Story and Photos by Bruce W. Smith
You know you’ve arrived in Coolville when a 10-year-old girls runs up to your vehicle while you’re pumping gas, stoops to get a close look at the badge by the front tire, then runs back to her mom exclaiming, “Mommy! Mommy! It’s an H3!”
Her 30-something mother looks across the island from where she, too, is pumping gas in an SUV, smiles, and says just loud enough so you can hear, “I know, sweetie. Isn’t it nice looking.”
That’ll probably happen a lot—people looking closely at your baby HUMMER and you pumping gas.
It’s just part of the Hummer experience. Some of it wonderful, some of it aggravating. It all depends on what your expectations are of the newest iteration of the HUMMER brand—the 2006 Hummer H3.
There’s no doubt about the H3 getting looks. The styling of this $28,000-plus SUV is very eye-catching whether or not you like the distinctive, angular, Hummer-esque body lines and those super-sized fender flares.
If you want to make an immediate statement, no matter where you happen to be driving, the H3 does so better than any SUV on the road save for its bigger brothers. The exterior styling is bold and in-your-face.
The interior isn’t bad, either. The H3 is fairly roomy being basically the same size as a Chevy TrailBlazer, Ford Explorer, Nissan Xterra, Jeep Grand Cherokee, or anyone of a dozen other mid-size SUVs.
Bucket seats in front and a split bench in the second row provide very comfortable seating with thick bolstering on the sides to keep you in place. Rear passenger room is average for a mid-size SUVs, but the comfort level is a notch higher.
What the H3 has going for it on the interior that many of the competitors don’t is an interior décor that blends ruggedness with a high degree of richness.
For example, the two-tone crème-and-black scheme of the H3 I tested, with the brushed stainless trim around the center stack and instrument cluster, give the interior that rich feel as does the texture in the cloth seats (leather is an option).
Instrumentation is basic with easy-to-see gauges and the HVAC controls are large dial-type knobs that are easy to reach. The driver area, as a whole, is easy to live with.
I liked the rear cargo area, too. The rear hatch swings open from the side, and there’s a heavy duty hydraulic-assist strut at the bottom that actually swings the door open without intervention. The cargo area has heavy plastic on the sides and seat backs and a soft, almost rubber-like pad for the floor. It looks as if it’d take mud, sand, and water in stride.
Highway ride and handling is another area Hummer engineers did well. The H3 rides nice and is very quiet on the inside for a vehicle that looks so rugged.
The H3 is built right there in Shreveport, Louisiana, where the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon pickups are built. In fact, the H3 is built on the Colorado/Canyon pickup chassis and drivetrain.
But even though it shares the same engine and automatic transmission drivetrain as its five-cylinder pickup brethren, the H3 isn’t just an SUV body placed on a pickup frame. The H3 received a lot of engineering changes to keep its off-road reputation intact.
"We engineered the H3 with the ultimate off-road experience in mind, challenging it on the toughest trails," said Todd Hubbard, H3 Ride Ride and Handling Engineer. "The H3 earned its HUMMER badging on trails that defined the capability of its legendary H1 and H2 siblings."
Over a period of three years, says GM, development and engineering teams tested the H3 in places such as Moab, Utah, Tellico, N.C., Silver Lake Sand Dunes in Michigan, Barstow, Calif., Box Canyon, Ariz. and the legendary Rubicon Trail in California.
Based on testing over boulder-strewn trails at Moab and on the Rubicon Trail, engineers added three additional high-strength stamped-steel skid plates to protect the oil pan, front axle, transfer case, and fuel tank.
Testing in Tellico, N.C., verified the H3's ability to ford 16-inches of water at 20 mph, through 24-inch-deep streams at a five-mph pace and traverse mud crossings.
Meanwhile, Michigan's Silver Lake Sand Dunes offered one of many severe testing surfaces for the vehicle's tire development. GM says the Goodyear all-terrain 32-inch tires, standard on the H3, are the largest standard tires in its class and provide optimum traction and an opportunity for increased approach, departure and breakover angles.
