Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited vs. Hummer H3T – Click above for high-res image gallery

Last year, we compared the dirtside manners of the Hummer H2 and Toyota Land Cruiser. Both trucks did everything we asked of them, but at the end of the excursion we were left with another question begging to be answered: could the Hummer H3T stand up to the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon? These cruiserweights live on a fatter part of the buying curve, and any time a Jeep is summoned to the ring, the other vehicle is inevitably the challenger. Even though the H3T is still relatively new to the world, it came time to find out if it was ready to stand up and fight for its place. Follow the jump to see how it held up.

Photos Copyright ©2009 Jonathon Ramsey / Weblogs, Inc.

In one corner, we have the 2009 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited and in the other, the 2009 Hummer H3T fitted with the Adventure Package that adds such off-road accoutrement as 33-inch tires and a locking front differential. Get the two together for stats and weigh-in, and this is what you come up with:

Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon Hummer H3T w/ Adventure Package
Price $32,840 $34,065
Engine 3.8-liter V6 3.7-liter inline-five
Transmission Four-speed Automatic Five-speed manual
Peak HP @ RPM 202 hp @ 5,200 RPM
239 hp @ 5,800 RPM
Peak Torque @ Rpm 237 lb-ft @ 4,000 RPM
241 lb-ft @ 4,600 RPM
EPA Mileage (city/hwy) 15/19 mpg
14/18 mpg
Curb Weight 4,442 pounds 4,911 pounds
Length 184.4 inches 212.7 inches
Width 82.8 inches 85.1 inches
Wheelbase 116 inches 134.3 inches
Ground Clearance 10.1 inches 10.2 inches
Approach 44.4 degrees 38.7 degrees
Breakover 20.8 degrees 20.2 degrees
Departure 40.5 degrees 30.6 degrees
Tires 32-inch 33-inch
Suspension Solid axle with locating arms,
coil springs, track/stabilizer bars,
gas-charged monotube shocks
(Front) Independent SLA torsion bars,
gas-charged monotube shocks,
tubular stabilizer bar, (Rear) multi-leaf
semi-elliptic dual-stage leaf spring,
gas-charged monotube shocks, stabilizer bar
Additional Electronic sway bar disconnect,
front and rear locking differentials,
Dana 44 Heavy Duty front and rear axles,
4.10:1 low, 3,500-lb max tow rating
Locking front and rear differentials,
4.03:1 low, 4,400-lb max tow rating,
1,090-lb bed payload capacity

The H3T is materially more vehicle, and it shows everywhere. You get more room inside, a better ride, and more power, but you lose out on things like approach and departure angles due to the Hummer's overhangs. Would it matter? We thought it time to find out.

But first we'd have a snoop around the two trucks. The Rubicon's styling gives only the merest nod to the word "design" – it's two rectangles with fender flares and bumpers. And for that, we like it. As with most Porsche products, the Jeep's exterior styling hasn't changed much over the last few decades – form follows function, and to good effect. If someone pulled up in a Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon and asked if you wanted to go for a bite, they might mean heading to the local Ruby Tuesday's or driving to the Pampas to slay some Argentine beef. The Rubicon, especially with a liberal coat of mud, is just that kind of contraption.

However, the rest of the Wrangler doesn't venture far beyond that level of nuance. In our previous review, we noted the Rubicon's asceticism and called it out for being "a Protestant affair." That's a fair description at best and, depending on how long you drive or where you're sitting, you might replace that with "penitent."

The original Willys Jeep was made in response to World War II. The Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited appears to have been made in preparation for World War III. Assuming that such a conflict transports us back to a quasi Stone Age, here is a quasi Stone Age vehicle with which to tackle that retro future. There is nothing wrong with it – it's just radically basic. Even though the seats were wrapped in cloth, the interior screamed "Clean me with a hose," something the Rubi's owners would be all too happy to oblige.

Get on the move and you'll discover, as one of our fellow drivers remarked, "Every road is bumpy in the Rubicon." The short-ish wheelbase, high ride height, and a suspension tuned for Battlefield Earth will have you experiencing more good vibrations than you ever wanted. And that's if you're sitting in the front seat. If you're unlucky enough to be banished to the rear bench, with its Lilliputian bolsters and crippling lack of leg room, the encounter could give you PTSD and violent flashbacks every time someone mutters the word "Rubicon."

Yet the Rubicon knows its chosen habitat, and it knows its customers: Jeep-o-philes want a vehicle capable of doing the beat in town and capable of going anywhere off-road. Make no mistake: this is that truck.

The H3T is not merely a horse of another color – it's an entirely different breed of equine. Hummer also knows its customers: They want to go anywhere and will pay a little more to get a little more. The nearly 500-pound weight difference doesn't just come down to footprints: there's a great deal more finish in the cabin: a thick, leather-wrapped steering wheel, more tactile controls, a six-disc CD changer, rear view camera, and a proper rear bench with great seating for two and just enough for three. And the ride is actually pleasant.

The H3T's giant 33-inch rubber certainly doesn't hurt, but the extra inch over the Jeep's BFGs isn't the only thing responsible for its vastly smoother road manners. Heavier and with a longer wheelbase, the H3T is planted where the Rubicon is petulant, and the extra cabin materials make for a more serene experience when ambling along at speed.

Unfortunately, getting up to those speeds is far less pleasurable. While the H3T has no issues gobbling up flat expanses, the inline-five needs a walker and a case of Red Bull when the time comes to get uphill quickly. Inclined roads suck the gumption out of the H3T and while downshifting is the only solution, when you finally reach peak output, the cabin fills with the din of internal combustion exertion. This truck will go, but it won't be quiet about it.

