On June 23, 2008, GM announced it was hiring Citigroup to help it in a strategic review of the HUMMER brand. After being inflicted with a base H3 for a week, I’d suggest the venerable the General skip to the denouement and sell off the brand to anyone who wants it. By offering vehicles like the base H3, GM demonstrates it is/was unwilling and/or unable to nurture what is/was the most focused brand in its bloated portfolio.
The H3’s primary selling point is– was– its cartoonish appearance. Sporting some muscular, Gubernator-inspired styling, the H3 comes accentuated by poseur-approved chrome grill, fake hood vents, chrome step bars, an exposed spare and massively over-sized fender flares. There’s mucho machismo to be had here. Unfortunately, many of the details are perfect targets for rocks, dirt, boulders and whatever nature offers to thwart even the most timid off-roader. Everywhere it went, the H3 stood out as a poseur in a cheap tux amongst the barebones off-roaders that showed their battle scars with pride.
The H3’s exterior dimensions promise space and convenience nowhere to be found on the inside. The back seat offers the same room as any family sedan; it’s utterly cramped with three adults. The trunk’s even worse. With two huge intrusions on either side, the H3 struggled to hold three suitcases and two duffel bags, a load that would easily fit into any station wagon or large sedan on sale today.
Unique styling cues from the H2’s cabin are nowhere to be found except on the horn. The H3, sadly, is just another GM truck. Bearing a steering wheel and a center stack most Chevrolet owners could operate blindly, the H3 utterly fails to live up to HUMMER’s “Like nothing else” slogan.
That said, the H3 benefits from GM’s other, more recent truck interior re-designs. The leatherette seats are supportive and comfortable. The steering wheel itself is pleasant to grasp, though the observation comes from a recovering Pontiac Grand Prix renter. The center arm-rest is well placed for long rides. And truth be told, it’s difficult to slag the H3 for the rest of the cheap plastics that permeate the interior, since its supposed off-roader mojo lends itself well to cheap, frugal materials.
The H3’s heart is its tragic flaw, its Achilles’ heel. No matter what speed or gear I hit, WOT and all, the result was the same: epic engine thrash and acceleration so gradual it wouldn’t spill your coffee. Worse yet, coming off higher revs, the engine tended to hang, which lead to lurching upshifts courtesy of the confused slushbox. In a vehicle with an MSRP that touches $30k (good luck with that), the lack of refinement is staggering.
To say the peculiar I5 is utterly defeated by the H3’s mass is to unabashedly don the mantle of Captain Obvious. As to why GM chose the I5, I’ll leave the speculation to you. It clearly wasn’t economy. In 128 miles of equally mixed city, highway and off-road driving, the H3 attained an abysmal 9.8 mpg.
If you ever muster the patience required to push the H3 to 80 mph, you’ll need a project management certification to operate the equally overmatched brakes. No seriously. Braking in the H3 required such advanced planning that I found myself checking out the GPS screen to identify upcoming turns.
Looking to ride and handling in the hopes of redemption are futile, even by truck standards. Weighing about 500 lbs. too much, the H3 transmits everything to its owner. Drive down the smoothest of highways and the vibrations will make you think the tires are made of solid rock. It’s Jeep Syndrome to the 10th degree. A combination of mass and crappy brakes makes the H3 prone to bus-like understeer, and hitting four-wheel drifts on bumpy gravel roads was pathetically easy.
On the trails is where the H3 finally appears to be in its element. The H3 with locked differentials is a redoubtable climber. Similarly, it handles boulders, crevasses, mud, dirt and (yeah, I admit it) sidewalks and medians without protest. The gloriously underpowered truck is easy to modulate with the throttle and power-braking. But then, how many H3 owners will risk scuffing-up its make-up by removing it from its pavement? That’s what I thought.
GM tried to make the H3 be all things to all people, and therein lays the problem. The H3 will do anything you ask of it, but none of it well. It’s too hardcore for the road, too pretty for the outback, too cramped for an SUV and too listless for the highway. Worse yet, in the age of the Prius, the H3’s image is decidedly out of date. As an exemplar of how GM can suck the lifeblood from any car brand, the H3 is as good/bad as it gets. As anything else, it’s just plain awful.