The optional 33-inch Bridgestone Dueler A/T tires, like those that came on my test model, were developed especially for the H3, and enable the truck to go almost anywhere with ease. They are as big as those originally used on the full-size H2.
And when it comes to ride and handling, it was in Barstow, California, where engineers meticulously fine-tuned the H3's suspension to successfully perform well in high-speed desert runs. The long front control arms, which contribute to its wider stance, front and rear micro-cellular urethane jounce bumpers, large 46mm mono-tube gas-charged shocks, and front and rear stabilizer bars were all tested to ensure a long, trouble-free life on- and off-road.
Finally, H3 testing in the desert outside of Phoenix, Ariz. (in Box Canyon and thru the Woodpecker Mine, and Martinez Canyon trails) proved its rocker protection, underbody skid shields, tires, suspension and steering tuning could withstand another round of intense and aggressive off-roading.
Nothing during my week driving the H3 here on the Gulf Coast came close to taxing its suspension or handling capabilities—not even a foray into the local forest lands or a jaunt over to New Orleans.
Unfortunately, where the H3 falls short in appeal are in areas that have nothing to do with traction, ride, handling, or all the other traits that make it so great off the beaten path.
First is just getting in and out of the H3; the door openings are short and the step-in height high. So, no matter how you try to get in or out, you have to duck your head and lean.
Once seated there’s another problem: visibility. The H3 has the worst driver visibility of any vehicle on the road save for the big H1. The small windshield, short side windows, and tall door panels (called the beltline) combine to make you feel like you’re riding in a chopped-top street rod. Even the side mirrors don’t help much when you are in heavy traffic or negotiating tight spaces.
Rear visibility is almost non-existent, too. The small rear glass is blocked by the rear seat head rests and the spare tire. You can literally lose sight of a full-size pickup once it gets within 30-feet of your rear bumper.
Another annoyance is the fender flares and big tires. The wide tires and equally wide flares look really cool, but they keep only a small percentage of the spray thrown by the 33-inch tall Bridgestone Dueler A/T tires off the bodywork. Dry weather or wet, the H3 is always going to have dirty sides and windows.
Then there’s the fuel economy issue. The H3 is a thirsty beast, and with the price of gas as it is, will be a costly ride . EPA fuel ratings are 16/19. I found those to be a bit optimistic during my week driving around the Gulf Coast. What I saw was more like 14mpg round town and 17mpg on the Interstate—if you are kind to the throttle.
The reason is the 220hp 3.5L inline five-cylinder is working its little guts out trying to move around the 4,700-pound 4x4. The H3’s anemic power shows up most in heavy city traffic and rolling up on-ramps. You need a deep throttle to get it into the power mode. Put a trailer in tow and the need for a supercharged I-5 or a fuel-injected V8 becomes even more apparent.
But the items I found unappealing will not slow sales of the H3. There are just too may SUV lovers out there who just have to own a Hummer—even if it’s the baby version. Or, maybe just because it’s the baby version.
Either way, potential buyers are looking at the H3 because it’s a cool truck to drive.—Bruce W. Smith
2006 Hummer H3 4WD
Base price: $28,935
Price as tested: $34,284
Major options: Adventure Package ($1,005); 4-speed Automatic w/ Stabiltrak ($1,695); Power sunroof ($800); Towing package ($270)
Engine: Vortec 3500 In-line 5
Horsepower: 220 hp
Transmission: 5-spd manual or 4spd automatic
Drivetrain: 4WD; Hi, Low, with electric rear diff lock
Fuel Tank Capacity: 23 gal.
Length: 186.7 in.
Width: 74.7 in.
Height: 73.7 in.
Wheel Base: 111.9 in.
Ground Clearance: 9.1 in.
EPA Mileage Estimates: (City/Highway)
Manual: 16 mpg / 20 mpg
Automatic: 16 mpg / 19 mpg
Range in Miles: (City/Highway)
Automatic: 368 mi. / 437 mi.
Manual: 368 mi. / 460 mi.
Curb Weight: 4700 lbs.
Gross Weight: 5850 lbs.
Maximum Towing Capacity: 4500 lbs.