To say Hummer is going through rough times would be a massive understatement. The brand has taken on a huge negative stigma- the eppitamy of excess, testosterone, and unbridled fuel consumption. An unfortunate recipient of the bad vibes has been the H3 and through few faults of its own. Living in the shadow of the larger H2 we ask- does the new H3T Alpha bring useful truck utility to the table or does it simply live down to the expectations set by the excessive models that came before it? We drive a Hummer H3T Alpha and find out.
Engine: 5.3L V8 | 300-horsepower @5,200rpm 320 lb-ft @ 4,000rpm
Transmission: 4-speed automatic/ Hydra-Matic 4L60
EPA fuel economy: 13-city, 14-combined, 16-highway
Observed fuel economy: 12.83mpg (mostly dirt and snow covered roads at slower speeds)
Tested for: 7 days / 641 miles
Bar none- the meanest and most capable small truck ever. While owning a Hummer isn’t everyone’s style, the H3T is the quintessential go anywhere, do anything, and bring along your friends type of vehicle. Had GM introduced the H3/H3T before the H2, they may have avoided the brands current stigma. Who do we have to talk to get one for a long term test?
- The 5.3L 300hp V8 powers the H3 like the smaller I5 never could
- 33-inch tires and a serious 4×4 system grind through snow, rocks, dirt, water…. anything
- Serious storage potential. GM offers a slew of accessories from a ski rack to a slant back bed cap so you can bring friends and their stuff at the same time
- Recognized for off-road ability by Popular Mechanics and won Four Wheeler Magazine’s 2008 Pickup Truck of the Year
- Uplevel audio system cannot play MP3 files nor does it has an auxiliary input
- A perfect application for Active Fuel Management- but the H3T Alpha doesn’t have it
- You better have a thick skin- people will stare, swear, and make gestures anywhere you go
- Truck bed storage compartments eats up valuable space and do not lock
Driving Dynamics & Performance
What made our particular H3T so special was its 5.3L 300-horsepower V8. Base H3 and H3T models come with a smaller 3.5L inline-5. The V8, included when you upgrade to the H3T Alpha, is a much better match to the H3T’s intimidating exterior presence. If you’ve ever driven an H3 powered by the I5, you no doubt know its bark is much worse than its bite. Dreadfully slow acceleration has been a bane of the H3’s existence from the start- thankfully the Alpha fixes that quite nicely.
Essentially the same 5.3L V8 from the full size Chevy Silverado and GMC Sierra, the engine has been de-tuned slightly for Alpha duty. It’s interesting to note that the V8 does not carry GM’s Active Fuel Management- as it does in the full size truck line. Active Fuel Management cuts off 1/2 of an engine’s cylinders at cruising speed to save fuel with no takeaway in power when you need it. After only being able to muster 12.8mpg during our week stint in the H3T we’re curious why AFM was not included. We do concede much of that driving was on snow and dirt covered back roads and we may have fallen in love with the sound of wide open throttle acceleration (it sounds great!). Still- why GM didn’t take the opportunity to integrate a proven fuel saving feature is a bit baffling to us. (Editor’s Note: Hummer let us know that they did start with active fuel management included on the H3T Alpha. Unfortunately- because of the vehicle’s aerodynamics the system would not stay in 4-cylinder mode long or often enough to make a difference)
The extra bump of V8 power makes all the difference. At idle the truck lets out a signature GM small-block growl. While the first Hummer models took luxury over utility, the H3T is the first model out of the brand that we feel properly executes the utility appeal of the Hummer nameplate over being a pimped out box of testosterone.
While a truck in design and form, the H3T drives more akin to a tank. Solid steering and a connected chassis are stiff yet never become tiring. It’s still light in the rear on frost heaves and washboard roads- but stays surprisingly composed. As good as the H3T is on-road, it’s the vehicles off-road ability that really shines. Full time four-wheel-drive, optional 33-inch off-road BFG tires, and fully locking front and rear differentials combined with aggressive approach/departure angles mean you never have to doubt if you can tackle the trail ahead of you.
