Just in time for a dramatic increase in gas prices, the 2006 Hummer H3 landed in my driveway. What timing. Granted, this is the baby Hummer — the svelter, more parsimonious member of the vehicular family favored by California governators and suburban road warriors.
Parsimonious is a relative term here, however, as the Hummer H3 only rates 16 city/19 highway in EPA mileage estimates. If you’re driving it in and around the city or in rush hour commutes, you can be sure to achieve the lower end of that scale. When it comes down to it, the H3 gets about the same mileage as my own Jeep Wrangler (although it feels twice as big), so the consumption rate wasn’t a complete shock to me.
And it’s a far sight better than the Hummer H2, which these days may require a second mortgage on the McMansion to keep filled with Exxon premium.
Hummer has positioned itself as an in-your-face SUV brand. They know the gigantic H2 is coveted by many, yet despised by many more, and the H2′s advertising plays to that. The H3, on the other hand, wants to seduce the despisers by combining a bit more practicality within that beast-like exterior.
To me, the H3 and H2 look pretty different. Where the H2 is a slab-sided monstrosity (and proud of it), the H3 features some nicely turned fenders and softened edges that will be familiar to any Jeep owner.
But not everyone on the road can tell the difference, and I found myself on the receiving end of a few ”tsk tsk” (or worse) stares from drivers who don’t favor the gargantuan Hummer. It’s not for nothing that one automotive writer once labeled the H2 an FUV (Fuck You Vehicle). Given the attitude tossed my way while on the road, the Hummer is one of the rare types of vehicles that allows both the driver and the observer to feel superior.
Not that I felt superior, as the H3 is a little on the large size even for my tastes. It actually felt weird when I first climbed into it — the floor rides high, so your legs stretch out to the pedals as if you’re sitting in a regular sedan, as opposed the chair-like dangling of legs you get in many large SUVs and trucks. It just never felt quite right. However, it is a comfortable and spacious, if somewhat spartan, interior.
Another thing that felt too awkward were the trademark Hummer ultra-short windows, which look good from the outside but are hard to look through from the inside. Visibility is not the H3′s strong suit. For a model that’s being pitched as the smaller, more maneuverable Hummer, it’s no fun to try squeezing it into a garage or street-side parking space. The A-pillar blocks your view of what’s coming at you from the left or the right, while the compressed windows limit your view out the back, turning everyday driving activities into suspense-filled exercises. Some practice helps, but the H3 is truly the type of vehicle that needs rear-parking sensors as standard equipment — a rear-view video system would be even better if, like me, you have lots of kids and small animals running around the neighborhood.
One of the reasons the H3 spends less time at the gas pump than its big brother is under the hood — it derives its power from an inline 5-cylinder engine. It’s adequate for regular driving purposes, but it’s not going to floor you with power. But if you’re in the market for neck-snapping acceleration, you shouldn’t be looking at top-heavy SUVs anyway.
Overall, the H3 is strong entry into the downsized SUV market, and a good choice for those who would feel too guilty driving a 12 mpg monstrosity like the Hummer H2, yet not guilty enough to give up the desire to own an SUV. But don’t fool yourself into thinking the H3 is an energy-friendly automotive choice. Less-thirsty SUVs may be the wave of the future, but the future hasn’t arrived quite yet.