A kinder (not gentler) Hummer Featured

1:24pm EDT September 30, 2005
It’s almost as if General Motors saw it coming. With gas prices already well above $2 a gallon before being pushed beyond $3 by Hurricane Katrina, you might expect GM’s Hummer dealers to be breaking into cold sweats.

Not at all. The arrival earlier this year of the H3 gives the tough-as-nails Hummer line a kinder — though not gentler — sibling.

While the H3 is not going to have your Sierra Club friends patting you on the back, it’s 20 mpg highway and 16 mpg city EPA rating put it comfortably on par with more prosaic SUVs. Most of that improved mileage comes from the simple fact that the H3 is smaller — 16.8 inches shorter, 6.5 inches narrower and 1,700 pounds lighter than the behemoth H2.

Of course, the smaller size makes a smaller dent in your wallet — much smaller, in fact. The new H3 carries a base price under $30,000, though we would opt for a fully decked out unit in the $36,000 range. Contrast that with a $53,000 sticker price on an entry-level H2 (easily reaching $60,000 with options) and more than twice that for the original Hummer H1.

Worried that a smaller stature and lower price would come at the expense of a Hummer’s essential Hummerness, we wanted to put the H3 to the test. Fortunately for us — and everyone else in Northeast Ohio — Central Hummer has just opened a new East Side location, complete with a nine-obstacle test track at 25975 Central Parkway in Beachwood.

After a couple of trips around the short, obstacle-laden course, we found the H3 is every bit as capable — and in some ways more capable — than big brother H2. Sure, it gives up a little in clearance (about 9 inches versus 10.7 for the H2), but its smaller size makes it more nimble and its welded, box frame construction gives it more strength and stiffness.

From the first obstacle on the test track — the rock ’n’ roller, which showcases the optional locking rear differential’s ability to propel the 4,700-pound H3 forward with traction on only one wheel — to the 40-degree side slope to the concluding 60-degree incline and V-ditch, the H3 ably handles everything the track throws at it, even in the hands of an inexperienced off-roader.

The most impressive feats the H3 handled with aplomb were, as expected, those that required going up and over formidable impediments to forward progress. At the vertical step, the H3 worked its way up and over a 16-inch-high concrete “step” with minimal effort.

Those with fear of flying may want to avoid the 60-degree incline, a 12-foot-high hill that leaves you staring at nothing but blue sky on the way up and solid concrete on the way down. What’s particularly impressive on the way down is the H3’s ability to walk itself down the hill, without aid from the brake, thanks to an incredibly low reduction ratio in the transfer case that results in speed of just 1.7 mph at 1000 rpm (with the Adventure option package).

The Hummer test track is open to potential buyers during normal business hours. And according to General Manager Bruce Johnson, there is no shortage of buyers.

“Sales have been very good,” he says. “The H3 has brought in a lot of people that probably would not be a Hummer buyer.

“There’s no certain type of people buying this,” he adds. “The same was true with the H2. People thought it was mostly athletes, but a lot of the people who first bought the H2 were entrepreneurs — individualists.”

HOW TO REACH: Central Hummer East, (216) 514-2700 or www.centralhummer.com