Design Execution, Appearance, Fit & Finish
Stylistically, the H3 and H3T are two peas in a pod. Each feature dramatic squared off lines, a signature Hummer front end/hood, and wide wheel well flares. From the second row seats forward, the H3 and the H3T are identical. Where the H3T takes a different route is by adding a purposeful truck bed.
It’s amazing how great the H3 looks as a truck. No longer just a luxury SUV with large tires- the H3T is here to get some real work done. For its $38k sticker price the H3T offers quite a bit of utility. The bed is quite deep offering usable space despite it’s compact size. The H3T is complete with four storage cubbyholes and a rail mounted adjustable tie down system. No need for a bed liner, the H3T comes standard with a plastic liner integrated into the storage/tie down system.
The H3T will not be mistaken for anything but a Hummer and other drivers on the road won’t let you forget it. No matter where we drove the H3T we received a strong reaction. Folks gawked, beeped, shouted, and even “gestured” our way at every turn. Most of the time it was simply someone trying to get a better look at a Hummer they had never seen before. Strong glares at the gas station made filling up something we wanted to complete quickly.
Topping off the tank one morning an older gentlemen walked around the H3T, giving it a once over, and walked away shaking his head in disappointment as if we had run over a small child on the way in. Other reactions were more friendly- especially from pickup truck owners. They generally smiled and checked out the small Hummer with admiration. What they were admiring- the truck itself or the “owner” who had enough money to fill the gas tank- is anyone’s guess.
Audio, Electronics, & Technology
We found disappointment in the H3T’s audio system. Sound quality is quite good as is the 6-disk CD changer system. The lack of MP3 file compatibility and an auxiliary input is not. To be fair, Hummer does offer a single disk head unit that can play MP3 files however iPod connectivity and/or an auxiliary input is no go for either systems. Considering the popularity of MP3 players and the H3T’s nearly $40k price tag- this is a huge oversight.
Our H3T Alpha came with XM Radio and OnStar. We’ve long enjoyed both services and wouldn’t buy an H3T without them. GM has also included for the first time a Bluetooth link for hands free cell phone operation. Previously, the only hands free option on any GM model was to use OnStar’s integrated pay as you go minute plans. Bravo to GM for cutting the cord between the two.
While OnStar is a must have in an emergency- not ever needing OnStar is even better. The H3T comes equipped with GM’s Stabilitrak system and it’s among the best stability/traction control systems we’ve ever used. While competing stability control systems often cut in forcefully or act in a abrupt or harsh intervention- GM’s system is well integrated and gentle. We like to call it “the hand of God”. Should the situation arise that you need a little help, it’s like a hand has come out of the sky- gently correcting your path. No fuss- no mess- no abrupt intervention to take you off guard.
But- should the worst happen and you do get in an accident, the H3 is equipped with standard front driver/passenger airbags and roof-rail side curtain airbags. Hummer also offers a rear backup camera as an option for navigating the H3T in tight situations.
Comfort & Ergonomics
One of the biggest turn-offs of a small/midsize truck is the traditionally tiny cabin. Thanks to the H3T’s nearly vertical side profile the interior is wide and spacious. There’s a lot more room inside than what the exterior would suggest. Four-full size doors and seating for five also give the H3T a lot of usability. Comparing the H3 SUV to the H3T, you may think you’re giving up a lot of the SUV’s storage space. In reality- the rear storage compartment on the H3 SUV was never very big to begin with. We much preferred having the truck bed. Hauling around dirt, wood, or anything dirty was never an option on the SUV. With the H3T- its never a question.
Should you require more flexibility out of the H3T- GM has you covered. A wide range of accessories are being offered to tailor the truck to your needs. Bed storage bins, ski racks, and even a military-like slant back bed cap (which we are particularly fond of) are custom fit and ready to go. With an optional bed-extender and thin wheel well humps the H3T can even haul an ATV- something the Colorado and Ranger just can’t do very easily.