2008 Hummer H3 SUV AlphaPosted on September 24th, 2008
Hummer’s smallest sport-utility vehicle gets an extra shot of power.
By Nina Russin
I’m Hummering this week, in the H3 Alpha: a high-performance version of the brand’s smallest platform. The H3 combines the off-road capability Hummer is known for with a smaller footprint that’s easier to live with in the real world. It fits easily in a standard garage, and while average fuel economy of fourteen miles-per-gallon is nothing stellar, it’s considerably better than for the larger H1 and H2.
The Alpha grade replaces the H3’s standard 3.7-liter inline five-cylinder engine with a 5.3-liter pushrod V8. In the world of engine builders, there are overhead cam guys and pushrod guys. General Motors has traditionally been of the pushrod camp: I’m glad to see the Alpha’s 300-horsepower block follow in this tradition.
Pushrod engines tend to rev lower, which can have benefits on a vehicle like the H3. The block has a relatively low compression ratio, allowing it to run just fine on 87 octane fuel. The slower revving, low compression combination makes for good long-term durability, especially in a vehicle designed to go off-road and haul big loads.
While some car aficionados consider pushrod engines to be “old school,” there’s nothing old fashioned about the Alpha powerplant. An aluminum block and cylinder heads minimize engine weight, and optimize the powertrain’s front-to-rear weight balance.
Engineers mated the V8 to a 4L60 Hydramatic transmission: a longitudinal four-speed automatic that’s especially good for towing. An independent front suspension gives the Hummer a compliant ride, while a leaf-spring rear end keeps the truck more stable when a trailer is attached.
Refined on-road performance
Its smaller footprint is just one of the reasons that the H3 is the best Hummer choice for city dwellers. The powertrain, steering and suspension have much more of a passenger car feel. In order to maximize ground clearance, the Hummer sits taller than the average sport-utility vehicle.
But unlike the larger H1 and H2, the H3 has a relatively low step-in height. As a five-foot, six-inch tall woman, I found it easy to slide into the driver’s seat, sans running boards. The tall wheels make for a higher liftover height in back, but most people should find the rear cargo area easy to load in.
Curb weight is just over 5000 pounds. That, combined with the H3’s high profile, two box design means that the engine must work harder to accelerate from a stop. The 5.3-liter engine has sixty horsepower and eighty foot-pounds of torque more than the smaller block.
The extra power makes it easy to merge into high-speed traffic, and weave around slower vehicles during rush hour. A throaty exhaust note is a nice touch, reminding the driver that this alpha male is all business.
A thirty-seven foot turning radius makes it easy to maneuver the baby Hummer into the average parking spot. Power rack-and-pinion steering has a positive on-center feel at speed.
A small back window creates some large blind spots to the rear of the car. An optional rearview camera, not on the test car, is a good idea for drivers who need to back into small parking spots, and especially for parents. The high rear sightline makes it almost impossible to see small children who might be playing in back of the truck
Standard four-wheel discs with four-channel antilock brakes stop the truck in a firm, linear fashion. Sixteen-inch chrome wheels on the test car are equipped with optional Bridgestone on/off-road radials. The tires have bigger void areas to give the Hummer better off-road traction. Surprisingly, road noise is no greater than for the average four-season on-road radial.
Serious off-road performance
People who own Hummers owe it to themselves and their trucks to take the vehicles off-road, because that is where they excel. The H3 can Ford up to two feet of water at slow speeds without contaminating the engine compartment, and crawl up a sixty degree grade.
For those who haven’t tried it, driving up a hill that steep is an act of faith. All the driver can see is sky: he has to trust that the vehicle will do its job, and the spotter at the top will help him avoid any obstacles over the crest.
Nine inches of ground clearance protects the chassis against most rocks and roots on the trail, but the H3 has underbody cladding to protect sensitive components just in case. Approach and departure angles are substantial, so the front and rear bumper don’t hang up when the H3 goes on or off of a steep hill.
The off-road suspension package on the test truck adds specially tuned shocks and a full-locking rear differential to provide extra traction on challenging trails and through sand. Full-time four-wheel drive sends traction to the wheels with the greatest grip, so the driver can maintain directional control when one or more wheels is off the ground.
A electronic transfer case provides extremely low gearing, so the truck can crawl over challenging terrain. Front and rear recovery hooks allow Hummer drivers to rescue other vehicles that might be stuck, or to be rescued in the very unlikely event that they find a hole too big for the Hummer to crawl out of.
Inside, all the comforts of home.
The H3 Alpha comes standard with leather trim and heated, power front seats with adjustable lumbar. All models are Bluetooth compatible. An AM/FM radio with six-disc in-dash CD includes standard XM satellite radio. Satellite radio is a feature I can’t say enough good things about, especially for those who take long road trips.
Both the driver and front passenger should find it easy to reach audio and HVAC controls in the center stack. The doors have map pockets but not bottle holders. Cupholders in the floor console are large enough for water bottles.
Two 12-volt powerpoints allow the driver and front passenger to recharge electronic devices on the go. An optional power sunroof brings extra ambient light inside the rather dark black interior.
The rear seats fold flat to create a cargo floor large enough to slide a bike in. Since the cargo area isn’t especially tall, buyers who plan to carry more than one bike on a regular basis should plan to install a roof rack.
All models come with four-channel antilock brakes, stability control, front and head curtain side airbags. Standard OnStar automatically notifies police and emergency medical personnel if the airbags deploy.
Base price on the H3 Alpha is $38,645, not including a $615 destination charge. General Motors produces the H3 at its Shreveport, Louisiana assembly plant.
Likes: V-8 engine offers exceptional power and performance, giving the H3 car-like ride and handling. Like all Hummers, the H3 has exceptional off-road capability. Towing up to 6000 pounds exceeds our ALV minimum standards.
Dislike: Small rear window creates large blind spots to the back of the truck.
Model: H3 Alpha
Base price: $38,645
As tested: $42,270
Horsepower: 300 Hp @ 5200 rpm
Torque: 320 lbs.-ft. @ 4000 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 13/16 mpg city/highway
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