There I was, minding my own business on the Internet, when HUMMER sauntered up and threw me against a locker. “Alpha stole your virtual girlfriend. And your real one,” grumbled the ever-subtle brand’s banner ad. Okay, HUMMER, I’ll bite (so to speak). Who’s Alpha, what’s he got that I haven’t? And— most importantly— how is this going to delay the inevitable fizzling of your fifteen minutes?
My questions were answered two weeks later at a ride-and-drive in Southern California. There I was, strolling through the SUV staging area, when Alpha struck again. “Gahh! The glare!” Shielding my eyes against a blinding sun-on-chrome conflagration, I winced to make out the telltale Alpha badge, applied to a suspiciously bling-encrusted H3. Hang on. A glammed-up H3? This is what’s got HUMMER’s ad men revving-up their bollock-swinging routine?
Well, erm… yes. But what HUMMER’s particularly pumped about is Alpha’s 5.3-liter, 300hp V8, borrowed from GM’s full-sized pickups. Like an under-endowed divorcee's post-surgical-enhancement, this H3, freed of its flaccid five-cylinder powerplant, has something to prove. Thing is, most women I know are turned off by insecurity. Which makes me wonder what my virtual girlfriend saw in Alpha in the first place.
To be honest, I’m a little unclear on exactly what a virtual girlfriend is (anyone know?). This being a HUMMER, though, styling seems the most likely explanation for unfaithfulness. Females account for nearly half of all remaining H3 sales; there’s no denying the wee war wagon’s considerable road presence. The H3 shouts for attention with only slightly more decorum than Don Imus on PCP, but if the point is to cut a dash outside Designer Handbags Inc., then— in the words of the Prez— “mission accomplished.”
Unfortunately, like G-Bu’s premature announcement of Mesopotamian mastery, the H3 lacks substance in details. The hulking hood vent is a blanked-off fake. So are the A-pillar “snorkel” intakes. The chromed step bars protrude far enough to soil your pant leg, but not enough to assist entry. Want a roof rack for all the “active-lifestyle” gear you may or may not be toting? Hit the options list.
Never mind. Any virtual girlfriend worth virtually stealing knows what really counts is on the inside. So hoist yourself aboard and lose yourself in GM’s G.I. Joe fantasy land. A square, upright windshield frames the H3’s square, upright hood. Tiny windows rise to chin height, leaving thigh-width roof pillars to blot out the sun. A hatch-mounted spare obscures trailing plebes. Visibility? Hey, it’s not like everyone won’t see you. There’s also a big chrome “Alpha” badge on the steering wheel boss. You know, in case you forget how awesome you are.
But even here, towering above the commuters, the H3’s shallowness of character chips away at the escapism. You’ve seen these window switches and HVAC knobs before— in rental cars. On the positive side, the cabin’s squishy, grained plastics are indicative of GM’s recent efforts to increase quality, and would seem quite posh at some price points. But… ahem… you haven’t seen the price yet.
It’s $39,560. As in, near-as-dammit $40,000. Which means you could buy a Cadillac SRX V6 AWD instead, pocket $435, and rent a few Jeeps to get your off-road jollies. Or treat yourself to an all-wheel-drive Lexus RX 350 and put $760 in the adventure fund. Granted, brand devotees may happily pay a premium to own a part of the HUMMER mystique. But given the $8,565 leap over a base H3, even they might be miffed that the sticker doesn’t include a sunroof ($950), a rearview camera ($850), or DVD entertainment ($1,928).
There a few other essential features missing in the Alpha dog of the H3 range. One is interior space. While the HUMMER’s height and bulk lend it a certain psychological roominess, the tape measure reveals less legroom at the con than a Chevy Cobalt. Move around back, carefully negotiating the narrow door openings, and you’ll find economy-class knee room on a squashy, too-low rear bench. The cargo area is similarly compact, accessed through an awkwardly heavy side-hinged hatch.
“But wait,” fans protest. “You haven’t even mentioned the Alpha’s trump card.” Ah, yes: the all-beef V8. The Vortec’s a smooth talker, that’s for sure. Its deep burble fits the H3’s character far better than the bronchitic braying of the base five. And 0 – 60 improves to minivan-grade: 8.9 seconds. Otherwise, the Alpha’s dynamics are a rerun. Same hefty but numb steering, same rubbery ride, same squidgy path control you’ll find in any heavy vehicle with very tall sidewalls.
The truth is, girlfriends— virtual or otherwise— tend to trade in characters like Alpha pretty fast. His clothes are too loud. He drinks too much. And he doesn’t give her enough space. Sorry, Alpha. I strongly suspect that, when the five-year reunion rolls around in 2011, you and your big brothers won’t be joining us.