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2003 Hummer H2 Review - First Drive

Front View
Jon Thompson | Writer
Posted September 1, 2002

Smaller, Better, Less Spendy Than The H1

If Hummer's oddball H1 ego-mobile can be seen as an example of wretched excess, it certainly seemed possible that the H2, developed by General Motors but built by American General at a brand-new plant in Mishawaka, Indiana, could have been developed with an eye more toward flash than function.

That, however, is not how the H2 has turned out. GM engineers have dipped deep into the Hummer styling well, deep into General Motors parts bins, and finally, deep into their own imaginations and commitment as engineers and enthusiasts to produce a very effective vehicle that remains true to Hummer's functional and stylistic heritage, but which will sell for about half the price of an H1.

We got our introduction to near-production versions of the H2 in April over some of Moab's toughest trails. What we learned there convinced us that though the H2's funky styling will help it retain its place as the four-wheeled darling of the bucks-up, look-at-me set, the capabilities that have been engineered into the H2 mean that it will have to apologize to, or rely on help from, nobody when the trail gets tough.

Order the optional rear air suspension and you also get onboard air, complete with air hose. The system is said to be powerful enough to provide inflation capability of 20 psi in 5 minutes.

The H2's foundation, engineers told us, consisted of a set of 315/70R17 BFG tires mounted on alloy Hummeresque wheels. Gotta get the look right, don't you see. From there, engineers grafted together the front frame section from the 2500-series trucks, with 8 inches removed from the front of the framerails, and the rear frame section of the 1500-series Tahoes upgraded to the H2's 8,600-pound GVW, again with 8 inches removed from the framerails. They neatly tucked in anything that needed tucking. The adjustment bolts on the front torsion bars, for instance, are thankfully up and out of the way, and provided skid ramps where they were needed-at the front of the five-link rear suspension's pickup points. They added beefy steel skidplates for the engine and transfer case-the front one is neatly embossed with the H2 logo-and they topped this off with additional ladder-frame-type protection for the transmission and with frame-mounted rock rails under the rocker panels.

There was method to all this. The H2 boasts exceptional approach and departure angles. For the standard, non-air-suspension version, it's 40.4 degrees at the front, and 39.6 degrees at the rear. Those angles are compromised very little by bumpers that incorporate standard Class III receiver hitches, front and rear. Minimum ground clearance at the rear diff pumpkin is 9.9 inches.

The H2 is powered by GM's familiar 315hp 6.0L Vortec V-8. Note that at the far left of the photo the air intake grille is visible, mounted very high to avoid intake of fluid during water crossings.

The H2 is powered by GM's 316hp 6.0L Vortec V-8 driving through a strengthened version of the 4L60-E automatic transmission. This is designated the 4L65-E and gets upgraded and hardened materials in its gears. The transfer case is the chaindriven and electronically controlled BorgWarner 44-84 fulltime unit with a 2.64:1 low-range ratio. From there, power is routed to the AAM-built IFS front-drive system adapted from the 2500-series HD trucks. This uses a 9.5-inch ring gear and CV joints that are significantly stronger than those from the 1500-series trucks. The difference is one of 4700 newton-meters vs. 3700 nm for the lighter components. The front diff is open. Not so for the rear diff. That uses an Eaton Elocker-selectable only in 4-low-that works in a Corporate 12-bolt solid axle with its 9.5-inch ring gear. Axle ratio is 4.10:1.

There's no front locker because the H2 team elected to use a development of the Bosch traction-control system found on other luxury SUVs-the Mercedes-Benz M-Class vehicles, and also Land Rover rigs. If there's a misstep anywhere in the design team's thinking, it's found here, for this system relies upon wheelspin for its function. It senses wheelspin, then applies braking force to the spinning wheel-doesn't matter whether the wheel is suspended in the air, or working against a loose surface. Wheelspin, of course, is a condition thinking 'wheelers work to avoid because it can help cause soil erosion.

Spring and shock values, whether with standard coil springs or with the optional rear air-suspension package, have been carefully selected. Here, as elsewhere in this package, the engineers have done a fine job, as the same suspension which provides articulation and travel that is at least adequate for four-wheeling also delivers exemplary ride and handling. The steering system, also from GM truck parts, has been carefully reweighted for much improved feel.

The look inside the H2 is big and beefy. There's plenty of room and plenty of comfort, thanks to terrific seats and good ergonomics.

Inside, the H2 has a big, beefy look and feel, with an iron-pumping shift lever that would make Arnold Schwarzenegger proud. The very complete dash panel has a transmission-fluid temp gauge and big, in-your-face vents. Comfort is found in multi-adjustable seats nearly identical, except for covering, to those found in current Tahoes and Suburbans. The seats are in the same position, too, which means that in the H2, which is 6 inches wider than a Suburban, it's a long way from the doorsills. That means that the driver has to really crane his neck over to the sill while on the trail to see what's happening down there on the driving surface.

