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Hummer H3 comes in a more usable size

November 11, 2005|by DAN LYONS / Motor Matters

Marketers lie. A stunning revelation, I know, but I have proof. We've all heard the expression, "One size fits all," haven't we? Well, it doesn't.

An XXL size shirt that suits a big guy fits a small person like a tent. Shirts or sport-utility vehicles, it's all the same. The first Hummer to hit the market - the H1 - was an "XXL" if ever there was one. Here was a vehicle that could go almost anywhere, but would fit almost nowhere. The H2 followed a few years later, a scaled-down version with most of the H1's gutsy, trail-chomping attitude. But while smaller than the H1, the H2 was still pretty big - especially as the market started to shift slowly towards more compact SUVs and hybrids.

Enter the new H3. The midsized new Hummer is a dead ringer for the H2. Such is the likeness between youngest and middle sibling that unless you have them side by side, you're hard pressed to tell them apart. Compared to the H2, the H3 is nearly 17 inches shorter, 6 inches lower, 6.5 inches narrower and 1,700 pounds lighter. About the size of a midsize sedan, the H3's lack of bulk means less holding of breath when threading through a crowded city street. The H3 offers good maneuverability for an SUV, and while the turret-like, small-window styling make for less than ideal rear visibility, the upright lines let you see the ends and sides of the body.

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Inside, H3 has just-right dimensions. It is sized to suit adults in front or back and the rear seats fold nearly flat to accommodate oversize loads. Even without flipping row two forward, there are 29.5 cubic feet of cargo room behind the seats, expandable to 55.7: big and bigger, respectively, and accessed by a side-swinging door with a reasonable lift-over height.

Up front, H3 has a rugged front cabin, with a fat, grippy, leather-wrapped steering wheel and a chunky, oversized gearshift lever. Controls are mostly of the meaty, rheostat style and can be handled with gloves on. The look may be beefy but the comfort level is high and the option list is long, allowing buyers to individualize their trucks. The driving position is comfortable for the long haul. In one sense, Hummer may have taken the downsizing thing too far. Inside storage is in short supply up front. The "map" pockets on the doors are clearly a case of truth in advertising and the covered center console is roughly the size of a ham sandwich. There are two cup holders, however, so you and your companion can park your coffee mugs while debating who gets the sandwich.

The H3 is powered by a GM inline five-cylinder engine, rated at 220 horsepower and 225 lbs.-ft. of torque. It can be linked to either an optional, four-speed automatic transmission or a five-speed manual. The motor has enough power to move you down the road or off the road. It also returns gas mileage roughly twice that of the H2, with an EPA mileage rating of 16 mpg city, 19 highway. And it's good to tow as much as 4,500 pounds. Handling is nimble by SUV standards and even the optional off-road suspension has a ride that's easy on the tailbone.

Off-road, H3 has all the capability that you'd expect of a Hummer-badged vehicle. The compact size again works in the driver's favor, allowing you to negotiate tight spots that would stop a fatter SUV. The H3 is as stoutly built as its brothers. There's 9.1 inches of ground clearance beneath, with four skid plates below for undercarriage protection. The short overhangs and generous angles of approach/breakover/departure (40/25/37 degrees, respectively), allow it to clamber over holes and ruts, major and minor. H3 will climb rocks up to 16 inches high, and ford water that's 16 inches deep (at 20 mph; 24 inches at 5 mph). The electronic four-wheel drive system is supplemented by traction control, an optional rear locking differential and stability control for maximum surefootedness, on- or off-pavement.

To me, it doesn't matter how capable an SUV is if it won't fit in your garage or in the streets you drive. H3 wraps the traditional Hummer virtues of serious, off-road chops and bad boy styling in a size that's almost - dare I say it - practical. Many SUV buyers have realized that for them, midsize is the right size, and now Hummer's got a model that fits the bill.

Copyright, Motor Matters, 2005

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