When the first HMMWV rolled off the assembly line back in 1983, most 4x4 enthusiasts surely didn't envision future generations of Hummers running around the civilian market. Yet that's exactly what has happened, and the new H3 is a welcome addition to the SUV market. We had our first experience with the H3 on the Rubicon trail while on an engineering study ("H3 First Drive," Jan. '05). At the time the rigs weren't in final form, nor were we allowed to report our on-road driving impressions. But now the wraps are off and you'll be able to snag a testdrive at your local Hummer dealership.
So what's so different about the H3? Simply put, it's a midsized contender in the SUV market, still booming despite rising fuel prices. Styled after the H1 and H2, the H3 contains not only the high beltline design cues, but also the grille and hood "bumps" we've come to know. Since it's loosely based off the GM Colorado/Canyon layout, many components are similar, but true to the brand's focus, everything has been modified or beefed for the better, and off and on road we find it to be highly capable.
On road the ride and visibility are great, with a certain trucklike ride but not too firm; likewise it's also very carlike, but not too soft. The three bears would have been fine in this beast, and with sunroofs and plenty of room inside, the H3 will fill a niche that GM has been missing. We felt that the five-cylinder engine was a bit menial for acceleration, but the fuel savings will help us get over it. We sure would like to see a V-8 in one though, as we know the drivetrain could handle it. We also found the seat-to-armrest distance in the minus range, and the seats themselves sit lower than we like, but the clean dash layout and comfy ride made us forget those little details.
Off road the H3 shines with a solid rear axle and well-tuned IFS, and if you get the Adventure Package, you've hit the mark. The Adventure Package supplies you with a rear locker, 33-inch Bridgestones, and a 4:1 low-range transfer case for starts, and those items alone make the upgrade well worth the cash. Off road the H3 proved to be fun thanks to the great approach and departure angles as well, and cruising the trails with the optional five-speed manual transmission was a true joy. This is one of the few midsized 4x4s made today with an available stick shift, and even on the road the H3 seemed more peppy while shifting through the gears. Heck, with 4.56 gears the manual box model gives an impressive 69:1 crawl ratio! We'll be giving you a full rundown on the H3 in our 4x4 of the Year test (Feb. '06), so drive one now or wait to see what we have in store for our next annual new-car thrash.