Last spring Car and Driver magazine gushed over the off-road prowess of the Hummer H3. It was the hands-down winner in rock crawling and hill climbing against some stiff competition.
But the writers sent the small Hummer out to the woodshed for a good whupping over its lack of horsepower. It could hardly get out of its own way on the highway, they opined.
General Motors has taken noticed of such criticism. The General has dropped a new 3.7-liter five-cylinder engine generating 22 more horsepower and 17 additional pound-feet of torque into the 2007 model. It replaces a 3.5-liter engine.
The H3 is still on the power-challenged side of the performance equation, but it has enough forward momentum to handle all daily chores loaded or unloaded.
And the H3 is the right size for those who want Hummer's military look without the Hummer appetite for costly black gold.
It's the H3, based on the Chevrolet Colorado platform and introduced as a 2006 model that has kept the Hummer brand alive and very well. Smaller is better in this day of unstable fuel prices.
The H3, which grew on us as the days passed, has indeed saved the day for the young brand. Not surprisingly sales of the larger Hummer H2 have slipped based on figures from 2006. H2 sales dropped from over 16,000 sales in 2005 to 13,214 in 2006.
At the same time, sales of the H3 have skyrocketed from 33,140 in '05 to 54,052 in '06.
The H3's on-road personality will win you over, and that may account as much for its showroom popularity as it's slightly better gas mileage.
It's maneuverable, turns in a tight 37-foot circle, offers a smooth ride and features predictable handling.
Yet, for those few who really do hit the Rubicon trail north of Lake Tahoe in California's Sierra Nevada range, or other challenging stretches of wilderness, the H3 is as adept at off-road driving as anything money can currently buy.
It's an endearing vehicle with enough power to be reasonably proficient in most driving situations. Decent low-end torque makes it feel aggressive in stop-and-go driving, and the extra horsepower allows for seamless merges in high-speed traffic.
The new 3.7-liter engine develops 242 horsepower and 242 pound-feet of torque, which in many applications would provide exhilarating performance.
But the engine mounted in the H3 is asked to pull nearly 5,000 pounds, and that's a tall order. For comparison purposes, the previous H3 was measured from 0 to 60 in a leisurely 10.2 seconds.
Our seat-of-the-pants estimation tells us to take about a half second off that time — let's not quibble and make it 9.5 seconds — with the new engine. As we noted above, not exactly breath-taking, but as we discovered after a week behind the wheel, very adequate.
In addition to moving smartly from stoplight to stoplight, many owners may ask the H3 to pull a boat or trailer. And it's up to the task with a tow rating of 4,500 pounds.
The H3 is entertaining on winding stretches of road, belying its off-the-road prowess. Enter your favorite stretch of curves and you will find the H3 stable without a lot of sport utility lean.
But General Motors likes to tout the H3's off-road capabilities, which are enormous, according to journalists who have experienced the truck in the dirt.
Included is a sophisticated four-wheel drive system. Under normal conditions, the Hummer's full-time all-wheel drive transfers power 40 percent front, 60 back. Lock it into four-wheel drive mode and the torque is distributed 50-50. Low range is electronically controlled.
If you add the Adventure Package, you will get a super-low range that allows for crawling over rocks at 1.7 miles per hour that matches up nicely with its class-leading approach (40 degrees) and departure (37 degrees) angles and a 9.1-inch ground clearance.
Note that the H3 can be purchased with a five-speed manual transmission, something that may interest serious off-roaders.
Figure on seating for just four adults. Like most vehicles this size, the middle place in back is uninhabitable. But for four, comfort can be achieved.
The "pillbox" side windows, a necessary design quirk to get the Hummer look, may cause claustrophobic reactions in some people. Make sure you do an extended test drive to determine if you can live in the H3 on a daily basis. The slit-like windows didn't bother us, and we had no visibility complaints.
When hauling cargo is the order of the day, the seats can be folded to yield a load floor covered in a hard plastic that should be easy to clean. Cargo capacity with the seats up is 29 cubic feet, and 56 cubic feet with the seats folded. That's comparable to a small sport utility.
If there's a problem with the H3 — outside of its 15 city/19 highway gas mileage rating — it's the rather substantial price-tag, which reflects the cost of its off-road equipment.
And off-road equipment is not needed for 95 percent of the people who will buy the H3.
Base price of the Hummer is $30,100 including destination charge. Our test vehicle came with the new "x" package with a starting price of $38,170.
Granted, that's high, but we loved the wonderfully designed leather seats with H3-logo embroidered headrests and upscale interior look, and the exterior accouterments that included bright roof crossbows, chrome fuel door, chrome tube steps, body colored grille, great-looking wheels, brush guard and unique spare tire cover.
Other options are available and can push the price of an optioned-out H3 toward $45,000.
Our test vehicle was a good example. In addition to the long list of standard equipment that comes with the H3x our test vehicle had several high-dollar options including navigation ($1,720), four-speed automatic transmission ($1,695), power sunroof ($950) and roof rail airbag system with rollover sensor ($495). The bottom line was an eye-popping $44,510.
The H3 is more than just an image vehicle and more than just a prodigious off-roader. It's a well-mannered truck that is fun to drive as well as fun to be seen in. But the price of admission is rather steep. And the annual gas bill can be daunting.
2007 Hummer H3x
Base price: $30,100; as driven: $44,510
Engine: 3.7-liter 5-cylinder
Horsepower: 242 @ 5,600 rpm
Torque: 242 pound-feet @ 4,600 rpm
Transmission: 4-speed automatic
Turning circle: 37 feet
Towing capacity: 4,500 pounds
Maximum payload: 1,150 pounds
Curb weight: 4,700 pounds
Wheelbase: 111.9 inches
Length: 186.7 inches
Fuel capacity: 23 gallons
EPA mileage: 19 highway, 15 city
0-60 mph: 9.5 seconds (estimated)
Also consider: Nissan Xterra, Toyota FJ Cruiser, Jeep Grand Cherokee
Highly proficient off road
Quality interior with great seats
Cargo space smaller than competitors
Visibility may be issue for shorter drivers
Options can take the sticker price into luxury sport utility territory