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2008 Hummer H2 & H3 Alpha - First Drive

Putting The Power To The Ground

Courtesy the ManufacturersPhotographerRick PewePhotographer, Writer

When the Hummer H2 was introduced to the market back in 2003, we noted that compared to the H1, the H2 was twice the 4x4 for half the money. In fact, in our 2003 4x4 of the Year contest we ranked it highly, but our major complaint was the lack of power that we felt was needed in this size 4x4. Likewise when the Hummer H3 was introduced in 2005, we applauded its off-road prowess but condemned it for the weak five-cylinder engine that made freeway merging a hazardous occupation. Improvements over the years to the Hummer line included an Alpha version of the H1 fitted with a Duramax diesel powerplant that dispelled the "0-60 in two days" myth, but the H2 and H3 performance features languished, until this year. Yes, a new day has dawned for the intrepid Hummers still in production (the H1 has since gone the way of the dodo bird) with the introduction or new and improved powerplants for the H2 and H3.

With a 20 percent increase over last year, the H2 receives the all-aluminum 6.2L V-8 with 393 hp and 415 lb-ft of torque to pull the massive 6,614 pounds of 4x4 over road and trail. This allows for an increase of 1,500 pounds of towing capacity, up to the now-reasonable 8,000 that's needed for most real towing adventures. And now, the H2 has the power and poop to make the grade and even pass other rigs on the highway without straining, even with a trailer. Coupled to the new engine is a six-speed 6L80 tranny, which, along with the improved transfer case, offers better mileage figures while almost hitting the 40:1 crawl ratio mark. On the outside, minor changes to the grille and front bumper account for air-ingestion changes due to the larger engine. But it is the interior that received the majority of attention from the designers, and hence the most talked-about upgrades, while least important to our uses. The H2 went with luxury SUV styling with the Cadillac division influence leading to a smooth and supple interior. Gone are the classic booblike A/C vents, replaced with "luxury" this-and-that appointments for a more upscale than functional interior. While it's all very nicely done, we still like boobs.

The big news is of course a V-8 engine in an H3, which is what this vehicle needed from the start. While the torquey five-cylinder engine was fine when coupled to the five-speed stick and 4.03:1 transfer case, the highway performance of that little mill suffered. Even when driven by a skinny supermodel and with only an eighth of a tank of gas, the five-popper was a serious slug on the road. While many thought a V-6 would have solved the issue, Hummer engineers knew better and rolled the dice with an all-aluminum 5.3 small-block with 300 horses and 325 lb-ft of torque. For a 4x4 combo, that's worth driving just for fun on the road, while performing admirably in the outback even when fully loaded with the kids, dogs, wife, and camping gear. The only exterior changes come in the form of Alpha badging for the V-8, and an added X package complete with a bunch of chrome crap and a brushguard. Fortunately the real 4x4 meat and potatoes remain, for the most part. With the V-8 engine you can still get a real 4.10 axle ratio, 33-inch tires, a rear locker, enhanced brake traction control (sorry), and a 4.03 low-range transfer case. Even the front diff has been upgraded to an iron housing to handle the added power from the big V-8. But woe to those who drive real rigs-the manual tranny has disappeared in this version, although thankfully the five-cylinder is still optioned for that transmission. For true off-road use, that's enough reason to order the five-cylinder. You just won't get there ahead of all your buddies in the Alpha.

Vehicle '08 H2 '08 H3 Alpha
Base Price $55,510 $39,260
Engine 6.2L V-8 5.3L V-8
Horsepower 393 300
Torque (lb-ft) 415 325
Transmission 6L80 4L60
Curb Weight (lb) 6,614 4,854
EPA Mileage (city/hwy mpg) 13/14 est. TBD
Wheelbase (in) 122.8 111.9
Length (in) 203.5 186.7
Width (in) 81.2 85.5
Height (in) 79.2 74.5
Seating Capacity 5 5
Head Room (in, front/rear) 40.5/39.7 40.6/37.9 (with sunroof)
Leg Room (in, front/rear) 41.3/38.6 41.9/35
Max. Cargo Volume (cu. ft.) 40 55.7
Approach Angle (deg) 39.8 39.4
Breakover Angle (deg) 23.5 25
Departure Angle (deg) 37.1 36.5
Ground Clearance (in) 9.9 9.1