Another strong point was the well-made soft top of the two-door that only allowed muted levels of wind and road noise to reach the occupants, but exhibited no flapping or whistling whatsoever, surprisingly allowing a cell-phone conversation at 75 mph. Irritating levels of noise didn't begin to leak through the soft top until we found ourselves approaching triple-digit speeds. One way to drown out the mild hum of the BFGoodrich M/T tires and wind was the optional Sirius satellite radio and great stereo, which benefits from good speaker placement.
Other favorites on the highway were the Chevy Suburban and Tahoe, which were likened to piloting Lazy Boy chairs, due to their extremely comfortable, luxurious, and relaxed cabins. The quality and fit and finish of the interiors are some of the best in the industry, let alone this test. Thanks to good visibility and powertrain, out on the highway both of the big Chevy SUVs are at home. The Suburban also put in some extra highway miles during the test, revealing a 19.4mpg tank, just short of the 20 mpg hyped by GM-a number we feel the Tahoe could also attain.
However, some testers did complain about copious amounts of wind noise emanating from the Chevys' mirrors and A-pillar at highway speeds, as well as steering that contributed to vague road manners. If covering large amounts of asphalt in relative isolation is your thing, you'll love the Chevy offerings, but they lack the driving involvement expected from more demanding drivers.
One vehicle that more demanding drivers will appreciate is the point-and-shoot Kia Sorento, which provided lots of grins on the street (especially when passing was required), thanks to its relative light weight and powerful rev-happy engine. The Sorento exhibits a taut, but not harsh, ride and the Auto 4WD setting works well on the street. Although one area we wished was as improved as the engine was the stereo, which looked down-market and lacked the rich tones offered by just about every other vehicle in this test.
Once again, it was the H3 that took the brunt of the highway criticism, as the testers complained about the ability of the H3 to keep pace with the rest of the group. At cruising speed, the H3 can hold its own on the open road, with a nice ride, good directional stability, and quality interior. However, wind and hills are its enemy and there is just not enough power left in reserve to pass or maintain speed when the percentage of grade increases or the Santa Ana winds blow. Testers felt that a six-speed could have helped, as it would allow for better gear spacing to keep the Hummer's mill in its powerband. Visibility isn't as bad as you might think, thanks to big mirrors and with a clearer path rearward than the FJ Cruiser, but a back-up warning system would be greatly appreciated.
Some testers liked that the interior is toned down when compared to an H2, but others felt it was toned down just a little too much, losing some Hummer character in the process. Fortunately, the aesthetic arguments were forgotten as we enjoyed the Monsoon sound system and XM satellite radio.
The FJ Cruiser has an excellent drivetrain and on-road dynamics, adding to its on-pavement score, but the odd seating position and difficult outward visibility hurt it with the judges. The mirrors are tall and skinny, the opposite of what you want for a vehicle with such massive blindspots. Also, the dash can be best described as Japanese Techno, as there is a lot going on and it almost feels as if the styling is forced on you. Our testers also voted the FJ as the "most likely to be confused for a mini-sub," with only the paint job keeping us from calling it Alvin (two-toned Alvin is white on the bottom, not the top) all week. We did score the FJ Cruiser highly for ample amounts of useable storage, good highway manners, spot-on suspension tuning, and comfortable seats. However, the rear accommodations are tighter than the vehicle proportions might suggest, while the cargo area is pretty large with a rear seat that actually folds down flat. Overall fuel economy was the best in test.