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Hummer H3 - 15th December 2007

Quick Drive

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above - The Metal Mountain (Click to enlarge) Hummer H3
above - The Twist Ditch Hummer H3 Hummer H3

SUVs are one of the fastest growing sectors in the car industry. Despite greater environmental awareness and green issues moving to the top of the political agenda, it seems everybody wants one, and perhaps the most famous (or is that infamous?) of them all is the Hummer.

The Hummer brand was launched in 1992 when the AM General company began selling civilian versions of its HMMWV (or Hum-Vee) military vehicle. However, this was really nothing more than a Hum-Vee with comfy seats and a radio. In 1998 the brand was sold to General Motors (GM) and shortly afterwards they introduced a brand new model, the H2. This was much more suited to everyday use whilst still retaining exceptional off-road ability. At the same time, the original Hummer was renamed the H1. Neither of these models was officially available in the UK so if you wanted one you had to go to an unofficial import specialist and expect to pay upwards of £50,000.

Now there’s a new Hummer on the block, the H3, and this one is available in right-hand drive through a small number of UK dealers. What’s more, it comes with a four year parts and labour warranty and starts at a much more palatable £27,000.

To celebrate the H3’s official launch in the UK Hummer held a marketing event branded the "Hummer Happening". We managed to blag our way in and check it out.

THE EVENT

This particular Hummer Happening was held at the North West’s official Hummer dealer, Bauer Millet in Manchester. Upon arrival we signed in and received our official Hummer lanyards and details of our designated test-drive time slot. Whilst waiting we took the opportunity to have a good look around the showroom. In addition to being the official Hummer dealer, Bauer Millet are also specialists in importing other US models and there was a wide range of vehicles on display, most of them extremely large. My particular favourites were a Saleen Mustang and a pimped-up 300C.

The test drive finally arrived and consisted of two parts, on-road and off-road. The on-road session lasted about 40 minutes which me and Mike shared 50/50 and involved driving around the streets of Manchester, including some notoriously dubious areas. The off-road session took place in the car park of Manchester City football stadium. This involved a pair of off-set ramps (or "twisty ditch" as our Italian instructor called it) to demonstrate the H3’s axle articulation, the metal mountain to demonstrate its hill climbing and descent ability, a lateral incline to demonstrate its ability to tackle...er...lateral inclines and a table top hill with off-set rollers to demonstrate the diff-lock.

THE CAR

ON ROAD
The new H3 is apparently "Smaller and lighter, but still a Hummer". True, maybe, but it’s still no compact. At 2m wide and 4.8m long it has almost the same footprint as a Land Rover Discovery and at 2.7 tonnes it weighs about the same as a Range Rover Sport. However, it is significantly smaller and lighter than its big brother, the H2, and that means the H3 is more in-keeping with the standard fare SUVs prowling the UK city streets.

There is a problem though; the H3 is entering a market where the trend is for smaller, lighter, more economical and environmentally acceptable 4x4s and this oversized Tonka toy is definitely not going to fit that bill. For starters, there’s no diesel option - only a 3.7litre, 5 cylinder petrol with 244hp and 242Lb-ft of torque and that’ll only get you 15 miles (claimed urban) for every gallon of liquid gold you pour into the massive 87litre tank. This is a huge mistake by GM and severely limits the H3’s appeal in Europe.

So, it’s not going to win you any respect from Greenpeace, but does that bother you? If you’re reading this because you’re thinking of buying one I think we can safely say it doesn’t. What it does get you is individuality, a chance to stand out from the crowd and be noticed. We caught a Range Rover Sport at some traffic lights and as we pulled up alongside it suddenly became invisible in the presence of the Hummer. Everywhere we went people literally stopped and stared, including the RR Sport driver. Although, not the kind of ’smile and wave’ stares you get in a Caterham, these were more blank and vacant stares. Whether that was down to awe, disbelief or disgust is difficult to tell, but it was certainly a head-turner. Some people revel in that kind of attention, if you’re one of them this could be the car for you.

From the outside it looks indestructible. Solid and chunky in all the right places, with its slab-sided two-box shape and small windows it looks like it could win a fight with a car-crusher at the junk yard. Inside, those small windows give a real sense of protection and security - and after you have them replaced with bullet-proof glass that feeling will be maximised. The solid look of the exterior carries on through the cabin and all the controls are suitably weighty and tactile. Even in entry-level trim there’s everything you could need including air-con, cruise control and a compass! Moving up to Luxury trim gets you leather, heating and electric adjustment for the seats, more chrome and an upgraded stereo system with mp3 capability. What is a little disappointing, given the H3’s size, is the interior space; whilst the boot is big enough for most people’s needs the seating generally feels cramped and claustrophobic (not helped by the small windows and dark trim). With three adults across the back seat it helps if you’re all on first-name terms.

