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Car reviews - Hummer - H3 - 5-dr wagon range

Our Opinion

We like
Off-road ability, (Adventure model in particular), specification for the money, ride quality off-road
Room for improvement
Vague steering, jittery ride, small cargo area, poor vision, engine response on the highway, automatic transmission shift quality

4 Oct 2007

IT'S NO secret that most people buy cars based on image: their perception of the car’s image and what it says about them as the owner.

As the car market becomes more homogenous, and as it becomes cheaper to platform share, niche models appear to provide buyers with something different to the masses.

There are plenty of design ‘icons’ in recent times, such as the New Beetle, MINI, Range Rover and Jeep Wrangler.

Some are very successful vehicles in their own right, others are not, but these are vehicles that are built by manufacturers to play on the emotions, to give owners a product they can identify with.

The purchase decision is not rational, it’s simply “I want one, so I’ll get it”.

So what the new ‘iconic’ Hummer H3 says about owners depends on your point of view. According to the head of GM Premium brands in Australia, Parveen Batish, the H3 buyers are “confident, independent minded and embrace the H3 for bringing a sense of adventure and fun into their lives.”

The Hummer order books say 400 such people are willing to put money on it - literally.

Mr Batish didn’t mention the buyers’ need for a thick skin, but judging from the mixed public reaction at the H3’s media launch, they will need one.

The H3 media drive programme included a drive down Collins Street, Melbourne in the morning rush hour.

The best the Hummers got was glares from pedestrians on the footpaths - a far cry from the smiles and waves the New Beetle garnered when it first arrived in Australia in 2000.

Yet Australia in 2007 is a different, less trusting place, and the Hummer is no cuddly Beetle.

It got worse. The yellow H3 one ahead in the convoy of more than a dozen Hummers idling in Collins Street traffic incited a bloke in his 20s to give it a solid, single-finger salute, and another colleague, while stopped at traffic lights, was asked by a pedestrian if the Hummer was to assist him in a quest to prove his manhood.

Perhaps that was an opportunity for my colleague to use the H3’s marketing slogan: “Now get lost”.

Even Hummer acknowledges that the H3 will attract controversy, but says that people need to be educated so that they can recognise that the H3 is not the big, bad blight on the environment that some may see it as.

The argument pro-Hummer says that is actually no bigger than other mid-size SUVs, which, to be fair, is true in regard to most measurements.

It is wider and sits taller than most though, and when you climb up in the cabin, you’re aware of it.

The cabin, or bunker, if you prefer, allows you to view the world though rectangular portholes dispersed around the periphery. The roof pillars are very wide.

As it is wide and high off the ground, driving the Hummer requires a whole new mindset about the hardware sitting off to your left.

It can be hard to gauge widths in the H3, and in fact, aside from centre and forward, it’s hard to see out of generally. Hummer dealers will fit a rear parking sensor kit of $450 plus fitting, so that’s one less side to worry about.

The seats themselves are quite comfortable and side support is good, although too softly padded for some.

There is plenty of room in the cabin for occupants, although the centre rear passenger doesn’t get a head restraint and the rear outboard seatbelts will rub against the neck except for long-shanked individuals.

The H3’s translation from left- to right-hand drive has generally worked well, especially given that when H3 was developed it was intended for left-hand drive only.

However, the umbrella handbrake and lack of any real left-footroom in the manual (and a tiny half-footrest in the auto) are telling compromises.

The dashboard itself was designed by GM US to mirror the LHD item and suffers none of the issues that left-to-right conversions often do, except from a slightly more matt finish to the dash than the door trims.

While items such as the windscreen washer stalk seem fiddly, it generally is an easy operating area for the driver.

The rubberized cargo floor, accessed by a one-piece side-swinging tailgate, appears to be a good way to help keep the area clean but the actual load space area is not generous, even though it’s a claimed 835 litres in volume.

While convention in such SUVs has the tailgate swinging towards the traffic side, the H3 tailgate swings towards the kerb.

While that can cause practical problems when unloading at the kerb, it actually helps on cambered roads where the angle can otherwise make it difficult to keep the tailgate open.

The suspension spec is the same as that used for the US market, and feels compliant on slow-speed tracks off-road, but corrugations and potholes upset it. While Hummer says the body has been made to be very rigid, it still quivers slightly with body flex over bumps.

Steering is vague on centre and while does not have the over-assisted steering that US models often favour, turning into a corner is no tactile pleasure.

The dynamics are not bad for an SUV wagon, but it does nothing in terms of handling and grip that an average SUV wagon couldn’t do 10 years ago. At least, unlike those wagons, the H3 has the modern safety net of stability control.

The five-cylinder engine steps off the mark well, has a flat torque curve and revs out smoothly enough.

There is a sense that there is too much of a bluff mass for the engine to move crisply when driving at open-road speeds, particularly in hilly terrain.

The manual, while no sportscar shifter, is enjoyable enough to use, while the auto is smooth enough when not asked to work hard.

When faced with a hill the four-speed auto just doesn’t have enough ratios it drops and rises in 2000rpm increments between third and fourth gear, way too much to keep the engine boiling nicely at or near its torque sweet spot at around 4000rpm. The auto’s shift quality becomes less than smooth in such situations, too.

When it comes to off-road ability, the H3 is surprisingly good. There is enough wheel travel, traction and gearing to make most difficult trail work easy, although ground clearance didn’t seem to be as good as the claims.

At least the underbody is very well protected, with strong bashplates fitted in potential weak spots. The Adventure, with its extra low-set of low-range gears, is very good.

One the main assets of a good dual-range transmission is the ability to control a vehicle over difficult terrain at crawling pace, and the H3 Adventure can certainly do that.

There are some pleasing elements to the H3 it’s off-road ability is among the best, it is well specified for the money and the five-cylinder is a tractable engine that will also rev hard as required.

If only the body was more practical, the suspension better and if it had an efficient turbo-diesel engine (expected in 2009), you could happily tell the passers-by with busy fingers to get lost.

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