The 2009 HUMMER H3T Alpha arrived in the Autobog Garage on Election Day, and so it was my transportation to and from the local polling station to exercise my civic duty. I had the HUMMER in my thoughts when I went to cast my ballot, and looking at the paper before me was like seeing the fate of General Motors reflected in this year's presidential election.
Barack Obama was new, different and promised an uncharted path to better times, the physical manifestation for this country of what the Chevy Volt is to GM. John McCain was both fiery and familiar, a well-liked veteran returning once again with a vision for America that was the same but better, just like the new Camaro. If Obama is to the Volt as McCain is to the Camaro, then that would make our current president the HUMMER H3T. It's the lame duck truck.
Photos Copyright ©2008 John Neff / Weblogs, Inc.
Just like President Bush, HUMMER's best days are behind it and any remaining ones are numbered. GM needs money right now to survive and is actively trying to sell it as we speak. Thus, it's fair to assume that the H3T is the last new model we'll see from HUMMER for a long while, if not ever.
Like the standard H3 SUV, the H3T is built on the same platform as the Chevy Colorado pickup and GMC Canyon. Its claim to fame is a five-foot bed out back, which is made possible by lengthening the wheelbase to 134.2 inches, some 22.3 inches longer than the regular H3. The extra inches are immediately noticeable. The truck both looks longer and feels more stable on the highway where its ride quality benefits from the front and rear wheels being farther apart.
We discovered quickly that our H3T with an as-tested price of $39,745 (including $745 in destination charges) doesn't quite match the caricature of a HUMMER that most people imagine when they hear the name. Friends and family who had never seen one sitting in their driveway were surprised by how small it is. This is not a towering H2 or a lumbering H1, but rather a reasonably sized pickup that isn't the shortest or the longest in the mid-size segment.
The exterior design is instantly recognizable and includes such HUMMER trademark design cues as a seven-slot grille, exposed gas gap, HUMVEE-esque wheels, a faux hood vent and the like. Our tester came with the Alpha package, which, along with replacing the standard 3.7L I-5 engine with a much stronger 5.3L V8, also adds a chrome appearance package, 16-inch aluminum wheels and tube steps. Every H3T also gets four underbody skid plates that will likely get used if one takes this longish truck rock crawling.
The interior should also be familiar to anyone who has spent time in an H3, and that's fine as everything works as advertised for the most part. While the HVAC controls are large, easy-to-turn dials, the optional navigation system that replaces the standard radio features very tiny buttons that require your attention to hit the right one on your first attempt. The navigation screen is also positioned vertical and low in the dash, which means the driver is forced to view it at an awkward angle. Aside from the metallic face plate for the navi and temperature controls, the rest of the dash is black, textured plastic.
Climbing into the H3T is a bit awkward as you can almost slide your rear onto the seat with your feet on the ground but not quite, and grabbing the handle on the A-pillar and stepping on the tube rails feels like overkill. Once you're in place, however, the seats are comfortable with wide cushions and foam that's just firm enough. Rear seat occupants also have plenty of legroom, but their cushions have less padding and the bench seat is bolted into place with no fore/aft or seatback angle adjustments.
As mentioned, our H3T tester came equipped with the Alpha package that beefs up the truck with a 5.3L V8 producing 300 horsepower and 320 lb-ft of torque. It moves the 5,069-lb truck with ease and makes us wonder how anyone could live with the standard 3.7L inline five-cylinder that produces just 239 hp and 241 lb-ft of torque. The extra grunt increases maximum towing capacity to 5,900 lbs (up from 4,400 lbs.), but you'll pay a penalty at the pump as fuel economy falls from an already dismal 14 city mpg / 18 highway mpg to just 13 city / 16 highway. The H3T just seemed to consume fuel a quarter tank at a time, with every errand taking a huge gulp from the 27-gallon fuel tank.
We'd be remiss not mention the H3T's serious off-road hardware, though there was no opportunity to test its prowess in the wilds of suburban Cleveland. For those who do take their trucks on safari, the H3T Alpha features a full-time four wheel-drive system with an automatic rear-locking differential. You can pick your drivetrain's poison via three buttons on the dash for four wheel high, four wheel high with the transfer case locked and, for when you're boulder crawling behind a Jeep, four wheel low with the transfer case locked. A front locking differential is also available if you opt for the Off-Road Adventure package.
We suspect only the remaining HUMMER faithful really care about what the H3T can do off-road. We are not among this group. We used our H3T Alpha as a daily driver, the same way a lot of HUMMERs were used a few short years ago when they weren't the poster vehicles for arrogant excess and environmental insensitivity. Nowadays people would have you believe that parking this H3T in your garage amounts to a morally bankrupt move. It's really not, though it may be a stupid one if you don't intend to haul or tow anything, go off-road with it or can't afford its fuel bill.
HUMMER says the short bed out back can carry two dirt bikes, an ATV or a snowmobile, and its got small storage compartments in the bedliner (not lockable) and a rail system for managing your cargo. Thus, it's perfectly clear who the H3T's intended buyer is: adventure addicts who want a big toy to haul around their smaller toys. As that, the H3T makes sense. As a daily driver, not so much.
Aside from its poor fuel economy, the H3T Alpha isn't very comfortable or easy to drive around town. It is a truck after all with a multi-leaf rear suspension that bounces over bumps. Parking is also made difficult with the H3T's extra length, and backing up is perilous with that high tailgate blocking your view. There is a new rearview camera system with a display that hides in the rearview mirror itself and magically turns on when Reverse is engaged, but the camera is positioned above the tow hitch. You get a great view of the hitch and whether any small pets, children or bikes are about to be crushed, but have no idea if you're about to clip the Lexus in the next spot over.
HUMMER has gotten a bad reputation, some it deserved and some not, but we here at Autoblog do respect them for their capability, and some of us even for that over-the-top image others love to hate. The H3T Alpha is a true HUMMER, or at least a true HUMMER of the GM-era. Possibly being the last, it's also the best HUMMER because it's reasonably sized and the pickup bed adds a much needed dose of practicality. The future of GM is at stake, though, and vehicles like the H3T that did well for the automaker a few years ago are now dragging it down. Change is needed and this lame duck truck doesn't have much to offer the new era of autos that will soon be sworn in.
Photos Copyright ©2008 John Neff / Weblogs, Inc.