In the driver’s seat, turn the key and the motor fires up into a barely audible whisper. Shift the hugely chunky gearlever into "D" and give it some gas. Under a light throttle take off is smooth and refined, the motor still doing its best to remain a silent companion. Accelerate with more enthusiasm though and that typical 5 cylinder thrum comes into play, albeit in a muffled, subdued style - more Volvo 850 than Audi Quattro. Floor the throttle and, as the revs build, performance is relatively sprightly, but not nearly fast enough to make up for the fuel consumption. Steering is well-weighted and pretty quick but lacking in feel. Ride quality is on the "crikey" side of hard and every imperfection the Manchester streets could throw at us was felt inside the cabin - really this is no different to most 4x4s, but to normal car drivers it may be unexpected.

The short test drive around city-centre streets is not enough to really explore the Hummer’s handling or roadholding abilities, but, let’s face it, that’s where most of these will spend their lives anyway so maybe it is a fair test. What the typical buyer won’t get to do is test the car’s off-road ability...but we did.

OFF ROAD
We arrived at Manchester City football stadium and had to swap vehicles - I believe the off-road H3s belonged to Hummer and were brought over from Germany, along with the off-road obstacles and the accompanying instructors, the road-test versions belonged to the dealer. Before joining our instructor we were offered some refreshments - bacon butty was good...coffee was crap! This gave us a chance to watch some of the other attendees tackling the obstacle course which boosted our excitement and trepidation in equal measure. The H3 seemed to be making light work of the man-made jungle.

Then it was our turn. First off, a ride around the course with our Italian instructor at the wheel. He talked us through each obstacle in turn and then took us over the "metal mountain". Blimey, it felt much narrower and a damn sight steeper then it looked. The H3 breezed up it at a crawl in low-range. At the top, a quick dab of the brake pedal engaged the hill descent control system and we trundled down again. The instructor explained that the metal mountain was "for instructor driver only" so we wouldn’t be getting a go at that then - probably just as well. When I finally got my turn I was ready for it. I’d seen the others do it, I’d seen our instructor do it and I’d seen Mike do it, "looks simple" I thought.

On approaching the first obstacle, the "twisty ditch", I was surprised at just how close together the ramps were. I stopped just before, engaged neutral, and pressed the switches on the dash to engage low-range gearing and the diff-lock. Another instructor was positioned at the other side of the obstacle waving his arms to indicate left, right or straight steering. Back into "D" and off we went. It was tricky watching the instructor and following his directions rather than actually looking where I was going, but it paid off. We made it, well half-way at least. He made us stop with front-left and rear-right wheels on the ramps and the other two dangling in mid-air. He came over to us, grinning like Jack Nicholson’s "Joker", and proceeded to bounce up and down on the front bumper, rocking the car on its diagonal axis. After that, still with his imbecilic grin, he backed off and gave us two thumbs-up. Oh, how we laughed! He resumed his position and waved us forwards. It didn’t feel anything like as extreme inside the car as it looked from out side. Once off the ramps we stopped again, selected neutral and disengaged low-range and the diff-lock - this was accompanied by a quite cringe-worthy mechanical clang...subtle!

Next was the table-top mountain. This is the lower section just in front of the metal mountain. For this we selected low-range only. Again, the narrowness of the ramp was quite disconcerting, but the foam-coated plastic marker poles helped with positioning. Once on the table-top, the right-front and rear-left wheels fell into the appropriately positioned rollers and we were stuck. Any amount of gas simply spun the wheels. This is where the diff-lock comes into its own. Once engaged it effectively "locks" the two rear wheels together so power is split evenly between them. As one of the wheels now had grip, we moved forwards, a quick dab of the brake and we descended the mountain under full control.

Next was the lateral incline, a wide ramp designed to tilt the car over at about a 40 degree angle. This again required low-range and diff-lock and the H3 clambered over with real composure. This one felt far more extreme from inside than it looked from outside and it really felt like we were on the verge of rolling over. No such luck though.

So that was it. All obstacles overcome and all drivers left suitably impressed and entertained. In addition to the abilities demonstrated here Hummer also claim the H3 can wade through 24 inches of water - useful for the Tesco car park, especially if you live in Gloucestershire.

The Hummer H3 is a serious bit of kit and if you like your 4x4 to be outrageous, ostentatious, in-yer-face and shout "hey, look at me" then there really is nothing to touch it, apart from perhaps the H2. Me, I prefer my 4x4 to be a bit less environmentally destructive and to blend into the background a bit more, so I won’t be getting one...unless I turn to crime or "gangsta rap", then it might be just the ticket.

I’d like to say a big thank you to all the Hummer representatives, brought in especially for the event, for making this a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon. In particular to Howard, who chatted to us in the showroom whilst waiting for our test-drive and also drove us back from the off-road section. He really knew his stuff, and could tell us everything we needed to know about the H3. Then we got talking about cars in general and, it turns out, he has his own car dealership in Boxford, Suffolk specialising in Porsche. Check out his website at www.riddlesdell.co.uk. He really was a top bloke and it was a pleasure meeting him.

Interestingly though, there was no hard sell. I was expecting the Bauer Millet guys to catch us after the drive to try and secure a deal. But it never happened. They didn’t give us any literature to take away and there has been no follow up call since. I find that quite surprising. A missed opportunity perhaps?

Gav.

H3 - The Video

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