A Modern Chariot

2009, Hummer, H3

Hummer is an automotive brand that could use a little love these days.

As the overall market for SUVs has soured, no brand represents the recent distaste for large, fuel-gulping vehicles more than Hummer.

So when we got a Hummer H3 recently as a test drive vehicle, we had mixed emotions.

Yes, it is fun to sit up so high and be noticed.

But you do feel a little guilty driving something like this in times like this.

Sure, gas prices have come down in the past couple of weeks.

But you can't help but feel that Hummers and other giants of the road got us into this predicament of seeing sub $3 a gallon gas as an absolute steal.

But anyway, off we went in our gargantuan chariot.

We found that driving at less than highway speeds in this H3, which came with a 3.7-liter inline five-cylinder, gave us enough power to handle city and suburban roads nicely.

But when it was time to hit the interstate, the H3 got a little sluggish.

It should be noted that the H3 is also available with a V-8 engine in a model called the Alpha.

Presumably, power in that model is far superior.

That engine, which is a 5.3-liter, makes 300 hp and 320 pounds-feet of torque. Hummer says it has a 0-60-mph time of 8 seconds.

But you'd hate to see what the fuel economy numbers are for that one.

For our tester with the five-cylinder, EPA numbers are 14 mpg city and 18 highway.

In combined driving, we got about 16.

It makes 242 horsepower and 242 pounds-feet of torque.

Perhaps Hummer's strongest attribute is its off-road capability.

The H3 has a 9.1-inch ground clearance, oversized all-terrain tires and standard skid plates.

It is ready to do rock climbing with the best of them.

But most drivers rarely go off road.

So what really counts is how SUVs such as this one handle more civilized surfaces.

For the H3, that would be not too badly.

The ride is very stable, perhaps thanks to it being such a heavy vehicle.

Plus, there is a certain comfort level you get from riding so high and with so much mass around you.

If you can afford the gas, this is actually a pretty good family road-trip vehicle.

As for its looks, it's pretty much a scaled-down version of its larger sibling, the H2.

You get the huge wheel flares, industrial grille, and windows patterned after those of an armored car.

But because it is significantly smaller than the H2, the H3 is more practical.

You can drop off and pick up the kids from school, park without too much difficulty in the supermarket and home-improvement store lots and take your adult friends out for a night on the town.

However, with a cargo capacity of 29.5 cubic feet with seats up and 55.7 cubic feet with seats down, it offers a little less space than what you might expect for a vehicle of this size.

But at least the rear door, which is side-hinged, offers easy access.

Four adults can sit quite comfortably inside, with sufficient head- and legroom.

The H3 comes in three trim levels: base, H3X (which offers more luxury) and the strong-engine Alpha.

The base has 16-inch alloy wheels, full skid plates, air-conditioning, cruise control, OnStar telematics, keyless entry, full power accessories and a six-speaker CD stereo with satellite radio. The H3X gives you a Monsoon audio system with CD changer, leather seating, power and heated front seats, chrome accents and 18-inch chrome wheels.

The Alpha brings the V8 engine as well as the luxury interior from the H3X, but it has 16-inch chrome wheels.

The base model also has an Adventure package that gives you off-road suspension, a shorter-geared transfer case that is suited for off-road use, locking rear differential, 33-inch off-road tires and the Monsoon audio system.

To give the buyer more confusion, 'er, choices, the base model also offers a Luxury package.

That has the Monsoon system, leather seating, heated front seats and oversized floor mats. Other options include a navigation system and a backup assist camera.

Got all that?

The powertrain packages are a little simpler.

All H3s have full-time four-wheel drive and a two-speed transfer case.

The standard transmission is a five-speed manual, with a four-speed automatic being optional.

As we mentioned, the Alpha has the V-8 engine.

The five-cylinder models have a towing capacity of 4,500 pounds.

Towing capacity is 6,000 pounds on the Alpha.

The safety feature lineup is impressive, with antilock disc brakes, traction control, stability control and full-length side curtain airbags all standard.

In National Highway Transportation Safety Administration crash tests, the H3 got the highest score, five stars, for the driver and four stars for the front passenger in frontal impacts.

In side impact testing, the H3 got five stars for the front and rear.

By Rob Douthit

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Images of the 2009, Hummer H3

2009 Hummer H3 front view
2009 Hummer H3 front view
2009 Hummer H3 wheels
2009 Hummer H3 wheels
2009 Hummer H3 rear shot
2009 Hummer H3 rear shot