A miniature “Be All You Can Be” with Mickey Mouse exterior facet, coped with impractical interior & wimpy powertrain.
This midsize sports-utility vehicle was acquired as a rental vehicle with 14,500 miles on the odometer at the time of pick up. It stayed with us for 24hrs. We drove approximately 280 miles. The test route included the congested San Francisco urban traffic, and various freeways in the Bay Area. The entire trip in the H3 was with 2 average size adults. The averaged fuel consumption was 17 mpg.
General Motors introduced the Hummer H3 in 2005, sharing the chassis (Code: GMT345) and engine with GM’s Chevrolet Colorado, and GMC Canyon pickup. The test model is equipped with the optional Luxury Package with heated leather front seats, leather steering wheel and premium 7 speaker sound system to enhance comfort and convenience. Other than base model, the other optional package is called the Adventure Package for off-road enthusiasts. All H3s are equipped with GM’s inline 5 cylinder Vortec 3500 engine (L52). This aluminum 3.5L 20valves DOHC engine, pumps out 220hp@5,600rpm and 225Ib-ft of torque@2,800rpm with the help of variable valve timing/cam phrasing in GM’s terminology on the exhaust cam, and 10:1 compression ratio. The Tonawanda, NY built engine is longitudinally mounted, driving the 4 speed automatic O/D transmission (GM’s Hydro-Matic 4L60-E) that has been tuned to match H3’s brand character. The engine power is then transmitted to the electrically controlled 2-speed full-time four-wheel drive transfer case to divert engine power to the wheels. Traction is provided by a set of P265/75R16 all-terrain Goodyear Wrangler RT/S tires. The chassis is supported by independent SLA torsion bars and monotube gas-charged shocks in the front. Leaf springs solid axle suspension in the rear corners with stabilizer bars in front and rear. Stopping power is generated by electro-hydraulic power 4 wheel vented discs brakes with ABS.
The exterior styling is the bold and overly boxy with huge off road tires with massive fender gaps. The overall styling has a lot of resemblance as its original sibling – the H1. GM seemed to have spent a lot of effort on capturing the exterior elements of the H1. GM has even dropped in the details from the H1 to the H3, includes vents on the hood, a pair of scuba intake ducts just in front of the A-pillars and the very noticeable radio antenna sticking out from the passenger side fender perhaps to duplicate the CB radio antenna on the army spec H1. However, most of the elements are for decoration only. The vented hood section is made out of plastic in one piece; no vents are present, not even in macroscopic level. The supposedly scuba air intakes for driving in chest deep water are nothing but Mickey Mouse, hence, for appearance only. Once we established ourselves sitting inside the car, slamming close the thick bullet-proof doors, there are mixed feelings of the H3. There is a sense of safety, as if we are sitting in a safe-box of a bank – surrounding by thick metals, and/or feel like we are in jail cell with small windows to peek to the outside world. The mixed feelings can be summed up and confirmed by the “Armortek” armored money transport truck like driving experience.
Engine noise is noticeably semi-truck like when tachometer approaches 4,500rpm, and the noise becomes unbearable near its 6,300rpm redline. Interestingly, the engine noise intrusion is more pronouncing from the undercarriage and firewall area at the passenger side. Engine is fairly smooth and muted when not pushed. However, the equipped engine is lacking in power that a full throttle kick-down is often obligatory to pass and maintain speed at slight inclines. The test model stumbles and hesitates at higher rpm under load. GM claimed this 5-cylinder engine to be an advanced design with the power of a V6 and fuel economy of an I-4. However, its application on the H3 made GM’s claim false. The output of 62.8hp/liter is marginal in ’06 era and not an advance design. It is never a pleasant experience to have to push the engine hard all the time when the engine is awfully loud with harsh operation (even with a pair of harmonic balancer) and hesitation at higher rpm. It seems to be giving out a complaining message to the driver that he/she is harming the engine. The 4,700Ibs curb weight is out of match for this engine’s output.
