Photos and words by Ben Wojdyla for PickupTrucks.com
It was 7 degrees out when our 2010 Hummer H3T broke through the inch-thick ice crust hiding deep mudholes at AM General's Hummer driving school. It’s not weather for man or beast or unjustly vilified pickup truck, but the H3T plodded on, barely scraping the truck's hitch. It's this kind of all-terrain, all-condition capability that the Hummer brand sells its products on -- but is the H3T any good battling the sprawling vistas of mall parking lots and home improvement battlefields? Is the H3T good as a truck?
The Hummer H3T might have had the least serendipitous introduction timing of any truck. Ever. In the early 2000s, anything with a Hummer badge was the must-have rig of suburban parents with modest broods eager to park a tough truck in the driveway instead of a minivan. Nothing like these trucks and their unabashedly bold looks had been seen before. Then Al Gore's “An Inconvenient Truth” came out, the green movement took hold, and nearly overnight Hummer's favorable image with buyers shattered almost as easily as the early winter ice. Hummer became a pariah. Fate, she is a cruel mistress.
The H3T is a product so anchored to the perceived sins of its fathers — the H2, H2 SUT and, to a lesser extent, the military-grade H1 — as to make it difficult to consider buying anything with the Hummer seven-slot grille. Off-roaders call it a too-long wannabe; pickup buyers imagine it as a dolled-up Chevy Colorado; and folks high on hybrids think it's the devil. In reality, it's none of those things.
Our H3T tester was an Alpha model, decked out with all the trimmings. Its 300-hp, 5.3-liter V-8 delivered propulsion with 320 pounds-feet of torque, while the Hydra-Matic 4L60 four-speed automatic transmitted that power to the wheels through full-time four-wheel-drive. Front and rear locking differentials and high and low transfer case selections are made at the push of a button, so you never have to get your shoes dirty. Wheels are beefy 33-inch tires and sit in front of four-wheel disc brakes. The front independent, rear solid axle setup makes for interesting compromises to both on- and off-roading. The truck uses a modified version of the platform underpinning the Colorado and Canyon midsize pickup twins, with four passengers comfortably riding in the cabin, five in a pinch.
Hopping into the cabin you're greeted by the H3T Alpha's comfortable leather chairs, which are bolstered and supportive enough to burn hours of seat time on the highway and off-road without complaint. The rear seats are just as nice, with plenty of legroom, although the gun-slit windows and deep tint bring a certain morose atmosphere to the rear. Instrumentation comes via clear, legible gauges, which, aside from providing engine and wheel speed and temperature, don't do much other informing. The low-mounted nav screen has all the expected modern features — navigation, satellite and terrestrial radio, etc. but it feels like something of an afterthought. If you happen to have a Y chromosome, good luck getting any of the physical buttons to function under your meaty fingers, however the touch-screen works fine, though the graphical interface is somewhat lacking.
Piloting the Hummer H3T is something of an enigma. It's a bit ponderous in that up front, the view is excellent; You know exactly where the corners are and never question whether the truck will fit through an opening. Backing up, however, is a little more harrowing. Merging lanes, especially to the right side, is an act of faith. The combination of narrow windows, a freakishly high bed line and the rear passenger headrest all combine to make deciding to merge more akin to using a divining rod than defensive driving practice. Other aspects of visibility were never as disconcerting.
Hauling can be an interesting proposition. The H3T is something of a lightweight when it comes to payload, rated at only 1,031 pounds. That's on par with small trucks, though the H3T sits between midsize and full-size in scale and price. Importantly, you can't comfortably fit a 4-by-8 sheet of anything delicate in the bed.
At the local hardware store, we picked up a sheet of three-quarter-inch MDF board. To securely stow it, we first had to set it inside the passenger side wheel well, then we removed the slick-operating sliding tie downs from the bed rail system. Finally, we laid the sheet down at an angle against the bed wall. We could have perched it atop the wheel arches and angled-up two position tailgate but that seems just as awkward as our three-step stowing maneuver. Another inch or two between the wheel arches and things would have been much better. The 5-foot bed and tailgate wasn't quite enough to comfortably accommodate the fiber board, but it did get the piece home, though a bit nicked.
Look skeptically at Hummer's marketing because tossing a quad or a dirt bike in the back is near fantasy with an amazingly high lift over height and no bumper steps to get up there. We had to vault ourselves using the tire to step up into the bed.
We didn't test its towing prowess, but the H3T Alpha carries a 1,500-pound pulling capacity over the regular T with a five-cylinder engine, clocking in at a respectable 5,900 pounds.
The H3T's ride isn't anything to write home about. It reminds me of the Colorado with a bit more truckish flavor, as a result of its heavier suspension, differentials and bigger tires. We can appreciate that. As one might expect of a vehicle seemingly shaped in a brickyard, high crosswinds challenge the H3T's slab-sided profile, blowing the truck all over the place. Huge anti-roll bars mean turn-in is crisp, braking is solid from discs at all four corners, but on-pavement driving isn't really the Hummer's modus operandi. If you're looking for on-road duty alone, the H3T isn't really designed for the day-to-day grind, the place where the Hummer shines is being a truck as well as a stout off-road vehicle.
To put this to the test, we visited the AM General testing facility, home of the Hummer Driving Academy. The school rests on the bones of the old Studebaker testing grounds and heavy truck manufacturing plant. The facility is 320 acres on the edge of South Bend, Ind., and starts students off with classroom training to familiarize owners and military personnel with the specific capabilities of their vehicles.
The students are first taken to an engineered obstacle course to teach them the basics of approach and vehicle control. It has concrete shelves, groomed rock beds and a stunning 60 percent grade that feels a little weird when you climb it for the first time.
When the instructors are happy with the students’ performance, they head for the woods, where there are 18 miles of trails of wildly varying difficulty.
Since it was a painful 7 degrees outside, we decided to avoid the holes designed to get you stuck for winching and towing training, but we certainly put the truck through a challenging December workout.
We drove through thick, slippery, ice-covered bogs, and on more than one occasion we tested the limits of the truck’s 24-inch fording capability and aggressive approach, departure and breakover angles. Despite the courses being designed before the H3T was a glint in GM’s eye, the truck performed exceedingly well on AM General's course, though we admittedly didn't venture into the really, really, nasty stuff. This course, combined with previous experiences, convinced us this is about as good as buyers are going to get for factory stock truck going off-road — certainly for a midsize truck. Sure, the Power Wagon and Raptor will do it bigger or faster, but good luck getting them down the narrower logging roads without replacing mirrors regularly.
The thing about this Hummer — actually, any Hummer — is that its character sucks you in. As a Hummer outsider, you can't help but approach it now with a weirdly preprogrammed sense of reactionary disdain for the wretched excess it represents. But by the end of your first week, you're wearing military surplus parkas and growing your beard out. It's completely incomprehensible. It's as if the truck was infused with testosterone and it influences your persona. It's a weird mix of all the things you remember loving about trucks in childhood, the things you demand out of modern trucks, and the flaws that make truck ownership not for everyone. As a subset, the Hummer H3T isn't for everyone, but it's a reasonable compromise of many characteristics if you want luxury, capacity and serious capability and are willing to live with some flaws. There aren't any others like it.