An Adventure in a Hummer H3

We did like:

 • The excellent fit and finish from the South African built H3. Nothing looked tacky nor did anything break off during our off-road launch drive programme. For an American product this was impressive. Chrysler Jeep please take note.

• Despite not having the super low ratio gearing and diff lock of the H3 Adventure model, the base H3 model and the H3 Luxury model were also impressive off-road.

• The on-road holding and handling for such an off-road focussed vehicle was good.

We didn’t like:

• The on-road acceleration from the five-cylinder power plant was only just acceptable; and the engine note on hard acceleration was a little coarse.

• The ride quality on-road was poor for rear passengers who felt every bump from the live rear axle located underneath them.

• The lack of room for the driver’s left foot in the manual H3 models and the way the umbrella handbrake caught their left leg when it was pulled into the "on" position.

Despite all the recent bad press American 4WD manufacturers have copped recently from the environmental tree hugging green brigade, General Motor’s Hummer brand continues to enjoy strong growth and now offers production vehicles in right hand drive.

To its credit the original Hummer, the gargantuan military vehicle known as the H1 is no longer produced by General Motors for civilian consumption.

Instead the smaller, lighter, yet no less capable off-road vehicles, the Hummer H2 and H3 are offered worldwide through GM’s premium brands channel.

The engines and drive trains underneath the new to New Zealand H3 come from the GM SUV family, but the unmistakeable Hummer body is unique.

Sadly the North Americans have decided to remove yellow from the H3 colour chart and instead we will get a reddish orange hero colour. A real pity for those of us who liked the "Tonka" toy looks of the yellow H3.

Standard active safety equipment on all H3 models includes StabiliTrak stability enhancement system, traction control, ABS and dynamic rear proportioning brakes.

Passive safety features including dual front airbags with passenger sensing system and curtain bags are also standard on all H3 vehicles.

All H3 models are powered by a Vortec DOHC 3.7 litre in-line five cylinder petrol engine with variable valve timing.

This engine develops peak power of 180 kW at 5,600 rpm and peak torque of 328 Nm at 4,600 rpm. Most importantly for off-road applications there is 90 percent of peak torque available between 2,000 and 6,000 rpm which inspires confidence when tackling rough terrain uphill and downhill.

Depending on the variant required the H3 is available in either five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission.

Hummer quotes fuel consumption for combined highway and urban driving of 13.9 litres/100 km (manual) and 14.6 litres/100km (automatic), in line with similar mid-size SUVs.

In New Zealand the base H3 will be available in manual ($61,990) and automatic ($63,990) as will the H3 Adventure model (manual $68,900, auto $70,990) while the H3 Luxury at $70,990 as befitting its status is solely available in automatic.

One thing that struck me was despite the larger than life image, the H3 is actually quite a compact machine both inside and out.

Compared to the bigger H2, the H3 is 39 mm shorter, 171 mm lower and 73 mm narrower, allowing it to navigate city traffic and still deliver trademark crawling and climbing capability.

Inside that compactness is noticeable, particularly in the H3 manual versions. There’s no room for your left foot, plus your left knee hits the handbrake when it’s engaged.

The conversion from left hand drive to right hand drive production has not been a happy one, though left foot room in the automatic versions is mildly better and we would suspect these will fulfil the bulk of New Zealand orders.

So after a quick drive to the lunch stop in a brace of Saabs (another GM premium brand), we were saddled up in 10H3 models to tackle a drive through the picturesque Toolangi state forest, where our cover photograph of the yellow H3 Adventure was taken.

Here is where things really got interesting for the drivers because the H3 offers a choice of two electronically controlled two-speed Borg-Warner transfer cases.

The standard transfer case available on H3 and Luxury delivers a crawl ratio of 45.1:1 in manual form, and 36.8:1 for automatic.

However the H3 Adventure takes the vehicle’s off-road capability to the next level with a crawl ratio of 68.9:1 in manual transmission, and 56.2:1 in automatic.

During day-to-day driving the H3 is a full-time 4WD operator, with 40 to 60 percent front-to-rear torque split in 4 High Open. The system works very indeed on highway and urban tarmac in all conditions.

When driving on slippery surfaces such as ice, snow or sand, drivers can engage 4 High Lock while on the move, which locks torque split 50:50 front to rear.

It was pretty welcome in the dusty and then muddy trails around the state forest.

Tackling challenging off-road situations calls for 4 Low Lock which creates a totally different set of gear ratios.

You need to stop the vehicle and select neutral before engaging 4 Low Lock, and this procedure must be observed again when transferring back to High Lock or Open.

For the H3 and the H3 Luxury the transfer ratio is 2.64:1 and the extreme H3 Adventure boasts a transfer ratio of 4.03:1, which is the most aggressive transfer ratio GM has installed in a production vehicle.

Is it ever! Where the automatic Luxury needed a delicate dab on the brakes occasionally when descending the infamous "Rocky Trail", the manual H3 Adventure could be left to gently crawl downhill over the rock strewn path with the driver’s feet off the pedals! (Where they should be – Ed).

This was also the case after engaging Low Lock.

There’s no Hill Descent Control offered on any of the H3 models and frankly it’s not needed, especially on the Adventure variants.

This is the machine that hard core off-road addicts will buy, but for the rest of us mere mortals the ability of the base model or the Luxury H3 should suffice quite nicely.

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