Back in our February 2005 issue, you might remember that Hummer gave us unprecedented access to a very special product, the new H3. At that time, still sporting shape-obscuring camo and not quite ready for prime time, our man Ned Bacon joined the good folks at Hummer and tackled the Rubicon Trail without incident, proving the capability of Hummer's new wagon and giving the engineers valuable input from the Four Wheeler perspective. After hearing Ned tell tales of the very competent H3, everyone on the staff was enthused to see how the final product would turn out. So off to Phoenix we went to conquer suburbia and survive the Woodpecker Mine Road.
Despite sharing platform lineage with the Chevy Colorado, Hummer's H3 has enough unique properties and alterations to give it its own trail-ready identity. While some see a little dash of Nissan Xterra in the rear 3/4-view, the slab-sided exterior of the H3 is clean and functional, announcing its brand identity to everyone who shot us a lasting look during our evaluation.
The only major component that belies the H3's true roots is the merely adequate 3.5L Vortec 3500 I-5. With 220 hp and 225 lb-ft of torque flowing through a full-time four-wheel-drive system, the inline-five is no barnburner and certainly earns its keep moving the hefty 4,700-pound SUV around. Granted, we tend to be power snobs, and most likely the average customer won't have any complaints, but they won't be racing Trailblazers or Explorers, either. We much preferred the standard five-speed manual to the four-speed 4L60-E automatic, because of its better use of power and excellent fuel economy rating of 16/20 mpg (automatics are rated at 16/19). We have heard rumors of a stouter 3.7L I-5 replacing the 3.5L next model year, but if that isn't enough for you, our sources hint that a small-block (5.3L or 6.0L) V-8 will arrive in a couple of model years in the H3 Alpha.
Our first day with the H3 was spent flogging the midsize SUV on some scenic two-lane blacktop and getting a feel for the ride and handling, both out on the slab and back in the twisties. The torsion-bar front suspension and Hotchkiss-suspended solid rear do an admirable job soaking up the bumps and isolating the passengers. Ride is very smooth, and firmly damped. However, body roll is quite prominent when you toss the H3 into corners, showing you that the chassis tuning is more in line with soaking up potholes and trail imperfections than running rings around Grand Cherokee SRT-8s.
The Hummer H3's interior is hands-down the best to come out of the depths of GM in recent memory. Not only is the fit and finish spectacular, but it uses very high-quality materials and will support your back with some of the most comfortable chairs out there. Four are comfy, with plenty of legroom, though five might find it a little pinched at the shoulders in the rear. For such a square shape, engineers have done a superb job of eliminating wind noise. The gun-slit windows look great from a styling standpoint, but those of shorter stature will find that the seat cushions are a little too low for good sightlines, which becomes more apparent when dodging trail obstacles. The door switches are also a little bit too rearward for our tastes, but you won't find much else to criticize about the cabin.
Day two had us heading for the trail, where we quickly fell in love with the go-anywhere Adventurer package, which nets you a Borg-Warner 4:1 transfer case (lesser H3s get a standard B-W 2.64:1 transfer case), 33-inch Bridgestone Duelers, and a rear locker. When equipped with the manual, you come out on top with an Atlas II-like 69:1 crawl ratio. Gearing that deep allows the I-5 to be lugged at less than 350 rpm before stalling, which is the reasoning behind the Hummer engineer's affectionate nickname for this setup: "the tractor." All we'd change in this nearly unstoppable package is the addition of a front locker (are you listening, Hummer?). Trail users will also appreciate the H2-style beefy bumper-mounted shackles that will make any recovery operation a breeze.
As a four-wheeler, the Hummer H3 is as good as, or better, out of the box as anything out there. As a daily driver, the H3 is as comfortable and competent as the family's sedan. After experiencing the smaller, more maneuverable size, a tight, squeak- and rattle-free chassis, quality materials, the excellent 69:1 crawl ratio and locker, dare we say the H3 is the best Hummer ever? We dare.
Vehicle/model: 2006 Hummer H3 with Adventurer Package
Base Price: $29,500
Type: Vortec 3500 I-5
Displacement (liter/ci): 3.5/211
Bore x stroke (in.): 3.66 x 4.00
Compression ratio: 10.0:1
Mfg.'s hp @ rpm: 220 @ 5,600
Mfg.'s torque (lb-ft) @ rpm: 520 @ 1,600
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Axle ratio: 4.10:1
Low range ratio: 4.03:1
Crawl ratio: 68.9:1
Frame: Welded Steel
Front: Independent; SLA/torsion bar, 46mm monotube gas-charged shocks, 36mm tubular stabilizer bar
Rear: Semi-elliptical single-stage leaf springs, 46mm monotube gas-charged shocks, 25mm rear solid-diameter stabilizer bar
Type: Power assist
Turns (lock-to-lock): 3.25
Turning radius (ft): 37.0
Front: 12.4-inch vented disc, ABS
Rear: 12.28-inch disc, ABS
Wheels: 16x7.5 aluminum
Tires: LT285/75R16C Bridgestone Dueler A/T
EPA city/highway mpg: 16/20
Base curb weight (lb.): 4,700 (automatic)
Wheelbase (in.): 111.9
Overall length (in.): 186.7
Overall width (in.): 74.7
Height (in.): 74.5
Track f/r (in.): 65/65.5
Ground clearance (in.): 9.1
Approach/departure angles (deg.): 40/37
GVWR (lb.): 5,850
Payload (lb.): 1,150
Maximum towing capacity (lb.): 4,500
Fuel capacity (gal.): 23.0
Seating, persons: 5