The complete package is wrapped in a look that's unmistakably Hummer. In a word: chunk. Lots of it. And while we enjoy the H3T's looks, at least two of our companions agree that although it's attractive, they couldn't deal with the badge. "I like it and I could even see having one," our grizzled bunkmate told us, "except... it's a Hummer."

The key, then, was to get both trucks to the kind of lonely, boulder-strewn playing field where brand judgments are dropped and the only measure of worth is arriving at the destination in one piece. Our chosen arena was the seven-rated, 23.5-mile Pleasant Loop Canyon Trail in the Panamint Range, adjacent to Death Valley. It peaks at 7,400 feet, with a trailhead of 300 feet. Between those two checkpoints were rocks, ruts, side slopes, trenches, a narrow and vertiginous bridge made of logs, and mud. Lots and lots of mud.

First-up: the Wrangler. Jeep absolutely owns this metier – lords over it – and the experience is as basic as the SUV itself, but shorn of its rough edges. Or rather, you don't notice them because – let's face it – you're crashing over everything.

Things getting a little tough? Put it in low and let it go. Things getting a lot tough? Hit one or both buttons and lock the diffs. Need – or just want – a little bit of sway? Press the buttons to release the bars and live a little. We wouldn't have minded a more substantial steering wheel, but the wheels don't need ham-fisted guidance if you know what you're doing.

Part of the Rubicon's basic-ness is its engine bay, where the V6 has so much room there's a good view of the ground underneath. While this was nifty in The Good Old Days, it wasn't so nifty when mud flew up and settled unevenly on the fan, causing the propellers to elicit a wobbling racket that made little sense to deal with until we got out of the mud... which took a while. Nothing a shroud couldn't fix, but we were surprised it wasn't included in the standard packaging.

Nevertheless, it was a quintessential Jeep experience. The Jeep asks no questions; it only delivers answers, simply saying, "Sure, I'll do it." The Wrangler is the ultimate no frills off-roading device, allowing you to feel what you're doing intimately and unabashedly.

The experience in the H3T in many ways mirrored that of the H2 in our previous comparo. The H2 was called "The off-roader for idiots" because all that's required is to point and press the gas. Rocks appeared to turn to jelly beneath it, so you didn't feel much in the process.

The H3T didn't quite have the juggernaut factor, but it did get plaudits from all its occupants for being a markedly different beast than the Jeep. Specifically, it was capable and comfortable. Nice cabin, big plush seats, slightly bigger wheels, larger, firmer stance and plenty of suspension travel meant a little less time thinking about what you were doing, a little more time enjoying what you were doing.

But the Hummer's slightly wider track could prove to be its undoing. Approaching a sign that warned "narrow bridge, tight turns" the route book warned that the coming section was "not recommended for extra long or wide vehicles." Because the ascending switchback was so thin, if you committed to going up, it was going to be a hellacious experience getting back down if you needed to back out.

Naturally, we went up.

Who knew 2.3 inches – the difference in width between the Jeep and the Hummer – could mean so much? The road had been blown out decades ago, and what remained wasn't generous. The path and the bridge predated the birth of the consumer-grade Hummer and the widebody SUV, proving that the log book was both up-to-date and wasn't lying about the narrow passageway. Getting across the bridge and the rest of the trail, then around a tight, right-hand, off-camber turn that leaned to the left was a matter of tucking one's mirrors, thinking of nothing but following the spotter's instructions, and tres doucement on the throttle.

The Hummer's width, though, would play the opposite way when we got to rutted sections. While the Jeep's passengers leaned into it, the H3T was wide enough to stay level, straddling the dips in the road. Does that make a difference? By itself, not really. It's just another situation where you can be slightly more comfortable and it adds up over a full day on the trail.

And speaking of a full day...

Having allotted the recommended 6.5 hours to cover the course and taken a short lunch to ensure we wouldn't be digging in the dark should a snafus arise, we ended up getting done well ahead of time and without, to our mind, ever having really exercised the vehicles. We aren't sure if the trail was rated before regular four-wheel drives got this good, or if these two trucks really are just this competent. But the ending came too soon, before we even realized we'd covered the thrilling bits.

However, that's not to say it was boring. There were plenty of moments where the boulder soup was thick enough to require a spotter, the ascent elicited full extension from both vehicles' suspensions numerous times and the slip-n-slide mud sections, including an almost tropical set in a cut on the descent, were equal parts thrills and "Pay attention!"

All of which is to say that just because we wanted more doesn't mean these SUVs didn't give us plenty. For both the Jeep and Hummer, the question isn't, "Can they do it?" It's "How do you want to do it?" They both got in the ring, fought the whole fight, and didn't need more than a sponge off if asked to do it again. The overhang issue never came up and we were never left wanting for more.

So, why would you buy the Jeep? You want something that will go anywhere, that will do it simply, and that will be easy to fix. You might want to rock crawl and that's where the two-door Wrangler comes in. For some, you want something that doesn't say Hummer on it. But you'd be mistaken if you're buying a Jeep because you think it's better out of the box than the Hummer.

Why would you buy the Hummer H3T? That's like asking "Why would you want to be able to go anywhere off-road and be comfortable?" And after performing a variety of feats in the mountains, the desert, the streets, and in the Baja 500, all we can say is, these Hummers have the goods.

However, we're not about to declare it the outright winner. Depending on what you require from your 4x4, size could matter. But the H3T is just as good as its Pentastar foe on the trails and even better on terra firma. And if WWIII does come around, we're going to be looking for a combination of go-anywhere capability and comfort when the zombies finally attack.

Photos Copyright ©2009 Jonathon Ramsey / Weblogs, Inc.

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