H2 Hummer Sings A Fine Tune

An SUV That Defines the Meaning of Sport

By: Keith Burton

I eased the throttle forward as the H2 Hummerís big front left tire clawed slowly up the side of a boulder nearly 17 inches high, then like a high wire artist balancing carefully above the circus floor, I felt the H2ís right front and left rear wheels leave the ground, but I was still moving. Wow, I thought, hereís an off-road vehicle with finesse.

General Motors and AM General  took  the wrappers off their exciting new H2 Hummer in May and gave a few of us journalist a chance to drive it at the Hummer Test Facility in South Bend, Indiana, the same place the super tough H1 Hummer is tested.

First let me get this out right away, the H2 is worthy to carry the Hummer name. This is a seriously capable, luxurious SUV, but with outstanding off road ability. It is practically in a class of its own.

The H2 was designed to carry forward many of the tremendous off road abilities of the more utilitarian H1 Hummer, also known as the HumVee, which is built for military use. The H1, popularized by movie tough man Arnold Swartznegger, is the civilian version of the HumVee.

General Motors has an agreement with Hummer builder AM General to market the Hummer Brand and worked with AM General on the design and engineering of the H2. Their goal was to make the Hummer H2 a civilized vehicle, unlike the H1, which is notorious for its lack of amenities and passenger space. You can thank the stars that the engineers and designers succeeded. The H2 looks like a Hummer, and has much of the performance as well, but has the interior and luxury amenities common with other brands.

Surprisingly, The H2 is also quite comfortable on the highway and around town with a ride that is both smooth and stable. And it draws attention everywhere it goes. While driving through Chicagoís beautiful downtown, we were constantly approached by people wanting to buy it from us.

That brings up the price. The Hummer H2 is about half the price of an H1, which costs nearly $100,000 or more. GM says an H2 should cost you between $48,000 and $54,000 depending on options. This price seems right on target for luxury SUVs, it is even lower than some others, such as the Lincoln Navigator, and Lexus LX 470.

The Hummer H2 is no slouch in the power department either. Under the hood lives a GM Vortec 6000 V8 producing 316 hp and 360 lb-ft of torque. The throttle is electronically controlled, which allowed Hummer engineers to solve a long-time problem with high-power off road vehicles, that is, over-sensitive throttle control. With the electronic throttle control, engineers designed two different programs to control how the gas pedal feels under your foot. A quick feel for when you are on the road, but a longer pedal travel when you shift to four-wheel-drive low. This is pretty neat and allows for much better control of the engine off road and the finesse mentioned above.

The transmission is a sophisticated Borg-Warner electronically controlled four-speed automatic featuring all-wheel-drive in normal mode, and both four-wheel high and low ranges for off road conditions. The system provides a 40/60 percent front to rear split in ďhigh openĒ or when the differentials are unlocked, and a 50/50 split when the transfer case differential is locked.

A big element to the H2ís look and off road ability is its long wheelbase but short overhangs front and rear. That is, the wheels are at the extreme corners of the vehicle, which provides best-in-class approach and departure angles. The H2 can easily climb a 60-degree incline. Just think about that for a moment. The H2 also has an extremely wide tread, at 69.4 inches. This provides extra stability on-road and helps to prevent lateral tipping off road.

H2 engineers also made sure nothing underneath the vehicle will hang up on objects. The exhaust system is routed on top of the frame rails, and a stout skid plate covers all the critical parts in front. Engineers also designed neat ramps for the rear suspension arms to guide them over obstacles.

On back roads and on the trails, the H2 really shines. It is able to ford streams nearly 20 inches deep, and its approach and departure angles provide a lot of confidence in traversing deep trenches when the going gets intimidating. We found the H2 inspires the type of adventurous driving that encourages seeing what the vehicle can do. We can tell you itís a lot of fun.

Inside, you have a choice of leather and fabric seats, or full leather. A split zone control air conditioning system is standard, as is a great sounding Bose CD stereo system and On Star, GMís satellite help system. The extra wide Hummer H2 body means there is lots of interior space, but the huge 96-pound spare tire gobbles up a third of the luggage space. GM officials said all of their surveys reported than owner demanded a spare tire, and the interior was the only place to put it without interfering with off road abilities. Hey, if it gets in the way, leave in the garage.

The interiorís styling may put off some people. While comfortable, the large circular air vents seem overwrought. Also, GM still uses way too much hard plastic panels in its vehicles, and the H2 is no exception. The hard plastic panels seem down market in such an excellent vehicle.

But would that make me not want an H2. Absolutely not. Iím trying to figure out a way to put one in my driveway right now. The H2 looks way-cool, drives great on the highway, and best of all, has extremely good off road ability. Now, the question is, will they be available in enough numbers. GM has carefully selected dealers around the country to sell the H2. The signs are going up at them now. Many are Cadillac dealerships, but there are some independent operations that will sell only Hummers. GM says most H2 dealerships are to provide an off-road track to help demonstrate the H2ís abilities.

Are there more Hummer models slated for the future? The quick answer is, yes. There will be a Hummer H2 sport utility truck, or SUT, and an even more affordable Hummer called the H3 that will be built on a midsize pickup frame. Expect to see the H2 SUT first.

You might want to get in line to order yours soon; the demand is expected to be heavy.

 Basic Specifications: 2003 Hummer H2
Four-door, full-time 4WD sport-utility;
body-on-frame design; built in Mishawaka, Indiana
Base price: $48,000-$54,000
Engine: 6.0L V8
Horsepower: 316hp @ 5,200rpm
Torque: 360 lb/ft @ 4,000rpm
Transmission: 4L65-E 4-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 122.8"

Overall length: 189.8

Width: 81.2"
Height: 77.8
Track F/R: 69.4"/69.4"
Curb weight: 6,400 lbs.
Towing capacity: 7,000 lbs.
Cargo capacity: 40 cu.ft. w/o 3rd-row seat
86.6 w/ 2nd row seats down
Fuel tank: 32 gal.
Estimated range: 350 miles (min.)
Ground clearance: 10.0" (min.)
Turning circle: 43.5'
Brakes: Four-wheel disc w/ ABS
0-60mph: <11.0 sec (factory est.)

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