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2003 Hummer H2 : First Drive

We Drive it Over the Rubicon

Cole QuinnellPhotographer, Writer

How often do you get to design the sequel to an American icon? The next Coke? Another Big Mac? That’s the kind of excitement and anxiety the team designing Hummer H2 has lived with throughout the course of designing, and now building, the next Hummer.

The Humvee and the Hummer (now dubbed H1) are built by AM General. General Motors acquired the rights to the Hummer brand in 1999. The H2 was designed by a GM team with involvement from AM General. The team’s mission was to build a vehicle that is without question part of the Hummer family, but that is far more practical and affordable than the H1. Flash forward to July, 2001. We’re invited on an H2 engineering ride-and-drive over the Rubicon. We meet an almost giddy group of engineers and team mangers in Reno, Nevada. Their excitement for their vehicle overshadows their fear of having journalists along to drive and evaluate early prototypes—but just barely.

There are two levels of H2 prototype vehicles on the trip. The Alphas are the first full prototypes built, and they are very rough. None of the exterior lights are in production form and the interiors are pieced together, but the drivetrain and suspension are fairly representative of production intent. The Beta prototypes have almost all of the correct production pieces in place.

Our first stint behind the wheel comes shortly after we enter the Rubicon trail. It doesn’t take long to fall in love with the Eaton electric locker in the rear 9.5-inch AAM axle. In these prototypes, a modified Auto-Trac switch assembly controls the Borg-Warner transfer case (the first to be used in a General Motors truck), and also to lock the rear diff. The differential locks quickly and with a quiet, but audible clunk. To augment the locker, the H2 will come with a traction-control system that will control the brakes independently through a 4-channel system. It will slow wheel speed of an unloaded tire and transfer the power to the wheels with traction.

The coil-sprung, five-link rear suspension is from a Tahoe, but the axle housing is unique to the H2. The multi-link suspension works amazingly well on- and off-road, providing good handling for this heavy SUV, and plenty of articulation. The front suspension uses primarily Silverado 2500HD components with torsion bars and shocks tuned for the H2. This suspension gives the vehicle very good on-road manners but limits the off-road performance. The rest of the drivetrain includes a GM 6.0L V-8 gasoline engine producing an estimated 325hp at 5,200 rpm and 385 lb-ft of torque at 3,600 rpm. It’s mated to a 4L65E—an updated and stronger version of the 4L60E transmission. This tranny retains all the features of its predecessor including the tow/haul mode, but has strength improvements starting with the case and continuing throughout the mechanicals.

Following H1s over the trail made the H2s feel narrow. They are just 5.3 inches narrower than the H1, but 1 ½ inches wider than a Tahoe. The H2 features a very Hummer-like wheelbase-to-overall length ratio. The H2 wheelbase is 122.6 inches with an overall length of 189.5 inches. That makes for incredible approach and departure angles, equaled only by the H1.

The interior feels a little more cramped than a Tahoe, but incredibly comfortable compared to that of the H1. Missing is the Hummer trademark drivetrain hump which separates driver from passenger. In its place is plenty of interior space and comfortable GM seats. The dash is unique to the H2 while the instrument panel is borrowed from the current-model Silverado.

Is the H2 a job well done? We’re anxious to have the vehicle in the Four Wheeler SUV of the Year competition, but we’ll have to wait—the H2 is an ’03 model. That means it’s still about nine months from your local dealership and just over a year away from our ’03 SUV of the Year test.

Disclaimer: Because we were fortunate enough to be invited on an early engineering ride-and-drive of the ’03 H2, all specs are preliminary, many are estimated, and equipment, finishes, and details may be different on production vehicles.