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2006 Hummer H3 Review

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2006 Hummer H3
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2006 Hummer H3 Interior

HUMMER H3 - The Answer to a Question No One Asked

By Steve Purdy Detroit Bureau

Some have described the Hummer H3 as the answer to a question no one asked. But, let’s think about that title for a moment. Someone must have asked the question or this ostentatious 4-wheel-drive sport-utility wouldn’t have come to be. Certainly, GM is selling enough of them to satisfy a demand out there. Perhaps, more specifically, the question being asked was, “How can I get a sport-utility with the image and ambiance of a Hummer without the bulk and impracticality of the H1 or even the H2?”

I remember when GM announced the unique relationship put together with AM General, maker of the military Humvee, when the H2 was in the cooker. GM would build the plant in Michawaka, Indiana and do the engineering on the H2. AM General would build it and GM would have marketing rights to all the Hummer products, including all the ones to come. At that time part of the plan was to develop an H3 and even an H4. Well, we’re looking at, and driving, the H3 this week. And there are rumors about an H4 in ’09 but a platform has not yet been determined.

Criticism is often leveled at GM for being too timid in the marketplace, that is, making products too bland and too predictable to be must-have vehicles. Those criticisms ignore the trio of Hummer models. Recent announcement that the H1, civilian version of the massive military vehicle will go away for good soon will not, in my humble opinion, dilute the tough and brutish image of the brand. H2 and H3 look the part of a take-no-prisoners approach to sport-utility design and there still seems to be enough macho customers out there to buy them. Additionally, all the Hummers have impeccable off-road credentials.

Look at our raucous red Hummer H3. Built on GM’s relatively new mid-size truck platform, shared with the competent Colorado, the H2 is clad with all manner of plastic pieces to make it look like its big brother: bulging fenders with large flat wheel arches, fuel filler recessed into the fender, and disproportionately small windows. A black plastic panel in the hood hints at the big Hummer’s hood vents. Huge, military style tow hooks adorn the blacked-out bumpers. The nose is protected by a huge black grille guard. The rocker panel has a bumper bar rather than a running board. The nearly vertical windshield is topped with five amber, truck-like running lights. A cigar box-size pod on either side of the base of the windshield hints at the high-mounted air intakes of Big Brother. And, how about those huge tires - high profile 285/75R16 Bridgestone Dueler A/Ts, ready to dance over the boulders on the Rubicon Trail.

Inside, the H3 is a bit more conventional. The gauges and controls are simple and intuitive. Seats are firm and comfortable. Dual front air bags protect front passengers and head-curtain airbags are optional. The fat-rimmed steering wheel feels meaty and tough. It’s a good thing the passenger side has a grab bar. My pretty blonde has to use it to pull herself up into the seat. Her poor father, Herb, who has rather limited strength and mobility, really struggled to get into the back seat, using the two grab bars back there. He finally made it. All-in-all the H2 is very pleasant inside, once you’re able to get in.

Drivability is excellent as well. The high perch gives the expected commanding view limited just a bit by the smaller than expected windows. From inside the hood looks to be broader than the Platte River in June, but we’re able to judge the corners reasonably well. Steering is quick and predictable with a tighter than expected turning radius. The big, knobby tires make it wander a bit on irregular surfaces. It doesn’t feel particularly cumbersome.

I found the H3 to be remarkably underpowered. The Vortec 3500, DOHC 3.5-liter in-line 5-cylinder engine generates about 220 horsepower and 225-lb.ft. of torque. The horsepower peaks at 5,600 rpm – pretty useless – but the torque peaks at 2,800 rpm – closer to where you want it. The H3 weighs about 4,700 pounds so it takes that entire limited grunt to just get down the road adequately. The good news is that a 5.3-liter V8 is expected for next year’s H3.

A 5-speed manual transmission is standard but our test car is equipped with the optional 4-speed 4L65E automatic with Stabilitrak Stability Enhancement System. Full-time all-wheel-drive with a 2-speed transfer case is standard. Towing capacity is 4,500 pounds and payload is 1,100 pounds.

Cargo space is pretty good. We have 55.7 cubic-feet capacity with the rear seats folded nearly flat and 29.5 cubic-feet with the seats up. We didn’t have any cargo netting or other utilities in our test car but there are half-dozen tie-down hooks. In order to accommodate this cargo capacity the full-size spare tire and wheel are mounted on the outside of the rear gate. While that tailgate a mighty heavy unit, it is balance and sprung perfectly allowing for easy opening and closing.

As we would expect with any Hummer, its off-road credentials are excellent. Skid plates and protective shields run the entire length of the undercarriage. With 8 -inches of ground clearance (9.1-inches with the optional bigger tires), approach and departure angles of 37.5 and 35.5-degrees respectively, along with plenty of suspension travel, we’d feel right at home on a rocky trail, if we had one nearby.

Warranty is 4-years/50,000 miles. OnStar is included for a year.

EPA rates the H3 at 16 mpg city and 20 mpg highway – somewhat better than its big brothers.

The standard price on the H3 is $28,935. Optional on our test truck are: Adventure Package (off-road suspension and carpeted floor mats) for $1,375, 4-Speed automatic transmission with Stabilitrak-Stability Control at $1,695, AM/FM 6-disc in-dash CD changer, 7-speaker Monsoon system with amplifier and rear woofer costing $390, and XM Satellite radio service at $325. We also have $1,420 worth of dealer options: roof mounted lamp markers, black wrap-around brush guard and rubber floor mats. Our bottom line is $35,550.

I’m beginning to get used to the brash styling after a week with the H3, but I’m still disappointed with the lack of power and the difficulty of getting into and out of it. With those few limitations I’ve begun to appreciate the courage GM exhibits in bringing all the Hummer products to market. Hummers are certainly not everyone’s cup ‘o tea but I’m they sure add a unique dimension to the market.

Someone must have asked for it.