It was probably the last comment in the logbook that summed up our long term experience with the 2008 Hummer H3 Alpha--our 2008 Four Wheeler of the Year, and it read, "Sorry to see the H3 leave--one of the best vehicles we've ever had!"
Rarely do you ever see a group of nit-picky testers end on such a strong positive, but with the well-balanced H3, it is impossible not to. Hummer outdid itself on the H3 Alpha, creating an instantly recognizable vehicle that both delivers in its suggested capability and in unexpected areas, such as refinement.
Until the 2008 model year, we had clamored for the Alpha version of the H3, which in production form replaces the anemic 242hp and 242 lb-ft 3.7L I-5 with a balanced 300 horsepower and 320 lb-ft backed by a four-speed automatic. We did note that the fuel economy penalty from our nearly identically equipped 2005 H3 with the 225hp version of the I-5 and a five-speed manual to our 2008 Alpha was less than 1.5mpg over the course of a year, a number that could be reduced through the use of GM's six-speed automatic transmission, but also a trade-off we'd gladly accept to live with the V-8 version day in and day out.
Overall, there was very little we didn't like about the H3 Alpha, except for maybe the massive rearview mirror to house the reverse backup camera, which hampers already-limited visibility, and a rear seat that doesn't fold completely flat, making sleeping in the back on a wheeling trip an uncomfortable proposition. The H3 also lacks ample storage pockets and cubbies.
Things we did like about the H3 were a robust and rattle-free chassis, superb maneuverability, a wonderful small block V-8, selectable rear locker (a selectable front locker was added for 2009), well-sorted suspension, 4:1 transfer case, and 33-inch tires. On the trail, you can put the H3 up against anything in its class, and it easily dominates everything short of a JK--and even then, there are some situations and types of terrain where it is equal to or better than the Jeep. Ignore the anti-Hummer rhetoric; the H3 is a true alternative to the four-door Wrangler.
Build quality was also a strong point, with only a wobbly driver-side mirror at speed and a sticky ignition needing unscheduled attention.
As our time with the Hummer H3 Alpha wound down, we were left to wonder what is in store for the brand. With hints that it will carry on with a new owner, we can only hope that they build upon the lessons learned from the H3 Alpha and carry this Hummer's success forward in to the future. Oh yeah, and add a little more storage space.
Report: 4 of 4
Previous reports: Oct. `08, Feb. '09, May '09
Base price: $38,645
Price as tested: $43,090
Four-wheel-drive system: Two-speed, full-time electronic, shift on the fly
Miles to date: 17,851
Miles since last report: 6,648
Average mpg (this report): 14.12
Test best tank (mpg): 17.61
Test worst tank (mpg): 12.0
Problem areas: Sticky ignition, wobbly driver's mirror
What's Hot, What's Not
Hot: V-8 power, great ride, robust, off-road package, maneuverability
Not: Visibility, storage, no fold-flat seat, giant rear-view mirror
* "Hummer did a great job on the Alpha."
* "I haven't driven this truck in a while, and I forgot how much I like it, especially on the trail."
* "Big tires are great for dirt, but also make the H3 capable and comfortable on LA's pothole-strewn streets."
* "Who needs storage? I just throw my junk on the passenger seat."
* "Just when GM gets it right..."