If there's one brand that screams off-road capability, it's Hummer. Sure, it's getting a lot of heat right now for not having enough smaller engines inside a lighter SUV, but its 4WD prowess has never been challenged. In fact, because there are so many mouthy (should we say naive?) automotive pundits out there as intelligent about judging 4x4 capability as they are about judging professional European soccer teams, it's no wonder they can't see the Hummer brand as anything more than a bloated, outdated hunk of steal and rubber.
The fact is we're never surprised how clueless other automotive "experts" are when it comes to understanding what these vehicles are (capability/ function-driven 4x4s), instead of the politically correct fashion statement they love to hate they've become. We're about judging cars and trucks for their engineering and design realities and not what the latest trend or rap environmentalist might want us to think. That's why we have a Hummer H3 in our Death Valley Torture Test, because it has engineering that allows it to scale and overcome obstacles that most other SUVs could only dream about attempting.
New to the Hummer fold this year is the Alpha performance badge, which incorporates the all-aluminum 5.3L Vortec V-8 engine that produces 295 hp at 5200 rpm, and 317 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm. All this power, along with the tried-and-true 4L60 four-speed automatic, make for a potent powertrain. Couple this with the dominating NV241 transfer case that has an ultra-low low-range gear of 4:1 to give it almost unparalleled crawling ability. The transfer case works as an AWD in normal conditions, can lock the center diff with the push of a button or switch to low range (transmission needs to be in neutral) with another push of a button when the road goes bad.
Our Off Road package gave us the hard-core transfer case and 4.10:1 ring-and-pinion gears to produce a stunning 50:1 crawl ratio (first gear x axle ratio x low range) for super-slow trail crawling. Add to this a set of massive 285/75R16 Bridgestone Dueler All Terrain tires and an electronic traction-control system that allows the front wheels to work independent of the rear wheels (the H3 does offer a locking rear diff) and is able to apply braking force to either front wheel as it senses wheelspin. And because the computer constantly collects input from the transmission, throttle position sensor, steering wheel, and tires, the H3 traction-control system can constantly adjust braking force. The result is a combination of software and mechanical traction-aiding devices that make the H3 one of the strongest players no matter how difficult the trail.
It's not perfect. As you might expect, it's pricey -- the V-8 option starts at $39,900, and it didn't take many options for our unit to get to $45,000. A hefty price, unless of course you expect to spend a lot of time on an extreme 4x4 trail. See how the H3 finished our Torture Test when the full story comes out.
(Note: the following discussion specifically focuses on this vehicle's off-road capabilities, as they relate to our Death Valley Torture Test in the September/October 2008 issue of Truck Trend.)