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2003 Review : Hummer H2

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2003 Hummer H2
Base price: $48,065
Price as tested: $52,870
EPA mileage: not rated

By Des Toups
	Nobody stares at a Chevy Suburban. Everybody stares at a Hummer H2, which 
collects eyeballs the way pockets collect lint. Which is the point, after all.
	No vehicle on the market commands -- and demands -- attention the way the 
H2 does. Despite the Hummer's relatively benign 189-inch length, shorter 
than a Ford Explorer, its puffed-up presence overwhelms everything else on 
the road. The huge, slotted chrome grille fills rearview mirrors; the 
slab-sided body presents a wall of painted metal and towering tires to the 
next lane. Running boards aren't an affectation, they're a necessity. A 
single parking space won't handle its 81-inch width (plus a foot on either 
side for mirrors).
	If the H2 were a person, it would suck all the air out of a room.
	All of this bluster is wrought in the name of off-road ability -- 
something General Motors, in massaging its large-truck platform with 
minimal overhangs, a raised suspension, new subframe, locking rear 
differential and all-wheel traction control, has provided in spades. The H2 
succeeds admirably in replicating the look and off-road abilities of the 
hulking, legendary H1 (the civilian version of the Army combat vehicle now 
also sold by GM). It is far better mannered, more comfortable and downright 
pint-sized in comparison, yet offers the same feel of relentless force in 
the face of immoveable objects. Indeed, upon climbing into the driver's 
seat, one is immediately seized with the impulse to run over something.
	Fortunately, the feeling passes. And then, unfortunately, the H2 must pass 
muster as a passenger vehicle, duty for which it is considerably less suited.
	Perhaps it's a good thing the H2 does everything but shout its presence, 
for the person behind the wheel can't see much at all. The near-vertical 
side windows are so shallow and so high off the ground that many cars pass 
without the H2 driver ever knowing they were there. The driver sits well 
inboard, making matters worse. The large side mirrors, equally high, aren't 
much help. Headrests, spare tire and rear pillars create a blind spot to 
the rear capable of hiding a minivan. Parallel parking requires a spotter, 
because everything smaller than a building is invisible.  I've driven 
Corvettes with better visibility -- and they didn't weigh more than three tons.
	That weight -- 1,000 pounds or more heavier than its Chevrolet truck kin 
-- means everything about the way the H2 drives on pavement suffers, the 
same way your own abilities would be compromised if you carried an extra 40 
pounds and wore clunky shoes.  It's felt most in the brakes, which simply 
aren't up to the task of halting this much mass. One freeway panic stop 
will be enough to convince most H2 drivers to leave themselves plenty of 
room. But at least its four-wheel discs are huge, the better to fend off fade.	
	All versions of the H2 share a 6-liter, 316-horsepower V-8. Torque, the 
muscle that actually propels this hefty machine, is a respectable 360 
lb.-ft, but the H2 seems a logical candidate for GM's super brawny, 
6.6-liter Duramax diesel, which develops about the same horsepower but 
delivers a mighty 520 lb.-feet of torque. That option certainly wouldn't 
hurt the H2's dismal gas mileage; the H2 sucks its 32-gallon tank dry 
alarmingly quickly. We never saw double digits.
	Power seats and a nine-speaker CD/cassette stereo are standard. An 
Adventure series includes a trick, self-leveling air suspension with even 
more travel, an onboard air compressor (so true off-roaders can deflate the 
tires for sand and reinflate them afterward) and a first-aid kit. A Luxury 
series adds heated leather-trimmed seats, a 6-disc changer, side steps and 
lots of brushed chrome accents. Niceties such as a sunroof, brush guards 
and off-road lights are optional. The H2 seems sparsely featured for a 
sport-utility in this price class, which includes such capable machines as 
the Toyota Land Cruiser and Land Rover Discovery.
	Even with every box checked and a sticker nearing $57,000, the H2 is by no 
means a luxury wagon. Interior plastics are adequate for a machine perhaps 
half the price. They look fine, but controls the driver touches feel flimsy 
and cheap. The console-mounted shifter in our tester, a hefty chrome-plated 
lever, waggled theatrically in its gate. Flat windows and a blunt shape 
mean wind roar is ever-present, and cracking a window or opening the 
sunroof invites a torrent of air into the cabin.
	Of course, those looking for luxury are probably looking elsewhere. Those 
looking for a suburban-duty hauler should, too. While the H2 is a massive 
vehicle, all of its extra height and width is devoted to ensuring its 
off-road prowess. A Chevy Tahoe of roughly similar size seats more people 
and holds an additional 18 cubic feet of cargo. Add the H2's 
single-occupant third seat (useful only for emergencies) and cargo capacity 
becomes ludicrous: Three suitcases and a baby seat, removed from the hatch 
of a tiny compact, wouldn't fit in the hold of this three-ton machine. 	
	For all its trade-offs, the H2 might be a reasonable proposition for those 
in the hinterlands. But in town -- where I've seen H2 owners circling 
parking lots interminably looking for a space that might fit, where small 
cars disappear in its acres of blind spots, where unpredictable pedestrians 
and bicyclists make its sluggish brakes unsafe -- it feels like a bull in a 
china shop.

Des Toups is a Seattle free-lance writer whose work has appeared in 
AutoWorld magazine, The Seattle Times and newspapers nationwide.