Similar to the H3’s engine, the tuned 4-speed automatic transmission is out of match as well. It is considered to be ancient in the era where 5-speed or even 6-speed AT is the norm. There are many problems that we’ve noticed; first of all, the 1st gear ratio is too long for a decent acceleration from a complete stop. Secondly, the overdrive 4th gear is geared also too long in attempt to improve fuel economy, often times, it required a constant full throttle input to maintain speed at freeway speed, and frequent kickdown are needed due to insignificant changes in slopes and headwinds. Most kickdown are harsh and have a lengthy delay, the symptoms are more noticeable when downshifting manually via the awkwardly positioned shifter. The H3 would definitely benefit from a transmission that has more gears, a shorter 1st & 4th gear, an overdrive gear with closer gear ratio with the 4th, and improve the responsiveness. With that being said, GM should invest more R&D in the engine and transmission packaging prior releasing the H3 for the public instead just of pulling parts from its parts bin without looking to see how things will work together. The equipped engine/transmission package is easily one of the worst we’ve seen.
The suspension design and tuning is truck-like, perfectly matched the H3’s image. The ride characteristic, steering response is a constant reminder of the driving experience of a UHAUL truck. Standing at 74.5″ tall and 74.7″ wide, body roll is nicely controlled when traveling at speed limit, but any attempts to push the truck any faster it revived the massive body roll. Perhaps, the heavy duty 36mm stabilizer bar in front, and 25mm in the rear seems appropriate, any thicker bars will only cause the H3 rides like it’s on solid axles. The core cause of the problem is once again the H3’s curb weight, and its overall height. At cruising speed, suspension offered surprisingly well on road manner with this simple setup. However, the huge diameter tires with those massive sidewalls didn’t provide sufficient road feel for car enthusiasts that also use the information they receive that’s transmitted by the tires thru the seat onto their backside. H3 is lacking the communication between the road, and the chassis.
The steering wheel has apparent on-center feel, even though it feels artificial but it is something pleasant to have, especially when the H3 is highly subjective to cross wind due to its box-shape more about the body in a little bit. Steering is generally lack of feedback. The 8″ high sidewall on the all-terrain tires also absorb close-to-all of the much needed road feel for the thick vinyl like leather steering wheel. Steering effort is light, making freeway travel irritable for straight line travel. Combining with cross wind, the steering of the H3 is like playing a racing arcade game of the ’80s. From time-to-time, the steering wheel jerks around when the front suspension is traveling up-and-down over bumps, making the driver at full alert traveling down the freeway. Accident avoidance is also low in the steering area, a quick jerk on the steering wheel to try to save-a-day (a typical scenario to avoid hazard on the road) can easily upset the balance of the vehicle, and likely causing an accident in the H3 instead – it simply takes too long for the H3 to respond and to recover from a quicker than average steering input.
The brakes are sufficient to slow down the mammoth but require high operating effort. The first 30% of the pedal travel doesn’t generate enough braking force to do anything, as if a third of the travel is all freeplay. Braking distance is within expectation for a mammoth if one is willing to stump on the brakes. Heavy nose dive is often associated under panic braking. ABS operation is apparent and kicks in at expected time, but the operation is harsh, lacking the refinement for the ’06 era. Minimum fading is noticed with prolong use with the brakes.
On paper the 186.7″ & 74.7″ overall body length and width seems respectable in SUV standard, however, the bulged box shape, and the confined windows makes the H3 very difficult to drive in the compacted streets of downtown San Francisco. The shape of the exterior structure completely obstructs the driver’s view on the traffic lights, when stopped at the intersection being the first vehicle, the driverside A-pillar blocks the far left light, center overhead light is blocked by the far-to-reach rear view mirror. Driver required moving around in the cockpit in search for the signals from the traffic lights. Visibility around this “safe box” is average, thanks to the semi-truck like side mirrors.
