Hummer H3T – super capable off-roader fending off the “perfect storm”

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

As sales dwindle and the brand looks for a new owner, the “right size” Hummer H3 sport utility vehicle is still an award winner.

In 2008 the H3 captured Four Wheeler magazine’s “Four Wheeler of the Year” award, Truck Trend magazine’s “Best in Class” honors, and Intellichoice’s “Best Overall Value of the Year” in the intermediate utility segment.

The mid-sized truck-based H3 sport utility offers a fun-to-drive experience, especially for people who like to ride high and enjoy occasionally leaving hard pavement on purpose.

And even though the Hummer brand seems permanently stuck in the nowhere to go ditch, General Motors at least unleashed something new for the brawny brand that has suffered mightily through high gas prices and now a slumping economy.

The H3, based on the Chevrolet Colorado pickup, is the best-selling Hummer model and although 2008 sales were only half of 2007, the H3 still sold more than 20,000 copies representing about 75 percent of total Hummer sales. And as off-road awards piled up, its worldwide sales actually increased.

So perhaps it should not be surprising that what little resources GM had set aside for the truck brand would be plowed into the H3.

GM created a visual knockout adding a practical, rugged crew cab truck to the now stagnate mid-sized pickup segment. The new configuration for 2009 is called the H3T. It comes with a 22.3- inch longer wheelbase than the standard H3, a miserly five-foot long bed, and gargantuan ground clearance — up to 10.2 inches with 33-inch tires — with 38.7 and 30.9 degree approach and departure angles.

General Motors likes to tout the H3’s off-road capabilities, which are enormous, according to journalists and owners who have experienced the truck in the dirt.
The same off-road prowess is available with the pickup version.

Included is a sophisticated four-wheel drive system. Under normal conditions, the Hummer’s all-time four-wheel drive transfers power 40 percent front, 60 back. Lock it into four-wheel drive mode and the torque is distributed 50-50. Low range is electronically controlled. 

If you add the Adventure Package or the off-road suspension package, you will get a super-low range that allows for crawling over rocks at 1.7 miles per hour. In addition to class-leading ground clearance and approach and departure angles, the H3 can ford up to 24 inches of water.
The standard engine across the lineup is a 242-horsepower 3.7-liter 5-cylinder making 242 pound-feet of torque, which in many applications would provide exhilarating performance. But mounted in the H3T the engine is asked to pull nearly 5,000 pounds, and that’s a tall order. Figure a leisurely 10 seconds from 0-to-60.

Note that the 5-cylinder can be purchased with a five-speed manual transmission, something that may interest serious off-roaders.

Beginning in 2008, the H3 was offered with GM’s 5.3-liter V-8 cranking out 300 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque mated to a four-speed automatic transmission. That’s the engine that came in our H3T Alpha — Hummer’s head-scratching designation for the V-8 — and we found it a more amiable companion than the smaller 5-cylinder.

In addition to moving smartly from stoplight to stoplight, many owners may ask the H3T to pull a boat or trailer. And it’s up to the task with a tow rating of 4,500 pounds for the 5-cylinder and 5,900 pounds for the V-8.

The H3T is entertaining on winding stretches of road, belying its off-the-road prowess. Enter your favorite stretch of curves and you will find the truck stable without a lot of sport utility lean.

With the off-road package, you will have to endure a real honest-to- goodness truck-like ride. But it wasn’t a problem for us.

Perhaps it’s politically incorrect to say, but we had an enjoyable week in the brawny guy, his thirst for liquefied black gold the only downside. Gas mileage is definitely an issue measured at 13 mpg city and 16 highway. But actually there’s not that much difference when compared to the smaller engine’s also healthy appetite of 14/18. Both engines call for regular gas.

And we enjoyed a few gawkers, who took more than a sideways glance at the truck, measuring up what cannot be categorized as anything else but a true Hummer pickup.
Our test truck sat on the huge 33-inch wheels, which added to the macho look.

Figure on seating for four adults in the H3T. Like most vehicles this size, the middle place in back is uninhabitable. But for four, comfort can be achieved.

The “pillbox” side windows, a necessary design quirk to get the Hummer look, may cause claustrophobic reactions in some people. Make sure you do an extended test drive to determine if you can live in the H3 on a daily basis. The slit-like windows didn’t bother us, and we had no visibility complaints. But a Honda Accord, this is not.

We enjoyed the wonderfully designed seats with an Alpha logo embroidered in the headrests and the upscale industrial-strength interior look.

The H3T starts at $31,395, competitive with four-wheel drive crew cab versions of the Nissan Frontier and Toyota Tacoma. Opt for the V-8 Alpha trim level and the base rises to $36,760. While it might seem like a big chunk of cash, the Hummer comes with a wide assortment of standard equipment including a considerable number of safety features. 

Standard across the lineup include antilock disc brakes, traction control, stability control, full-length side-curtain airbags, tire-pressure monitoring and the GM OnStar communications system.

One standard feature we think truck buyers will like is the bedliner with four covered storage compartments.

Our test truck came with a handful of extras including the $1,725 off- road suspension, which includes electronically controlled full locking front and rear differential and specially tuned shocks, a power sunroof, trailer hitch and wiring harness and body-color grille. Bottom line was $40,300.

The H3T is more than just an image and more than just a prodigious off- roader. It’s a well-mannered truck that is fun to drive as well as fun to be seen in.

The price of admission is rather steep on the MSRP sticker but considering the current conditions and the position that GM and its dealers are in, a good guess is that the H3T can be found at a more reasonable price. Even so the annual gas bill can be daunting, even at the $2.00 per gallon level.

And on a final note, don’t get caught up in the rhetoric of online comment writers who’s identity is only a screwball name – GM will be around for a long, long time – in one form or another and Hummer may go or not, but don’t worry, your warranty will be for real and parts will be available long after you divest yourself of your purchase. 


Base price: $31,495; as driven, $40,300
Engine: 5.3-liter V-8
Horsepower: 300 @ 5,200 rpm
Torque: 320 foot-pounds @ 4,000 rpm
Drive: four-wheel
Transmission: 4-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 134.2 inches
Length: 212.7 inches
Curb weight: 5,069 pounds
Turning circle: 43.8 feet
Cargo capacity: 34 cubic feet
Towing capacity: 5,900 pounds
Fuel capacity: 27 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 16 mpg highway, 13 city
0-60: 8 seconds (Edmunds)
Also consider: Nissan Frontier Crew Cab, Toyota Tacoma Double Cab

The Good

• Best-in-class off-road capability
• Rugged styling
• Comfortable cabin

The Bad

• Five-foot bed length limits hauling flexibility

The Ugly

• Gas mileage is indeed ugly