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Tim O'Brien | Jul 12, 2008

So, revelations are running bum-naked up and down the corridors of GM USA. It’s the arrival of the bleedin’ obvious that’s to blame. GM auto executives have finally realised that barge-arse Americans won’t keep buying big cars if paying for the fuel is going to send them to the poor-house.

And that little realisation is scaring the pants off them.

Even Ford has had a similar epiphany. Seems the rush to Ford showrooms to snap up cars that list a gun-rack and a spittoon on the vehicle accessories list dried up long ago. Even before the current crippling fuel shock.

Of course, as far as big iconic SUVs go, they don’t get much bigger, nor more iconic, than the Hummer brand. And in today’s US market, seems the bigger they are, the harder and further they’ll fall.

Last month, General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner laid the future for Hummer on the line. "At this point,” he said, “we are considering all options for the Hummer brand, everything from a complete revamp of the product line up to a complete sale of the brand."

arse

Such was the outcry that followed, you would think he rolled a hand-grenade into a tobacco-spitting con-fest.

According to the Edmunds Inside Line news site, GM’s Fastlane blog lit up like a Christmas tree: "GM has managed to take a global icon and run it squarely into the ground," snapped one angry correspondent. “Hummers are nothing but uglified GMCs which are redundant copies of Chevy trucks,” added another. “Men like me still dream of the day when one can be our own!"... and on it went.

The big question, of course, is what is to happen to the Hummer H3 now that it’s got a foothold in Oz. While the H3 has not set the record books alight, there are a few of them running around.

As VFACTS for June showed, seems there is still a residual appetite in the Australian market for big cars despite the disincentive at the pump.

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So what do we think of the big, broody Hummer H3? Just in case it gets carried off to the executioner, we decided we’d better have another look. (Heck, you wouldn’t want to hang the wrong guy would you GM?)

Yup, the Hummer H3 is big. But big, as everyone knows, is a relative term. Like “the universe is big”. Douglas Adams, Copernicus, Hubble and a hod-load of others have made this observation and (just took a look outside) they’re right, it’s big.

But so is my neighbour – he’s big, well, huge really – got an arse like a truckload of mattresses. When he visits, the kids hide the cat, just in case he sits on it. (Heard he sat on a cat once. Poor feline was missing for weeks, till his wife noticed it… spiflicated between his buttocks. Expired of course.)

So, when we say the Hummer H3 is ‘big’, we mean ‘big’ in a relative way. That’s because it’s smaller than the H2 (which is around the size of Battlestar Galactica), but bigger than most other cars you’ll encounter in a day’s driving.

Ok, maybe that’s not quite true. Perhaps the Hummer just seems big. Walk around it and, from every angle, it’s got ‘bigness’ all over it. That front, it looks like it was designed to flatten Grannies or Mooses or something. And the sides, with those small windows; there’s enough metal there to repel an RPG.

Funny thing is though, when you actually size it up next to a Landcruiser for instance, you discover it’s not as huge as it seems. It’s actually smaller if anything than a ‘Cruiser - wider, maybe, but shorter and it doesn’t sit as high.

And it’s lighter. Lighter? Yup, at 2245kg, it’s lighter than a Patrol or Landcruiser 200.

servo

It’s also lighter than a Rangie or Cayenne, and line-ball with Pajero and Pathfinder. (Whoops, now that’s burst a few bubbles.)

So maybe it’s not as big as it seems. Maybe, just maybe, it’s not the anti-planet, green-gobbling, climate-busting monster that some would suggest.

With a lazy, under-stressed 3.7 litre five cylinder petrol engine putting 180kW and 328Nm under the toe, it returns a not-too-unreasonable (but not class-leading) claimed combined cycle of 13.8 l/100km.

While we couldn’t achieve those figures under test, for fuel economy the H3 is no worse than, and sometimes betters, petrol-engined Patrol, LandCruiser, Touareg, Cayenne Turbo, Cherokee Laredo V8, and Rangie V8. So that’s another bubble burst.

There is a point to this part of the commentary, and it’s this: if you’re looking for fuel efficiency, it isn’t to be found in a square-rigged, two-tonne off-road hauler. But there’s some hysteria about the Hummer which is undeserved.

side

Fact is, it’s neither better nor worse than others in its class. They’re all pretty crook when it comes to lining up at the pump.

So, what’s it like otherwise?

For a start, don’t buy one if you don’t want to get noticed. The Hummer has an irresistible Tonka-toy charm and turns heads like few can. Kids love it to death, they’re all over it in a flash if you pull up nearby.

But it’s not all looks and no substance: the H3 is a capable off-roader.

While in our care, we took it over the top of the divide from Mt Baw Baw, on and off fire access tracks and through to Woods Point then along gravel timber roads (shared with logging behemoths) to A1 Mine and Jamieson.

In winter, a good part of this drive is deep in snow. It’s a beautiful drive in autumn and, depending upon which way you go (there are lots of tracks to choose from), not too challenging. (We prefer to get our review cars back in one piece.)