Interior workmanship has revived that GM has came a long way in the fit-and-finish department. The almost non-existing interior squeaks and rattles are also contributed from the newly developed welded steel boxed frame with seven cross members on the H3’s body-on-frame chassis. Wind noise intrusion is more pronounced at the corners of the windshield. The boxy shape creates a unique flute like sound when traveling beyond 70mph. The similar sound is commonly found in the boxy shaped Jeep Cherokee. Interior is spacious but most of the buttons take a second thought to operate aren’t very intuitive. The placements of the buttons are also impractical. The heated front seats are lack of lateral support. The buttons for the seat-heater and seat adjustments are hidden at the tight confine between the front door panel and the bottom of the seat. Even though, the buttons are clearly labeled, but with the door closed, there is only 4″ of clearance to squeeze your hand at an awkward angle to operate the buttons that have an identical shape. True, one might argue that those buttons aren’t frequently used. What about the master power window switches that is located at the very far back of the arm rest on the driver side front door? They are placed so far back that, you must practice Yoga to get to them with your left hand. There is more impracticality that we can add to the list, such as, the glove compartment when opened, it will rest directly onto the front passenger’s knees when the seat properly positioned, but we would like to stop wasting time to discuss those very disappointing impracticalities.
Esuvee.com website has come across our minds after our test drive in the H3. Esuvee.com was a year long safety campaign in 2005 to educate drivers about the rollover risks in the SUVs. It used Esuvee as the mascot, an uncultivated prehistoric mammoth, as the focal point. “Driving a SUV is like riding a different type of animal…” It becomes really clear to us on what the website has claimed about SUVs, and the H3 has perfectly supported the claims. We, being the car enthusiasts and have been driving countless number of cars. Our confidence level in the H3 has drop significantly. Visually, you don’t easily see what’s around you. Physically, you don’t know what the car is doing, since the H3 lacks feedbacks. Putting more H3s in the road is more like putting more and more unpredictable moving brick walls to harm passenger vehicle drivers. Placing the bumper so high off of the ground for better offroad approach angle by putting other non SUV drivers at risk is uncivil. A side impact into a sedan, the front bumper of the H3 is likely to crush thru the side windows and hitting the occupancy directly their heads. We unfortunately didn’t get the chance to test the H3s offroad capability. It might impress us in that manner; however, based on statistics, 90% of SUV owners never take their SUVs offroad. Therefore, our impressions on the H3 are still 90% valid.
Performance & Acceleration: 3
Comment: Be ready to experience frequent full throttle kickdown to maintain speed.
Comment: Operates like you are on drugs – slow to respond driver’s inputs.
Handling & Cornering: 3
Comment: Need to be cautious and avoid sudden inputs.
Brake Feel: 3
Comment: Did GM bleed the brakes properly? Too much freeplay. Heavier than usual pedal effort.
Ride Characteristic: 5
Comment: Absorbs all pavement imperfections, able to drive over curb like hitting a speed bump in a passenger car. Overkill the much needed feedback.
Interior Comfort: 4
Comment: Plenty of room. Confusing, and hard to hard to reach buttons.
Comment: Outstanding quality as domestic built. But no where close to Audi or BMW.
Comment: Average interior space for a midsize SUV. Small windows and boxy shape made it hard to drive around.
Comment: Surprised not powered by a small block pushrod. DOHC, variable valve timing, Inline design may sound advanced in GM standard.
The H3 gave us a deep impression that the daily practicalities in the H3 are afterthoughts, and as if, GM had just used whatever in its parts bin to assemble the H3, like a byproduct, without looking at how the parts will fit into one package. A great car is mainly judged by how every part and assemblies work in harmony as a unit, such as, how the powertrain characteristics are mated with an indulgent drivetrain; how the seat supports the driver in a car that pulls 1.0g in the skidpad…etc. There are couples of issues that make us walk away from the H3, 1) GM’s way of assembly cars by throwing in common GM parts. 2) H3’s Mickey Mouse way to portray the H1. It seems to me, H3 buyers are typically blinded by its looks, who don’t really understand about driving dynamics, and subconscious about its impracticalities. We feel particularly sorry for those who have decided to commute daily in a H3. Their ignorance aren’t only putting passenger-vehicle occupants at risks, but wasting non-renewable energy as well. With the price of the H3 starting at $30,000, there are numerous SUVs out in the market that is as capable offroad as the H3 and have a lot more practicality as well. Why waste you money on a GM byproduct! Recommendation from us, go testdrive a ’06 Nissan Xterra. END