Walked into a HUMMER dealership lately? The poster child for everything wrong with the automotive industry went from a vibrant, stylish lounge for conspicuous consumption to a somber, museum-like tribute to modern architecture and failed business models. It’s a sad combination of soaring heights and eerie, uncomfortable silence. This also describes the HUMMER H3T Alpha to the proverbial T: the brand’s failed promises of functionality and fashion for a premium price culminate into the worst product rollout of the 2009 model year.
But wait a moment: can we still party like its 1999? The H3T’s rugged proportions, slender overhangs, unmolested lines and an unbelievably evocative front grille could’ve set the burgeoning SUV flame into a five alarm fire. It’s a brand honest effort in contrast to every other GM division that squanders, distorts or disregards their potential. The style is classically right, but socially wrong.
Which makes it right, in a historically perverse way. Driving the H3T down Houston’s boulevard of broken dreams feels like the (hopelessly optimistic) pink tailfins of a ’59 Caddy cruising Pennsylvania Avenue while a black armband protest against the Vietnam War looms in the background. Two generations, two schools of thought collide all over again: part of which is why the H3T is the coolest lifestyle-enhancing wannabe ever created. No matter what you think, there will never be a vehicle like this again.
And that’s gotta be worth something, since there’s not much worth cheering for inside. While HUMMER infused the Chevy Colorado’s interior with a great pair of contrast-piped leather seats and faux cowhide door inserts, the rest of the re-skin reeks of down market dour. Unyielding plastics are immensely stain proof, and the black chrome center stack absolutely begs for more reinforcements to justify the H3T’s lofty asking price. And from the mudslide of bass from the Monsoon Audio to the lack of a rear seat armrest, the baby HUMMER is lost in the dark ages of SUV interiors.
Note: if an H3 driver cuts you off in the shopping mall parking garage, don’t hate the player. Hate the game. The memorable styling of the HUMMER brand translates into side/rear visibility that makes a Chrysler 300 blush. The only lifeline to scratch free sheetmetal is a pair of gargantuan side view mirrors, creating a series of educated guesses as to where the 5-foot bed lies in relation to fixed objects. With these sightlines, the HUMMER lifestyle requires a damn good spotter for any serious four-wheelin’ event.
But things ease up back in the real world of the urban cowboy. The H3T is an easy rider, with basketball-height sidewalls and a softly sprung suspension. But the chassis has more flex than you’d expect in a modern pickup. No surprise there, the third-rate engineering of the Chevy Colorado shows up again. And this isn’t a hack job of the H3 SUV: the fully enclosed baby-HUMMER fares no better in back-to-back testing.
Which makes the off road ready H3T’s poor handling less of a surprise. The Alpha HUMMER still weighs in at a massive 5069lb, with more body roll, brake dive and understeer compared to the (relatively) refined movements of a full-size Chevy pickup. Maybe that’s fine—this brand makes no bones about it’s admirable off road manners coming straight from the factory.
Don’t like it? Don’t buy it. But that cocky attitude no longer works for the Big H.
So consider the H3T’s genuine truck bed with a handful of rails, tie downs and hidden storage tricks. Plus, being V8 motivated, this must be a manly man’s truck: the unique “Alpha” interior/exterior badging and brushed aluminum plaque bearing GM’s Performance Parts trademark (on the engine) mean something. Or not: the H3T Alpha has far more “area under the curve” over the standard offering’s five-pot mill, but the modest peak numbers and a quad-cog gearbox fail to motivate this leviathan in a fashion befitting Detroit’s other body-on-frame beasts.
So the H3T Alpha is the quasi-truck that prefers you not compare it to a real truck, much less the other poseurs at Chevrolet, Ford and Honda showrooms. That’s because the HUMMER’s payload capacity is almost 400lb less than the car-like Ridgeline, and tows about 1000lb less than the independently sprung Ford Sport Trac. The bed is an ergonomic triple threat: small, narrow and tall. Don’t even think about the folding mid-gate from the Chevy Avalanche as the H3T isn’t built on that GM platform. Oops.
If we still lived in the SUV’s heyday, the HUMMER H3T Alpha’s lack of substance wouldn’t mean squat. It’s got the right look, has a mean (sounding) engine and works like a somewhat incompetent pickup. But the market has changed, and even if HUMMER used their whole ass while creating the H3T Alpha they’d still screw the pooch. Hasta la vista, baby.