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Champ or Chump? TJ vs. Hummer

It’s Go Time!

John CappaPhotographer, WriterCraig PerronnePhotographer

Most civilian Hummers bide their time providing limo service delivering silicone-filled movie stars to awards ceremonies. Oh sure, the military uses a version of them. But since when has the military had a realistic budget like the rest of us? We feel that a Jeep TJ is a better all-around vehicle than the Hummer is and we set out to prove it.

Our two combatants came fully dressed with all the factory off-road options. On our ’01 Hummer this included the Central Tire Inflation System (CTIS), skidplates, aluminum rocker guards, and a 12,000-pound winch. With 37-inch tires and limited-slip differentials front and rear as standard equipment the Hummer is a menacing adversary, but not as menacing as its $112,000 sticker price.

Our ’01 TJ Sport came with a 4.0L and a five-speed manual tranny. The $850 optional 30x9.50 tires on 15x8 aluminum wheels are modest compared to the Hummer’s (ouch!) $2,657 17-inch wheels and Highway Touring tire package. You could lift and tire the TJ for that chunk of cash and still have enough money to go on vacation. The TJ also came delivered with tow hooks, gas-charged shocks, and a Dana 44 rear axle with a limited slip. For the price of the Hummer we could easily buy four TJs and have money left over to modify all of them. Here’s what else we found. (Oh yeah, don’t forget to check out www.jpmagazine.com for video clips.)

Lego My Ego
Everything about the Hummer screams excess. We have to admit that driving down the road in a Hummer gives you the same feeling William Shatner gets at a Star Trek convention. Who cares if everyone thinks you’re a snob, they wish they were you. The novelty of looking like a rock star quickly wears off once you realize how uncomfortable you are. The interior of our test Hummer resembled the unclean and unfinished look of a cheap motorhome despite having the almost $1,900 deluxe grey interior option. Even though the interior of the TJ is considerably smaller, it offers much more seating room and comfort than the Hummer. However, you feel foolish trying to shoehorn yourself into the back seats of the TJ. But not as foolish as someone who purchased the Hummer. All of the Hummer seats make you feel like you’re stuffed into a dishwasher. The front seat adjustability is minimal and your outer shoulder rubs on the door in every seat. Both vehicles lack adjustment on the rear seats. With the Hummer being wider than a Suburban and almost as long, it seems silly that it only seats four cramped people. Much of this space is sucked up by the huge engine and transmission cover that offers enough room to park a TJ between the seats. At least you’ll never have to hear your kids complain about someone on their side. Chances are if you bought a Hummer you couldn’t afford kids anyway

We did like the cockpit-style driver’s area in the Hummer but once you get behind the controls you realize that the seat is twisted to the side and nowhere near inline with the steering wheel (this seems to be a standard GM feature). It rivals the side-saddle seating of a steamroller. The gauge cluster is well laid out and simple but it doesn’t belong in a $100,000-plus vehicle any more than the cheesy Disneyland-like steering wheel. Nothing fits in the cup holders and only the driver can comfortably reach the stereo and heater controls, but hey, at least the dash-mounted CD changer is out of reach of everyone, including the driver.

The back of the Hummer offered cavernous storage space. Even more space was available between the back seats. Eyehooks were conveniently located. The TJ lacked storage space. You either get passengers in the back or your stuff.

We were impressed to find that the TJ was actually quieter than the Hummer at highway speeds (our TJ even had a soft top). Sitting right next to the 6.5L diesel in the Hummer is almost like being in the engine room of a WWII submarine. There is also lots of gear whine and driveline slop in the Hummer. The noise is even worse when you shift into low-range in the dirt. The TJ rode smoother than the Hummer on the highway and it handled better. We felt safe pushing it around corners despite its short wheelbase. The TJ did ride somewhat busy over small ripple bumps but the suspension is more compliant than that of the Hummer. Sure, we felt safer in the Hummer, but that’s just because of its sheer weight and size. Around town the TJ’s 4.0L and five-speed made it fun to zip around corners and traffic. You can forget about street racing the Hummer. Your only close competition comes in the form of an 18-wheeler. The Hummer barely fits in the lanes and it was difficult to see out of.

