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Special Report Hummer H2 taken Off Road - Road Test

Posted in Features on November 1, 2003 Comment (0)
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Impossible. The Hummer H2 is impossible to ignore in any way, shape, or form. When General Motors purchased the Hummer brand name from AM General, it guaranteed that the core attributes of the H1, military-style Hummer would remain intact. What this meant to GM was effort, as the H2 had to exhibit the same rugged, go-anywhere toughness as its predecessor. Thus, the H2 was designed from the beginning to demonstrate unequaled off-road capability while at the same time delivering easily driveable and practical performance.

After driving the H2 across several states in conditions varying from stop-and-go city traffic to fire roads to Moab's notorious hard-core rock trails, we can truthfully say that the General has accomplished his goal. The H2 drives much like a typical fullsize SUV, exhibiting a soft, but well-damped ride, reasonably tight steering response, and a spacious, well-equipped interior. Fuel mileage? Don't ask; at any rate, we doubt that anyone who can afford a near-$60K truck is concerned with the H2's fuel economy. Overall, the H2 will tackle and conquer almost any off-road obstacle you'll likely encounter. Given the H2's style and function, it's easy to see why the Hummer H2 has become one of the most sought-after vehicles in years.

Building an SUV that would live up to the Hummer name while still showing reasonable highway manners meant drawing from General Motor's vast stockpile of truck and SUV parts. The H2's front suspension is an independent, dual A-arm, torsion-bar design similar to that of the HD Silverado and Sierra trucks, while the rear suspension is based on a solid-axle design, employing a five-link system identical to GM's 1/2-ton Tahoe/Yukon. Variable-rate coil springs are standard on the H2's rear suspension, while a fully adjustable airbag suspension is optional. The H2's chassis is reinforced to handle the big dog's additional weight, and the front section of the ladder-style frame is designed to isolate the front differential case from the body to lessen the amount of vibration and noise that reaches the cabin

The smorgasbord of GM chassis and suspension components gives the H2 a smooth ride. The stiffer front and rear springs, needed to support the H2's substantial 6,400-pound curb weight, give the Hummer a slightly harsher ride than, say, a Suburban, but it's a good ride and not uncomfortable in the slightest, at least not to the test drivers on our staff. The steering feel is light and direct, especially for such a big vehicle, and our test H2's 35x12.50R17 BFG All-Terrain tires delivered excellent performance as well. Braking was adequate, not stellar, but the H2's large four-wheel discs provide plenty of power and a decent pedal feel.

A stout drivetrain is evident on the H2, and it's lifted directly from GM's HD line of trucks. The 6.0L V-8 is rated at 317 hp and 365 lb-ft of torque, and it feels strong. The V-8 is backed by a heavy-duty, 4L65-E four-speed automatic overdrive transmission and a full-time, dual-range transfer case that splits power 40/60 to the front and rear wheels under normal conditions. Shifting into either 4-Hi Locked or 4-Lo Locked sends power to the front and rear driveshafts in a 50/50 ratio, while an electronic switch on the dash locks the rear differential into a matching 50/50 torque split. Shifting into 4-Lo Locked invokes electronic trickery: A change in the H2's electronic, drive-by-wire throttle programming provides enhanced control during slow-speed maneuvers. And the H2 is able to make excellent use of its powerful drivetrain; the Hummer's tow rating is 7,000 pounds.

On dirt, the H2 is nearly unstoppable. The SUV's short front overhang and nearly nonexistent rear overhang give it the incredibly steep approach and departure angles that make ascending and descending almost any obstacle an easy task. With almost 10 inches of ground clearance and supple suspension action, the H2 is able to claw its way over imposing obstacles with a high degree of elegance. Should the H2 encounter the truly tough trail, there's a complete complement of underbody skid shields that provide maximum under-belly protection.

Although the H2 is incredibly competent off-road, it maintains a civilized demeanor on the open road. The H2 feels massive, yes, but once you get used to the sheer size of the beast, it's actually quite maneuverable. The big V-8 provides plenty of grunt in most driving situations, but the H2's 3 tons of weight and total lack of aerodynamics means that more power would be welcome.

As to the H2's cabin, it's in exact opposition to the H1; the H2 has a completely modern interior, complete with dual-zone climate control, OnStar service, and a choice of powerful, rich-sounding Bose audio systems. As with the chassis and suspension, GM used lots of parts from its trucks and SUVs to outfit the H2's interior; you may recognize many of the interior systems and switchgear if you're familiar with GM's truck products. On the plus side, the gauges, switches, and controls are logically placed and easy to see; finding a comfortable seating position is no problem, thanks to the H2's standard eight-way power-adjustable seats for the driver and front passenger. Our test Hummer was fitted with soft, comfortable leather, which is an option that includes front and rear seat heaters.

The three-passenger bench rear seat is comfortable for two average adults, but the contoured shape of the middle seat may make three-abreast seating uncomfortable. The short windows give a slightly claustrophobic feel, but they do roll down all the way if you get the urge for a little wind in your face. A fullsize spare takes up a large section of the rear cargo area, leaving only enough room for a single seat in the third row. There are 86.6 cubic feet available with the second row seat folded and the third-row seat completely removed.

Although we found the H2's cabin comfortable during of our test drive, we couldn't help but feel that for nearly $60,000, the H2's material and build quality could be better. Low-quality gray plastic is evident, the door panels flex, and a tap on the dashboard sounds about the same as knocking on an empty box. The console-mounted shift lever is made to look like those found in multi-million-dollar corporate jets, but grab a hold of it and you'll find that, despite its metal color, it's plastic just like the dash - not exactly the rock solid, industrial feel its appearance suggests.

But minor complaints like this aren't likely to matter to the average H2 buyer. This is an image vehicle - pure and simple. For the small percent of owners who actually venture off-road, the H2's abilities will never cease to amaze. From the powerful drivetrain and rugged suspension to the sophisticated traction control system, the H2 has few peers in the off-highway arena.

For most enthusiasts and many non-enthusiasts, the H2 represents one of the must-have vehicles. Its head-turning sheetmetal and imposing size promise attention at every turn, while the modern mechanicals and numerous amenities assure that you won't be giving up comfort and convenience in the process. If it's true that whomever has the most toys wins, the Hummer H2 should probably be counted twice - it's that significant.

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