The H2 is very roomy indeed. Though smaller than the H1, the H2 is still huge. It weighs, on average, about 6,600 pounds, with a GVW of 8,600 pounds. If you expected plenty of cargo space, you'd be right-unless the optional third-row seat is included, that is, in which case cargo space disappears almost completely.

The H2's instrument panel shows you everything you need to know, right down to the temperature of the transmission fluid-that's the gauge at lower left.

Out on the road, ride and handling is firmish, with enough roll stiffness to eliminate excessive body roll during cornering. For sure, you feel the H2's considerable weight. A 6.0L engine that delivers 315 hp sounds impressive, but plot that out against the need to haul an average of 6,600 pounds around, and what you wind up with is street performance that is adequate at best. Oh, and because of the H2's 8,600-pound GVW, it is exempt from federal fuel economy standards, so no EPA fuel mileage figures are listed for it. GM's paperwork suggests a range of 310 miles. We can tell you from brief observation: Figure on filling the 32-gallon tank frequently.

On the trail, the H2 mostly just goes where it's pointed, and without complaint, thanks in no small measure to those excellent approach and departure angles, and to the rear-locking diff. An interesting touch is that the H2's electronic engine management system, incorporating an electronic throttle body built by Hitachi, alters the throttle curve when the vehicle is shifted into 4-low, making it much more progressive than it is when in the high-range settings. Throttle sensitivity, especially in low range, is excellent and brake feel is exemplary, especially when modulating throttle and brake while crawling over obstacles. Use of this technique defeats the traction-control system, which is probably just as well. Indeed, we found that the H2's impressive capabilities made better drivers of us-or at least made tough obstacles easier to negotiate than we expected.

Under the watchful eye of a team of GM engineers, we flogged the H2 over three of Moab's most interesting trails, all rated at between 3.5 and 4.5, avoiding only one truck-eating obstacle-Double Whammy, on Golden Spike-without drama or complaint. What we found is that all in all, the H2 works very well.

Yes, IFS or not, the H2 will articulate reasonably, as you can see here.

If the H2 has a drawback-besides its reliance on electronic traction control-it is one of sheer size. Because of that size, visibility out over the front fenders, for instance, isn't as complete as we'd like it to be. Also, there will be places where the H2 just won't fit. But given that most of the H2's buyers will never see dirt and will never aim it at tight quarters, these probably won't be problematic.

All in all, the H2 is an impressive effort. The next time we see it, it probably will be in conjunction with our Four Wheeler of the Year comparison. There, it will face a field of very impressive competitors, including the Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, the new Toyota 4Runner and the new Range Rover. We'll be very interested to see how it stacks up to that bunch under real-world testing. So stay tuned.

Check It Out If:
You need style and serious capability rolled into the same package, and you're not afraid of the price.

Avoid It If:
You don't want to draw attention to yourself.

Specifications

GENERAL
Vehicle model Hummer H2
Base price $48,800
ENGINE
Type Cast-iron OHV V-8
Displacement (liter/ci) 5.967/364
Bore x stroke (in.) 4.0 x 3.62
Compression ratio 9.4:1
Intake SFI
Mfg's power rating @ rpm (hp) 315 @ 5,200
Mfg's torque rating @ rpm (lb-ft) 360 @ 4,000
Mfg's suggested fuel type 87-octane unleaded
DRIVETRAIN
Transmission 4L65-E
Ratios
First 3.06:1
Second 1.62:1
Third 1.0:1
Fourth 0.69:1
Reverse 2.29:1
Axle ratio 4.10:1
Transfer case BorgWarner 4484
Low-range ratio 2.64:1
Crawl ratio 33.12:1
FRAME/BODY
Frame Steel ladder
Body Welded steel
SUSPENSION/AXLES
Front IFS, torsion bars, 36mm antiroll bar, single-tube shocks
Rear Solid axle, coil springs (air springs optional), 32mm antiroll bar, single-tube shocks
STEERING
Type Recirculating-ball variable ratio
Turns (lock-to-lock) 3.0
Ratio 15/13:1
BRAKES
Front (mm) 12.8x1.5
Rear (mm) 13x1.14
ABS Multi-channel four-wheel
WHEELS/TIRES
Wheels (in.) 17.0x8.5
Tires LT315/70R17 all-terrain
FUEL ECONOMY
EPA city/highway n/a
Actual combined, city/highway/trail n/a
DIMENSIONS/CAPACITIES
Weight (lbs.) 6,400 base
Wheelbase (in.) 122.8
Overall length (in.) 189.8
Overall width (in.) 81.2
Height (in.) 77.8
Track f/r (in.) 69.4/69.4
Minimum ground clearance (in.) 9.9
Turning diameter, curb-to-curb (ft.) 43.5
Approach/departure angles (deg.) 40.4/39.6
GVRW (lbs.) 8,600
Payload (lbs.) 2,200
Maximum towing capacity (lbs.) 7,000
Seating 5

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