As editors of Four Wheeler, opportunities sometimes cross our desks that are just too good to pass up, especially when they are things that a normal person would never get a chance to do. When Hummer called us about the newly upgraded 2006 Hummer H1 Alpha, the phone conversation went something like this:"Hi, want to drive the all new Humme...?"
"But, I haven't told you what it is yet."
"Yes, sign me up anyway."
"Do you care that it's the redesigned H1 Alpha?"
"Alpha, huh? Sounds manly ... We like manly!"
"Yes, it certainly is manly with the 6.6L Duramax in it."
"Ooooh, Duramax!?! You mean it can accelerate now?"
"Yeah, even uphill!
So with little delay, we vacated the high-rise luxury of our L.A. office and traded our sumptuously padded tweed chair for a seat on a rickety puddle jumper with floating cushions. We bobbed and weaved in the sky until we reached the beautiful resort town of Lake Tahoe, Nevada. See, there isn't anything that we wouldn't go through to bring our readers a good story. With perfect weather and eye-arresting scenery, we had to remind ourselves that we weren't here to vacation. We had work to do. Hard work. That's right, no heavy lifting of telephone handsets, or the monotonous typing on a keyboard, no sir. We were off to flex our professional expertise to wheel and evaluate the new Hummer H1 Alpha in the Pyramid Lake area of western Nevada, which so happens to be surrounded by snow-capped mountains that time of year. Hmm, doesn't sound like such a bad assignment after all, does it?
For 2006, Hummer has reengineered the H1 series and slapped on an Alpha badge to distinguish it from lesser Hummers. While all civilian H1s, save for K-series fleet vehicles, will be Alphas for 2006, on the rest of the Hummer line, Alpha will be the top-of-the-line trim and will only account for about 10 percent of each vehicle line's production. To a potential Hummer buyer, Alpha means higher performance, more horsepower, better suspension, and a level of exclusivity that might annoy drivers of other premium brands. On the H1, Alpha primarily advertises the nearly revolutionary improvement of the 6.6L Duramax turbodiesel and Allison 1000 five-speed automatic transmission from General Motors' fullsize truck line. In H1 trim, the engine makes 300 hp and 520 lb-ft of torque, a lead-foot-inspiring 46 percent and 18 percent gain, respectively.
To those of you familiar with the H1, the Alpha will look just like the same old Hummer, save for the much-upgraded interior and switchgear that appeared in last year's version, and the unobtrusive 2-inch filler panel, visible in the rear, to bridge the gap created by the body lift, which was required to fit the new drivetrain. The changes didn't stop there, as fitting the Duramax was not a simple swap and required a host of other alterations to the H1's chassis. Because of the longer length of the Duramax/Allison combo, the fuel tanks had to be shortened, but the body lift allowed them to be made taller, which resulted in an increase in fuel capacity to 28.5 gallons for the main tank and 24 gallons for the auxiliary tank, giving the H1 Alpha a nearly 600-mile, bladder-busting cruising range.
The bottom of the Duramax engine also had to be redesigned, as the original oil pan hung down 2 inches below the framerails, which was unacceptable on a vehicle designed to have all of its vitals tucked out of harm's way. So the engineers not only reshaped the oil pan, but also changed the oil pick-up and baffled it to prevent oil starvation at the extreme angles that an H1 was designed to experience.
With 520 lb-ft of torque on tap, the old CV axles were set aside for beefier pieces, which now attach to the newly enlarged inboard 12-inch brake rotors for better stopping power. A whole new cooling stack also had to be developed, this time incorporating an intercooler and fuel cooler-a change that required the mechanical fan to be run off the crank pulley and angled up to the radiators through a small gearbox.
While the engineers were evaluating the H1 chassis for areas of improvements, they decided to take some liberties in refinement. One of these areas was the geared hub assemblies, which now feature helical-cut gears instead of the straight-cut gears of previous H1s. This not only lowers noise, but also reduces the rocking sensation upon stopping, a characteristic common to older H1s.
The addition of the Duramax and all of its improvements to the H1 chassis make the H1 Alpha a better real-world machine. The Hummer H1 Alpha's crawl ratio has improved by 25 percent to 41.5:1. Acceleration from 0 to 60 dropped by 18 percent, to 13.5 seconds. And the towing capacity improved 13 percent to as much as 9,303 pounds on an open-top model.
