Is the H1's Grandkid GM's Best Midsize SUV? A tough guy in anyone's book, the H3 can take a beating off-road. Skid plates are standard and those tow hooks attach directly to the frame. By Erin Riches Date posted: 05-20-2005 Featured Specs: 220-hp inline five, 5-speed manual or 4-speed auto, Optional 4-to-1 transfer case, Crawl ratio as low as 69 to 1 It's easy for people to hate you when you drive a Hummer H2. You're the bad boy in the neighborhood. The one who scares the old people. The one who ran over the rosebushes. By comparison, the 2006 Hummer H3 is downright approachable. It's way smaller. You can back out of a driveway without taking the mailbox with you. And on the weekends, it'll fit down a 4x4 trail that would have an H2 wedged between two boulders. We expected as much before we even drove the H3. But we didn't expect the baby Hummer to offer such a complete package. This isn't just a novelty off-road vehicle. This is a well-mannered SUV with a smooth ride and an attractive, comfortable cabin. It needs more power, but as it is, it might still be GM's best midsize SUV. Only Five Cylinders Is a 220-hp inline five enough motor for a 4,700-pound SUV? Not really. Acceleration is tolerable, but throw in a few steep grades and you'll wish for something bigger. The Hummer H3 concept shown at the 2004 Los Angeles Auto Show had a turbocharged inline five-cylinder engine good for 350 horsepower. Well, the turbocharger didn't make the cut for production. Instead, the H3 gets a naturally aspirated 3.5-liter five from its Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon platform mates, with whom it shares 10 to 15 percent of its components, according to Hummer officials. All three vehicles are built on the same line at GM's Shreveport, Louisiana, plant. As it does in the pickups, the engine makes 220 hp and 225 pound-feet of torque, but it's noticeably smoother in this application. Unfortunately, it's lugging around 700 extra pounds. The throttle progression is unique to the H3, and engineers installed a new exhaust system that's lighter yet more durable for off-roading. The ratios on the available five-speed manual and four-speed automatic are almost identical to the pickups', but an aggressive 4.56 rear axle maximizes bottom-end thrust. The manual is a little clunky through the gears, but the added control is worth the effort. Too bad only the automatic comes with stability control. Acceleration is fine around town, but highway passing maneuvers take planning, especially with the automatic. Throw in some elevation increases, and the H3 feels underpowered. Hummer says it takes about 10.1 seconds to hit 60 mph in a manual-shift H3 and 10.3 in an automatic. The company also says you can tow up to 4,500 pounds, but we don't even want to imagine what that would feel like. At least the fuel economy estimates are encouraging — 16 city/20 highway for the manual and 16/19 for the auto. Hummers have never been known for their quickness. But the 2006 Hummer H3 is going to battle against faster, mainstream sport-utes like the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Toyota 4Runner that offer optional V8s. Good thing it has a few more toys in its arsenal. Easier to Off-Road Than H2 With 33-inch all-terrain rubber and crazy wheel articulation, the H3 is about as capable as they come among stock SUVs. The H2 comes standard with a full-time four-wheel-drive system with a 2.64 reduction gear in 4 Lo. Pretty typical for a production SUV. However, there's an optional 4.03 transfer case that provides gearing so low you can creep down rocky slopes without using the brakes. The 4-to-1 transfer case is aimed at hard-core off-roaders who would ordinarily have to go to the aftermarket to get one. Jeep's Wrangler Rubicon also offers this feature, but the H1 and H2 do not. The elder Hummers have the H3 beat when it comes to ground clearance, though: The H1 has 16 inches, the H2 has 10.5 and the H3 has just 9.1. But after driving an H3 through Arizona canyons, we don't think it will disappoint anyone. With 33-inch tires that sink their claws into rock as if it was flesh, loads of wheel travel, standard skid plates and dealer-installed rocker protectors, the H3 can pretty much go wherever you want without taking damage. Good Manners on Pavement The H3 may be of manageable size, but it wears all the brash Hummer styling cues. Class-leading off-road capability wouldn't be worth much if the H3 was a sloppy handler on pavement. And while there's no hiding its 4,700-pound curb weight in the corners, it feels surprisingly stable with predictable body roll and a well-controlled back end. It's a welcome change from the skittish behavior of GM's other midsize SUVs, the Chevy TrailBlazer and GMC Envoy. The fat-rimmed steering wheel fits perfectly into large palms, and the steering has a firmness that's reassuring on the highway without being annoying in the parking lot. Hummer engineers shortened up the Colorado's 40-foot turning radius to a manageable 37 feet. The H3's four-wheel antilock disc brakes are electronically controlled, but they feel just like conventional hydraulic brakes in normal driving. Shifting into 4 Hi Locked or 4 Lo changes the ABS calibration, so you get a little more wheel lock. This is beneficial in off-road situations, a Hummer engineer explained, because the lock-up pushes dirt in front of the tires, resulting in shorter stops. Quality Materials Inside With its clean design and quality materials, the H3's cabin is one of the very best in the GM lineup. A navigation system will be available as an option midyear. You won't find the fun gimmicks of the Hummer H3 concept in the cabin, but it's one of the cleanest layouts we've ever seen in a GM vehicle. And there's some style to boot: two-tone décors, contrasting piping on tailored leather seats and almost-real metallic trim around the instrumentation. Materials quality is well above the low-rent trim in the Colorado and TrailBlazer. Some of the textured plastics are reminiscent of what you'd find in a Land Rover, while the standard cloth upholstery looks good and feels like it could take a beating. The front seats are supportive, but don't expect a commanding view of the road unless you're tall. This may be the smallest Hummer, but it still has the signature high cowl and short glass area. Seat-height adjustment is available only if you spring for leather. In back, there's enough leg- and foot room for the average-size adult to get comfortable, though an intrusive cupholder unit in the center position restricts its use to the car-seat crowd. Cargo capacity is below average for this class, but a side-hinged cargo door provides easy access to the 29.5-cubic-foot bay (55.7 with the seats folded). The door can be a bear to close with the weight of the full-size spare, so prospective buyers may want to start doing push-ups. Bad Boy in a Suit A 4-to-1 transfer case gives the 2006 Hummer H3 an excellent crawl ratio, allowing it to ease down rocky slopes without the benefit of hill descent control. Pricing starts at $29,500 for a cloth-lined H3 with a 2.64 transfer case, a manual transmission and 32-inch Goodyears. Adding the $1,025 Adventure Package gets you the 4-to-1 transfer case, a rear locking differential, 33-inch Bridgestones and firmer suspension tuning. The $3,125 Luxury Package adds leather upholstery, power-heated front seats and a Monsoon stereo. Side curtain airbags are a stand-alone option. We doubt many Grand Cherokee owners will give up their Hemi for an inline five. But the otherwise well-rounded 2006 H3 is proof that Hummers clean up real good. Just make sure to drive over the neighbors' flowers every so often so they don't get the wrong idea. We're told the 2006 Hummer H3 adds the final piece to GM's most distinctive brand. At least for now. First Impressions: It needs more power, but with its comfortable interior, exemplary road manners and class-leading off-road capability, this is GM's best midsize SUV.