Driven: 2009 Hummer H3
By Winding Road Staff
October 02, 2008
The Hummer H3 is an interesting vehicle to drive in light of our nation’s fuel crisis. Off-road enthusiasts and Hummer loyalists appreciate the H3’s off-road capability and style, but the H3 is becoming tougher and tougher to see to new consumers and the automotive press alike. Our test car’s sticker price is just a notch below the $40,000 mark, and while that might seem like a bargain to some, we’d search elsewhere for our SUV needs.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from talking to Hummer owners and enthusiasts (not always one in the same, it should be said), it’s that they simply don’t care what automotive journalists or fellow motorists think about their vehicles. Despite my line of work, I actually think that’s a very refreshing and inspiring thing. It shows passion for both vehicle and brand, and as an automaker, that’s exactly the sort of dedicated audience you want for your products. The trouble in this case is, however, is that Hummer’s loyal posse was never really big enough to sustain much of a brand to begin with, and it certainly isn’t big enough to survive today’s socio-economic climate in its current form.
On intrinsic merits alone, the H3 is a very tough sell right from the off. Ingress and egress is an awkward process whereby you must simultaneously hoist your body up while ducking. It’s a bit like scrambling in and out of a child’s clubhouse, and it gets old quickly. Inside, things aren’t much better, with some comically oversized bits (the gigantic gearshift selector is enough to make a porn star feel inadequate), questionable material fit and finish, and lousy outward visibility.
The drive isn’t much more inspired, with merely adequate amounts of power out of the I-5, and the fact that it only has a four-speed automatic doesn’t help performance or fuel economy. Thankfully, the ride is impressive over broken pavement thanks to high-profile rubber and a surprisingly compliant suspension—even with our model’s $2570 off-road package.
The truth is, I dig the Hummer brand’s Tonka-like styling sensibility, and I think SUVs absolutely still have merit for people who actually require their towing and off-road capabilities. I just don’t see this H3 as being that great of a choice when there are cheaper options that offer more space and similar stump-jumping cred with lower curb weight and better performance and fuel economy.
Although I haven’t checked lately, I imagine General Motors is piling cash on the hoods of these things with a steam shovel, so perhaps there’s a case to be built for a modestly-equipped H3, one with less equipment than our nearly $40,000 tester. If I were the one doing the shopping, though, I’d sooner have a Nissan Xterra or a Jeep Grand Cherokee and save the extra for gas money.
Hummer-ing ain’t easy. If I’ve learned from my experiences behind the wheels of various Hummers—from offroading at Michigan’s Silver Lake Sand Dunes to city driving in Detroit—it’s that you’re not in for “traditional” drive. The vehicles drive a little differently, people treat you a little differently, and you feel a little different when you leave a Hummer and walk across the parking lot.
Love or hate Hummer design. I actually mean that as a directive—go ahead and pick. You’ll need to, because there’s little evidence that a Hummer owner can blend in with traffic. Everything about Hummer design seems to work from the inside out. The passengers are closed off from the world, eyes slotted away behind short windows like McCauley Culkin looking out of the mail slot in Home Alone. No, it’s not inviting. It’s not a Mini or a New Beetle. It’s the driver looking out, casting a watchful eye over the rest of the world.
The H3 isn’t easy to get in and out of—tough stuff for a guy to admit who’s approaching 30. But I don’t think it’s my fault—the seat cushion is shaped like a V (or maybe a W) and you need to pick yourself up and out of the seat, leaving a good amount of hang time before your feet touch the ground. It’s annoying enough to make you want to set the seat to a very low height. Or buy high heels.
The big, chunky steering wheel might not be the easiest way to tug your away around a city but it is nice in your hands. Female drivers tend to like the steering wheel feel as well—if my survey of two twentysomethings is any indication. Unfortunately I think the fun ends at the steering. While the Hummer’s driving position is unique—the roof seems to extend an impossible distance beyond the end of your nose—it’s not a desk at which we’d want to work for the rest of our lives.
After all, what is the mission for the Hummer H3? The vehicle’s website says it’s a Hummer “that takes its inspiration from the city.” Odd stuff for a car with poor visibility, a noticeable amount of driveline friction and road noise at any speed. If you consider the city an annoyance that must be battled-rammed through in order to get to your destination, this could be the car for you. If not, it isn’t.
One thing that the H3 still has going for it is its incredibly polarizing statement as a form of transportation. There are other vehicles that offer a similar configuration for the same price point (there are dozens, really), but few that stir emotion like Hummer. Buy one if you value “a statement” as a part of your driving experience. If not, just pick any other crossover or SUV out there. They’re all starting to blend together, except this one.
Steven J. Ewing
Production and Test Fleet Manager
I've never really liked the Hummer H3. Then again, I've never cared for any Hummer. My gripe with the H3 is that in today's world, it's not really the best choice in a sport-ute segment. The five-cylinder engine is anemic at best, the interior is made up of poor materials that are unpleasant to touch and look at. Nevermind the fact that eco-friendly people will raise many a middle finger at you if you're seen driving one of these so-called abominations to the environment. However, all of the off-road enthusiasts continue to praise the Hummer brand, and I won’t disagree. If I lived on the top of a mountain, I’d want one, too.
With the sale of Hummer on the horizon, it will be interesting to see what happens to this ill-fated brand once it leaves the hands of General Motors. The H3 may have been a good idea years ago when it was launched, but now it's just holding on as dead weight, especially since there are countless options in the market that will provide more space, better performance, a nicer interior, and better fuel economy, too.
Now that Hummer is seemingly on the outs, and now that fuel prices and social awareness have made them unfashionable to all but a few—I rather enjoyed what might be my last drive in an H3 for who knows how long. The all-around drive experience was as uninspiring as ever, but there's something special and significant about saying (a potential) goodbye.
2009 HUMMER H3
Engine: Inline-5, 3.7 liters, 20v
Output: 239 hp/241 lb-ft
Transmission: Four-speed automatic
Weight: 4698 lb
Fuel Economy, city/hwy: 14/18 mpg
Price as Tested: $39,690