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In treks of this type, the Hummer comes into its own. Its high-stepping stance, steep approach and departure angles, torquey 3.7 litre five cylinder donk, locking rear diff and rock-climbing low range ratio of 4.03:1, means you can step in and out of almost anything.

Sure, that donk can’t be accused of being the smoothest unit on the planet but, undersquare with a 95.5 mm bore and 102.0 mm stroke, it was built for work. (With DOHC, variable valve timing and four valves per cylinder, it is no throw-back and not as agricultural as it sounds.)

That long stroke, of course, provides good torque for off-road lugging, but don’t expect it to hustle you along too quickly on the black-top. While comfortable enough, it’s no inter-city tourer. If you’re on a two lane secondary road, overtaking manoeuvres need more than a little forward planning.

Its origins (as an all-purpose ‘truck’) are most exposed on broken or undulating bitumen. It wants to track with the road and can be a handful holding to the line especially when being pushed on a bit. (And those big tyres don’t seem to help things much.)

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The Hummer is what it is: a big, no-nonsense, capable truck. That it is also a head-turner (something The Insider can’t work out), reasonably quiet on the highway, with ample room in the square back for a cubit or two of clobber (porta-potty, golf clubs, fishing kit, couple of slabs, prospecting gear and the like) for a round-Australia trip, adds to the appeal.

Not so appealing is the ordinary interior – though the seats, front and back, are ok - and what would have to be one of the worst-designed dashboards on the planet. Barrel-shaped and made of nasty plastic, it’s the clunkiest thing you’ve ever seen and in the way of everything (especially knees).

Also not so great is the interior mirror. It’s impossible to adjust correctly. Set against the flat windscreen, you have to lean out of the seat to reach it, and then when you settle back, yup, it’s wrong again.

But don’t be deterred by these minor quibbles. Call them ‘part of the personality’. What you are buying with the H3 is an icon. And, dollar for dollar, when stacked against its natural enemies, it is good value.

back

The 5-speed manual will set you back just $51,990 plus on-roads, while the 4-speed auto is a neat two grand more at $53,990. (But if you want to tow, forget the manual.)

The one to go for is the H3 Adventure. It gives you a locking rear differential, off-road suspension package and transfer case, and can be snaffled for $57,990 for the manual, $59,990 for the auto.

While ‘our’ Hummers come from South Africa, with the Oz dollar heading for parity with the USD, you might even see a few more H3s on our roads whatever happens at the pump.

This is the kind of car that some people just ‘want’. The baby Hummer – would that be the ‘Humm-let’? – is more than half-decent buying if ‘big’ is your fare.


Fast Fact: Wot’s in a name?

The name Hummer is derived from the acronym for ‘High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles’ – HMMWV – formerly produced by a small, and little known, US truck and bus builder, AM General. American soldiers, whose lives depended on the capabilities of the HMMWV on the field of battle, affectionately distorted the acronym HMMWV into “Humvee”. General Motors acquired AM General in 1999. (Good timing you’d have to say, what with Iraq and all.) So there we have it.


insider-likes

• Mad, tonka-toy looks and character

• High-stepping stance with steep approach and departure angles

• Rock-stepping low range and locking diff

• Nicely isolated cabin (from gravel-road ‘shocks’ and noise)

• Lugging long-stroke motor good in the bush (but not on the road)

insider-dislikes

• People look at you like you’re a tool

• Silly, small windows and claustrophobic cabin

• Interior mirror out of reach

• Relatively small interior space (but huge outside)

• Some nasty plastics and a very ordinary dash and console

The Insider’s Big Statement

“GM has Hummer up for sale, you can bet your grandmother on it. The likes of Rick Wagoner do not ‘think out loud’ unless giving a signal to the market. GM’s in awful strife and Hummer is on the chopping block – it’s a dead maggot as far as GM is concerned. But don’t worry your pretty little heads: if Hummer is sold, you’ve got a classic on your hands; if Hummer isn’t sold, you’ve still got a classic on your hands.”

Gallery

specs

Engine: In-line 5 cylinder
Cylinder capacity: 3.7 Litre (3653cc)
Valve system: DOHC, VVT
Maximum power: [email protected]
Maximum torque: [email protected]
Fuel System: Multi-point electronic fuel injection
Bore x stroke: 95.5mm x 102mm
Compression ratio: 10.0:1
0 – 100 km/h: (God knows... around 12 secs, give or take a bit)
Transmission: Five-speed manual

(Automatic - adaptive 4 speed )

Differential: Locking rear diff
Wheels: 16” x 7.5”
Tyres: P265/75R16
Steering: Power assisted rack and pinion
Suspension: Front: Independent torsion bar, (46 mm monotube gas-charged shocks) Multi-leaf, semi-elliptic dual stage leaf spring (46 mm, monotube gas-charged shocks)
Brakes: Electro-hydraulic 4-wheel discs

4-wheel anti-lock with Dynamic Rear Proportioning

Weight: 2245kg (kerb)
Consumption: 13.8 l/100km (claimed)
Towing capacity: Manual: 1360kg (braked)

Auto: 2040kg (braked)

Fuel tank volume: 87 litres
Prices: $52,990 (base model)

$58,990 (Adventure manual)

$60,990 (Adventure auto)

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