High Sierras Rock Crawl! 2009 Hummer H3T


Does any truck brand have a less-certain future than Hummer? It’s been vilified as the poster child for global warming and conspicuous consumption, and it’s been waved around like a Frankenstein-chasing torch by angry politicians yelling that GM should have been building Smart cars instead of SUVs and pickups when gas was under $2 a gallon. While the legs of U.S. car and truck sales have been amputated below the knees in 2008, Hummer appears to be on life support, with a Hummer-yellow “do not resuscitate” order stapled to its chest.

Under these circumstances, the task of launching Hummer’s latest truck -- the all-new 2009 H3T pickup -- might be the least-desirable job in Detroit right now. This could explain why its “you can take on the world” sales pitch has become almost as safe and tired a mantra as “Hummer is evil,” even though the H3T is one of the most exciting pickups to come along in the past several years.


Hummer is missing an opportunity to tell potential buyers about something else its new rig can do, besides climb mountains and ford streams: When used properly, owners will forget everything except how to drive the next 5 feet. What’s better for drivers assailed by bad news and workday stress than that?

We had our first experience tuning out everything but the trail in the H3T when we rock-crawled the 300-horsepower, 5.3-liter V-8 Alpha model with 320 pounds-feet of torque and a four-speed automatic on Hell’s Revenge in Moab, Utah. The real deal, however, came when we recently drove the less-powerful but more-memorable 3.7-liter five-cylinder H3T in the High Sierras.

What was so special about an engine with an odd number of cylinders, almost 60 fewer horses and 80 fewer pounds-feet of torque than the H3T’s powerful V-8? This H3T was equipped with a five-speed manual transmission and the optional Adventure package. The trail was a lot tougher, too.


Our destination was Red Lake in the Dinkey Lakes Wilderness, off California State Highway 168, near Shaver Lake. The route -- rated intermediate to advanced -- climbed almost a thousand feet of vertical elevation over a two-mile trail of uninterrupted boulders that ranged in size from basketballs to refrigerators.

Even for those who drive a manual transmission on a daily basis, the thought of crossing a rock field as gnarly as the path to Red Lake is enough to get your palms sweating and your brain reeling at the thought of all the rapidly coordinated arm and leg motions necessary to navigate the H3T without getting it stuck or stalling.


Hummer set up our five-speed H3T to succeed in just this situation. The Adventure package added a heavier-duty offroad suspension, 33-inch tires, segment-exclusive front and rear electronic locking rear differentials and a shorter-geared (4.03) transfer case that provided an amazing 68.9-to-1 crawl ratio in 4-Low. Higher ground clearance also improved the truck’s approach, departure and breakover angles.

At the Tamarack Creek trailhead, our journey quickly turned from a lazy excursion into a two-hour trek across the treacherous granite terrain. Every concern and worry we had taken with us from the real world faded into the wilderness when we started boulder-crawling. Our minds were focused on crossing one rock pile at a time and nothing else.


Our guides were experienced Hummer engineers who’d driven Red Lake trail numerous times during the development of the H3T. They were excellent spotters and incredibly patient coaches as we acquired a feel for the five-speed transmission. They pointed out the best line through technical spots every hundred yards or so.

The path beneath our tires changed literally every few minutes as each of the H3Ts in our group crossed over the boulders, which shifted position under the vehicles’ weight. Each truck’s trail was unique, even though we traveled single-file. More than a few times we bashed the H3T’s well-shielded undercarriage during unexpected rock rotations. Boulders that didn’t interfere with one truck stopped others behind it, forcing us to pick new lines on the fly.

The clutch was firm, but not so overly stiff as to be exhausting during the frequent dabs required to keep the truck from stalling as we slowly climbed over obstacles at 1 to 2 mph in first gear. Clutch play gradually decreased as our comfort with the truck grew. We learned the limits of the crawl ratio and built a sense of when to apply just enough throttle to get us over moderately challenging boulders without the clutch. The engine could rev so low without the truck stalling that it clattered almost like a diesel. The Hummer engineers call the five-cylinder engine we drove “the tractor.”


The hours flew by, though every foot we crossed required undivided concentration, quick shifting skills and all four limbs working in sync.

We arrived at Red Lake for lunch and a mind/body break before climbing back in the trucks and working our way back to the trailhead over the same route we’d come in.

The return seemed to go even faster than the trip in, as our comfort with the H3T continued to grow. By the end of the trail, almost every truck had scratches or dents, but none of the rigs in our convoy of journalists busted a critical mechanical or suspension component.


The trip back to our hotel gave us a chance to experience the five-cylinder H3T on the highway. In this scenario, some of its trail assets become liabilities. Besides its shorter transfer case, the five-cylinder’s pickup only comes with a 4.56 final drive ratio. That’s a big help when offroading at low speeds, but a tremendous efficiency and power challenge when the truck is traveling more than 55 mph. If you’re driving long distances in a five-cylinder H3T with the Adventure Package, leave plenty of time to enjoy the trip.

We arrived at the hotel with the memory of a tough day in the mountains and a still-pumping adrenaline rush from spending six hours on a four-mile trail. It’s something we won’t soon forget. With a payload rating of 1,150 pounds in its 5-foot cargo box and mountain-goat-like nimbleness, we highly recommend the H3T as a hard-core dual-purpose pickup for work and play.

GM and Hummer are looking for a new strategic direction, and in these tough times there’s nearly constant speculation about where we’ll be five, 10 or 20 years down the road. Luckily, H3T drivers can live life 5 feet at a time.



I think you're making much too big a deal about the highway capability of the 3.7. It's no hotrod, but it's plenty fast enough unless you come out of the 5.3. Seriously, and the mileage penalty should be considered too. I do love the V8, I'm just pointing out that you're making out like you have to get out and push the truck on the highway! It'll peg the electronic speed limit at 107 (and then some if you chip it) It does have a transmission so it'll drive up the steepest of grades.

Given the choice, I'd like the 5.3 with the lower gears. With the overdrive, it's not spinning that fast even at 80mph.

Good writeup though. There's nothing quite like the H3.

Oh yeah, gas is below $2 a gallon still...

Hey that guy driving the manual really looks like he knows what he is doing. Or is it that the H3T makes everyone look like a rock star off road?


Funny. I was thinking the same thing.

@Huck: 4.56 ring and pinion is the only choice for 5-speed manual. I wouldn't be buying an H3T for fuel economy either. I'd be buying it for fun and utility. I think I'd like the I5 too because of the better crawl ratio (69 v 50).

@seanpholman & NickRichards: Yeah, we had to keep a close eye on that guy the entire day. Can't find it, grind it.

Don't forget that the H3T also features Hill Start Assist even with the stick to help those less skilled from rolling back when stopped on a hill...pretty cool.

So where's the 5 speed adventure package with the 5.3l? The mileage difference from the specs I found is negligible. 13/16 vs. 14/18 ? I'd rather have the v8 and lose 1-2 mpg than the I-5 any day. Other than that it sounds great!


That's mighty Southern of you to be jamming out to Kenny Chesney's XM station whilst off-roading...

Get your Hummer while you still can, the word on the street is its going away with Saturn and Pontiac.


Actually, there has been a fair amount of interest from outside parties in the brand, so I think the brand will be around in some form for a while.

But you are correct, with the current incentives, it is a great time to buy one...

Ugh, a new HUMMER, why does GM even still have this Company?

this car so exiting. how can i get stiffness coefficient of tire?
could you tell me?

The comments to this entry are closed.