What's it about?
The Hummer is a legacy not of American foreign policy - forget about the US Army 101st Airborne rushing Iraq in them - but rather of Arnie, more eloquently known as Arnold Schwarzenegger, the current govenor of California in the US.
Only the Terminator could bring something so militarily utilitarian to the market, and it could only have happened in America.
Legend has it the big man saw a military convoy of H1 Hummers during the early 90s and decided he wanted one - now. He came to own the first H1 Hummer converted for civilian use and the rest is history.
The original Hummer was thoroughly compromised as a road vehicle, yet it proved immensely popular. The softer H2 version which followed was simply the only car to be seen in if you were an aspiring small-time gangster.
Now the locally manufactured H3 version is aiming to steer the brand through a quagmire of environmental regulation and 4x4-bashing lobby groups by being smaller (it's about the size of Toyota's Fortuner), more efficient and without any of the H1's gun-toting stereotypes.
It looks like a Tonka-toy. And people love it. But don't be fooled by its appearance - the H3 is not an oversized SUV. In fact it's smaller than a Land-Cruiser 200, although its bulbous wheel arches, oversized bonnet hinges and chrome-slatted grille all combine to distort proportions.
Heavy-duty recovery points look the part. The bull bar is not particularly well-finished and with the thin-diameter piping used to put it together, it hardly looks the part on closer inspection either.
H3 does feature some of the better American SUV interior design I have seen. It has a very neat centre-stack featuring easy-to-use stereo and air-conditioning controls. The absence of steering wheel-mounted satellite controls are an irritating omission, though.
Onlookers perpetually quiz you about just how hard it is to drive. Well, with typically over-assisted American-spec power-steering, it's pretty easy to cruise around in.
Under the bonnet
Don't expect anything too mechanically sophisticated. The H3 rides on a ladder-type chassis, features leaf suspension with semi-elliptic springs at the rear, yields 216mm of ground clearance and is powered by an under-stressed 3.7-litre five-cylinder petrol engine producing 180kW and 328Nm.
Power is continually split between all four wheels by a four-speed automatic gearbox, with button-selectable low-range.
Overall though, especially in eye-popping Canary Yellow, the Hummer H3 has indelible presence - whether you like it or not.
On the road
If you can fit inside it (this is a key issue), start it up and drive it along, you'll be surprised by the H3's remarkable cruising refinement. The oversized body-panelling provides plenty of sound-insulation, and beyond the off-road suspension and tyre combination jiggling occupants on uneven tarmac surfaces, H3 can be used in urban conditions without much frustration.
On-road performance is ponderous though. The inline-five cylinder layout allows great refinement, but the four-speed automatic transmission is plainly slothful. And although 180kW might sound game, 328Nm is hardly sufficient for adventurous 18-wheeler overtaking manoeuvres.
Space though, is a major issue. Forget about travelling four-up if more than one of your passengers is a South African-spec adult male. Interior space is simply Lilliputian.
As mentioned before, the H3 is a vehicle of surprisingly sober dimensions, despite its perceptive bulk, and you pay the price in on the inside. I have two friends who are 1.9m-plus and they had to grab onto the roofline and swing themselves out of the rear doors - the bulbous rear wheelarches nearly halve your rear access points.
You simply cannot do long-distance touring in it with a full complement of mates and gear. Leg-, elbow-, and most disconcertingly, head room, is claustrophobically proportioned. The tiny windows create a calamitous problem of blindspots in general driving too.
And the anarchic pull-twist-and-release handbrake hits your leg continuously whilst driving. Beyond these foibles you do get amble get with a top-drawer sound system, power and heated front leather seats and typically efficient American spec air-conditioning.
After driving it on tar to the 4x4 test track, I did not think the H3 would be overly impressive off-road.. I was frustrated by the cramped cabin and lackadaisical performance, and I was sure the auto 'box would seriously hamper off-road capability.
I was quite wrong, actually. With tyre pressures let down and low-range engaged, it simply ambled over everything. Leave the auto 'box in second gear, try to control the odd-travel throttle, and H3 glides over rock obstacles.
As bulky as it appears on tar, the H3 exhibited near perfect weight distribution - and this was probably the most impressive off-road attribute - allowing one to engage obstacles with requisite momentum without fearing a sudden transfer of weight might unbalance the H3.
Ace push-button high-low transfer case
Another impressive feature was the electronically controlled push-button transfer case. I generally dislike these, believing they add mechanical complexity and failure concerns off-road. It allows you to seamlessly engage 4H "on the fly" up to around 40 km/h though - handy for secure 50:50 split all-wheel drive handling on forbidding dirt-roads.
Despite my reservations the H3 kept engaging from '4H' to '4L' during a whole day's worth of punishing off-roading. It didn't baulk a single transfer case engagement, despite being driven very hard. H3 has by far the best electronic transfer case engagement I've yet come across.
The auto 'box coped admirably, yet the engine is about 25kW and 50Nm short of compensating for its sluggish shift action and sparsely spaced ratios off-road. For ultimate dune climbing, the five-speed manual would be a more apt choice.
GM's traction control system can prove bothersome off-road. Even when depressed and allegedly disengaged, it would come into play time and time again - especially when some wheelspin was desired to cross climb sandy obstacles.
The tiny windows and plethora of blind-spots hamper visual recognition of obstacle crossing routes too. You're better off going on irritating foot-reconnaissance, simply because the Titanic width of the A-pillars obscures your forward three-quarter view.
And forget about opening or closing the tailgate on an incline or decline respectively. Housing the spare-wheel it's helluva heavy and requires some effort to manhandle open or closed if the H3 is not on a level surface.
It's a rather curious vehicle, the Hummer H3. With such elaborate styling, it's hardly for shy, retiring types. Most will probably end up as urban posing vehicles, which is unfortunate considering the H3's latent off-road ability.
The awfully cramped interior is an issue, and more so the pity, for this is probably one of the more pleasant American SUV interiors from a trim, design and quality perspective.
Pricing is extremely competitive though. You simply cannot get a comparable blend of image and off-road ability anywhere else for R444 750, even if practically is not strictly part of the equation.
So, if you can actually fit inside one and love being the perpetual centre of attention, it's an endearingly loveable rogue. For long range bushveld reconnaissance missions or five-up family vacations though, there are better Japanese SUV choices for the money.
Great styling, constrained proportions
Real off-road ability
Slow, unsophisticated autobox
Ludicrously cramped interior