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First drive: Hammering the Hummer

2006-10-13 12:06

Hummer H3 - on top of the world

John Oxley

"Climb every mountain, ford every stream" might have been Julie Andrews' words in the "Sound of Music", but there's nothing Mary Poppins about the new Hummer H3, as we found out after doing the very things Julie was singing about in her iconic film.

Yes, we went up very steep, rock strewn hills, we went through a deep stream in a couple of places, we clambered over rocks, churned through some deep mud and thick sand, and gently inched our way down a couple of real steepies.

The course was billed as "extreme", but probably rated about 7 out of 10 - which means it's a lot tougher than most people would ever attempt.

Some people got stuck - a lot - but most of the time I found it was easiest on me and my passengers to leave it in full auto and just burble along.

Yes, the new Hummer H3 is THAT capable, on a par with a new Disco, but without nearly as many complications when it comes to matching the vehicle's controls to the road surface conditions.

It's got permanent four-wheel drive, with 40:60 traction split front to rear, great for hustling along tar roads.

Push buttons

Push another button (you can do this "on the fly" up to around 40 km/h) and it'll lock the centre diff. and give you a pure 50:50 split - in other words you'll still have drive at the rear even if a front wheel is spinning, and vice versa.

Or you can select four-low, which changes the ratios and introduces a LOUD whine from the straight-cut transfer 'box gears. In which case it goes a lot slower and will go just about anywhere.

You'll never be in any doubt about whether or not you're in low ratio!

That simple.

The auto 'box (manual is also available) has proper lockup in each gear, so you can tailor your driving and gear-selection to conditions.

Traction control is standard, which means you're going to keep going even if one axle is right in the air, and the Adventure package includes a locking rear diff. which we'd say is a must if you're really going to play dirty.

Unfortunately for all of the above, reading this is about as far off-road as most potential Hummer owners are going to get when the vehicle starts coming off the General Motors SA's Port Elizabeth production lines in right-hand drive form about the middle of next year.

The cars we drove were among the first left-hand drive versions to have been built in SA for overseas export.

It was a long climb!

With a price tag I estimate will start at just under R400 000 and maybe rise to R450 000, depending on trim and packaging, it's not the sort of car you're going to want to get scratched or bent.

But boy, are you going to look COOL in this one!

General Motors acquired the Hummer name back in 1999, and set about serious marketing, including a court case with Jeep over the rights to use the seven-slot grille.

GM won, and the grille stays.

The first Hummer, the H1, was a civilian version of the illustrious military "Humvee", while the H2 was scaled down a bit, but still weighed almost 4 tons. Both were aimed at an extreme fringe which included film stars and politicians.

For real people

But the H3 is the first Hummer that's for real people who drive on real roads with real kids and dogs and skottel brais and folding chairs.

Yet it plays on the macho image of its bigger Hummer brethren, and as such attracts an equally lunatic fringe of people who want to hug it and stuff, as we found out during the launch.

It's not a pretty vehicle - as we said, no Mary Poppins - but it IS attractive, in a pug-nosed, steroid muscled high road clearance sort of way. A lot like my Boerboel bitch Tessa.

Also like Tessa it doesn't make a lot of noise unless it's roused, at which point the Hummer's in-line, five-cylinder 3.7 litre engine emits a deep growl not unlike Tessa's when she spies lurking Tsotsis.

Left: Tessa

As far as styling goes, the H3 has a tall bonnet, with a fairly upright windscreen, a big chromed grille complete with those seven slats, and a plastic bit on the bonnet supposed to look like air outlet slots.

There are plastic wheel arch flares too (very practical), with massive alloy wheels, but the windows are small and military-looking, giving a quite claustrophobic feel to the interior (unless you open the sunroof, which we immediately did).

At the back your main view is of the huge spare wheel mounted on a side-swinging tailgate.

The interior is something of a contrast, with aluminium-look inserts on the centre console that look really good, while seats come with cloth or leather.

The Hummer cruises on tar quite effortlessly at 120 km/h, though we were under blue-uniformed scrutiny so didn't open it up any more than that, while on rougher roads the suspension ably absorbed minor bumps without throwing us all over the place.


For those who want to ooh and ah over the details GM says the H3 can ford water 400 mm deep at a speed of 32 km/h and cross a 600 mm deep section of water at 8 km/h, and can get out by climbing a 400mm high vertical step.

Ground clearance is 231mm and the maximum break-over angle (the ability of the vehicle to drive over a sharp ridge without the underside snagging) is 25 degrees.

Maximum approach angle is 40 degrees and departure angle of 37 degrees.

Power comes from GM's Vortec engine which has dual overhead camshafts and variable valve timing, giving maximum power of 180 kW at 5 600 r/min and torque of 328 Nm at 4 600 r/min. GM claims fuel consumption of 11.8 litres/100 km but doesn't say under what conditions. Definitely NOT off-road!

The manual transmission is a five-speed unit while the automatic transmission is a four-speed electronically controlled item.

Safety features include a dual-stage air-bag system at the front, plus ABS brakes, traction control and stability control system.

Full specification details for South Africa will become available at the time of launch in mid 2007 - and there WILL be a turbo-diesel version, though no one can say when.


Oh, yes, gas-guzzler or not (and we won't know until we test it properly) it's going to sell.

People are going to queue to get into this 4x4 - in fact the first few months' production is already sold - and because it doesn't have any history here it doesn't carry any baggage, (that's figurately-speaking - it's got a LOT of room for luggage) either.

Hummer will be sold alongside Cadillac and Saab both in South Africa and the rest of the world, with the aim to make it a premium brand.

It is.

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