Climbs and Descents
We tested both vehicles on multiple rocky and loose climbs and descents. The TJ offered great low-range gearing, a smooth ride, excellent maneuverability, and good visibility. However, the rear-only limited slip leaves much to be desired. We often found ourselves peg legged in staggered holes. The Hummer sounds and rides like a farm implement. During the test our Hummer developed more squeaks than a stained bed at an hourly motel. One tester was sure a herd of porpoises had infested the Hummer. The poor fit and finish of the interior and the large flexible composite hood are surely the culprits. From inside the Hummer we could rarely see over the hood that spans a billboard-like 7x6 feet. However, the Hummer has superior clearance thanks to 37-inch tires and geared hubs. The Torqtrac 4 (limited slips front and rear) hooked up well and made driving the Hummer a point and shoot kind of experience. The noise, rough ride, and capability made us think bulldozer. Shifting the Hummer transfer case was often difficult. It would frequently get stuck in low. The operation manual recommends turning off the engine before shifting if the transfer case is stuck. We found that slowly rolling forward with the transmission in Neutral eased the transfer case shifting.

Descending hills in the TJ was a no-brainer. First-gear low-range was low enough that you didn’t need to touch the brakes. The 4.0L offered excellent compression braking which kept sliding to a minimum. The Hummer on the other hand was a train wreck waiting to happen. It has an OK low-range (for an automatic) but falls short on compression braking. We needed the brakes big time. It tended to slide despite having ABS. We also noticed an annoying suspension rocking when we finally came to a complete stop on a hillside.

Once again the Hummer didn’t disappoint with its tractor-like handling. It could be mashed through the bumps with little or no adverse handling effects. It just beat the crap out of you. We later found out that the rear suspension is designed for a 3,750-pound payload. The rear suspension hardly moves over the bumps causing the rearend to launch skyward. We suspected it would ride better if we could put the TJ in the back.

The TJ has a much softer ride but it tends to try and swap ends around corners because of the short wheelbase. It was bouncy but stable and controllable. For comfort we’d take the TJ. For look-how-fast-I-can-drive antics go for the Hummer.

The TJ’s supple suspension absorbed bumps and articulated well into holes. However, the smallish tires caused problems in real rocky terrain. It made up for the clearance with good maneuverability and visibility.

TJust finding a trail wide enough for a Hummer is a task. We found it needs the 37-inch tires and all its clearance just to stay on the trail. The suspension is a little stiff in the slow stuff but the tires tend to absorb the smaller bumps. It drove a lot like a grader: if it will physically fit, then the Hummer can probably power its way through. We found that most trails are too narrow.

Sand is a fickle terrain. You would think a lightweight zippy Jeep would spank a heavy underpowered Hummer into next week. It just didn’t turn out like that. The Hummer didn’t have enough power to spin the wide tires. So it stayed on top and motored its way along. It did run out of power and eventually dig in on the steeper stuff but overall the Hummer won in the dunes. The TJ had plenty of power to spin all four tires but it wanted to dig in and hop. It may have done better with less air in the tires. What it comes down to is the size of the tire footprint. The TJ’s 30-inchers were no match for the Hummer’s 37-inch feet. Once again the Hummer suspension beat up our insides.

The TJ is much more user-friendly. It may not have as much clearance and the limited slip might be worthless but with a TJ the owner can progress at his own rate. With all of the aftermarket equipment available a TJ can be modified to suit just about anyone’s needs. Cheesy bolt-on widgets are the only real parts available for a Hummer.

The Hummer might be the ultimate gravel road rig right off the lot, but there is no place that a Hummer can go that a TJ in some form can’t. Now if you believe a Hummer can go anywhere, let us know when you squeeze one through Upper Helldorado in Moab.