Hopping into the Hummer reminds you instantly of its functional roots as a purpose-built machine. Each seating position only has a small cockpit space, as the driver and occupants are draped around the engine and transmission. Sightlines out the front of the H1 are generally good, but there are unavoidable blind spots to the rear. Still, the driving experience is unlike any other truck on the planet, and should you ever find yourself in one, prepare yourself for the inevitable giving of rides to all the neighbor kids, the convoy of National Guardsmen who will wave you in to their ranks on the highway, and the barrage of thumbs-up you are sure to encounter. And you thought you felt like a rock star in the H2!
On the highway, the H1's full-time 4WD system with four-channel ABS do a great job of making the Hummer easy to drive, as long as you remember how wide you are. The Duramax accelerates with authority, and the four-wheel independent suspension offers a pretty smooth ride. Using the impressive Monsoon sound system to drown out the moderate wind and tire noise, the Hummer can cruise effortlessly at 80 mph all day long without beating up or tiring the driver.
Even though the Hummer is more refined on the highway, the H1 Alpha's main mission objective is to tackle the toughest terrain and bring its occupants home safely and reliably. Despite the refinements, the H1 Alpha is as capable as ever and can still climb a 22-inch vertical wall, cross a 60-percent grade, traverse a 40-percent side slope with 2500 pounds of payload, and ford 30 inches of water. With the Central Tire Inflation System (CTIS), you can air up or down on the fly, and if you happen to get a flat, the run-flat bead-lock system will get you safely off of the trail. Front and rear Eaton E-Lockers are even offered as a factory option.
Until you have experienced it first-hand, it is hard to explain just how right one of these iconic machines looks while sailing across a mountainous plain. They exude so much character, and are capable far beyond any level most civilians will ever experience. If you have that spirit of adventure calling, and you are one of the lucky 500 or so a year to buy one, it won't take you long to realize what makes the H1 so genuine and why we consider it one of the best factory-built wheelers of all time.
Vehicle model: '06 Hummer H1 Alpha 4-Door Wagon
Base Price: $140,796
EngineType: Duramax 6600 V-8
Displacement (liter/ci): 6.6/403
Bore x stroke (in.): 4.055 x 3.897
Compression ratio: 17:1
Aspiration: EFI, turbocharged, air-to-air intercooling
Mfg.'s hp @ rpm: 300 @ 3,000
Mfg.'s torque (lb-ft) @ rpm: 520 @ 1,600
Transmission: Allison M74 1000 series five-speed automatic with tow/haul mode
First: 3.10, Second: 1.81, Third: 1.41, Fourth:
1.00, Fifth: 0.71, Rev: 4.49, Torque Converter: 2.0
Transfer case: New Venture Gear 242
Axle ratio: 2.56:1
Geared hubs: 1.92:1
Low range ratio: 2.72:1
Crawl ratio: 41.5:1
Frame/Body Frame: Steel box section with five crossmembers
Body: 6061 T6 hardened aircraft aluminum
Front: Independent, with A-arms, open coils, and shock absorbers, stabilizer bar
Rear: Independent, with A-arms, open coils, and shock absorbers
Type: Power assisted
Turns (lock-to-lock): 2.5
Turning radius (ft.): 25.5
Front:12-inch inboard mounted vented disc, ABS
Rear: 12-inch inboard mounted vented disc, ABS
Wheels: 17-inch two-piece forged aluminum with dual bead locks and run flats
Tires: 37x12.50R17 load-range E Goodyear MT/R
EPA city/highway mpg: N/A
Base curb weight (lb.): 8,114
Wheelbase (in.): 130.0
Overall length (in.): 184.5
Overall width (in.): 86.5 (without mirrors)
Height (in.): 77.0
Track f/r (in.): 71.6
Ground clearance (in.): 16.0 (at differential)
Approach/departure angles (deg.): 72/37.5
GVWR (lb.): 10,300
Payload (lb.): 2,186
Maximum towing capacity (lb.): 9,036
Fuel capacity (gal.): 28.5 (main), 24 (aux)
Seating, persons: 4