundred yards I drove after the track had run out. The on-road clumsiness was a thing of the past, and instead the car became almost graceful, like a penguin which looks ungainly on land but takes on a beauty of movement as soon as it goes underwater.
And that's the real value of the H3. In normal road conditions it's an amusing piece of nonsense, but venture into the hills and it turns out to be a very impressive machine.
Not necessarily a very expensive one, either. The test car was a Luxury automatic, which put it at the top of the range, but you can save £1500 by going for the five-speed manual gearbox, and there are lower trim levels called SE and Adventure, priced from £26,495 and £30,495 respectively.
All models are in insurance Group 18, though, and with combined fuel economy of 19.5mpg and CO2 emissions on the high side of 300g/km they'll be costly to run. But if you want the off-road prowess, or you think the awkward tarmac behaviour is worth accepting in return for the aggressive appearance, maybe the expense won't matter to you.