2008 Hummer H3 SUV Alpha

I'm Hummering this week, in the H3 Alpha: a high-performance version of the brand's smallest platform. The H3 combines the off-road capability Hummer is known for with a smaller footprint that's easier to live with in the real world. It fits easily in a standard garage, and while average fuel economy of fourteen miles-per-gallon is nothing stellar, it's considerably better than for the larger H1 and H2.

The Alpha grade replaces the H3's standard 3.7-liter inline five-cylinder engine with a 5.3-liter pushrod V8. In the world of engine builders, there are overhead cam guys and pushrod guys. General Motors has traditionally been of the pushrod camp: I'm glad to see the Alpha's 300-horsepower block follow in this tradition.

Pushrod engines tend to rev lower, which can have benefits on a vehicle like the H3. The block has a relatively low compression ratio, allowing it to run just fine on 87 octane fuel. The slower revving, low compression combination makes for good long-term durability, especially in a vehicle designed to go off-road and haul big loads.

While some car aficionados consider pushrod engines to be "old school," there's nothing old fashioned about the Alpha powerplant. An aluminum block and cylinder heads minimize engine weight, and optimize the powertrain's front-to-rear weight balance.

Engineers mated the V8 to a 4L60 Hydramatic transmission: a longitudinal four-speed automatic that's especially good for towing. An independent front suspension gives the Hummer a compliant ride, while a leaf-spring rear end keeps the truck more stable when a trailer is attached.

Refined On-road Performance

Its smaller footprint is just one of the reasons that the H3 is the best Hummer choice for city dwellers. The powertrain, steering and suspension have much more of a passenger car feel. In order to maximize ground clearance, the Hummer sits taller than the average sport-utility vehicle.

But unlike the larger H1 and H2, the H3 has a relatively low step-in height. As a five-foot, six-inch tall woman, I found it easy to slide into the driver's seat, sans running boards. The tall wheels make for a higher liftover height in back, but most people should find the rear cargo area easy to load in.

Curb weight is just over 5000 pounds. That, combined with the H3's high profile, two box design means that the engine must work harder to accelerate from a stop. The 5.3-liter engine has sixty horsepower and eighty foot-pounds of torque more than the smaller block.

The extra power makes it easy to merge into high-speed traffic, and weave around slower vehicles during rush hour. A throaty exhaust note is a nice touch, reminding the driver that this alpha male is all business.

A thirty-seven foot turning radius makes it easy to maneuver the baby Hummer into the average parking spot. Power rack-and-pinion steering has a positive on-center feel at speed.

A small back window creates some large blind spots to the rear of the car. An optional rearview camera, not on the test car, is a good idea for drivers who need to back into small parking spots, and especially for parents. The high rear sightline makes it almost impossible to see small children who might be playing in back of the truck

Standard four-wheel discs with four-channel antilock brakes stop the truck in a firm, linear fashion. Sixteen-inch chrome wheels on the test car are equipped with optional Bridgestone on/off-road radials. The tires have bigger void areas to give the Hummer better off-road traction. Surprisingly, road noise is no greater than for the average four-season on-road radial.

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