Appealing new icon arrives
Jeep must be smarting: they’ve spent over 60 years building a brand and in a tenth of that period Hummer arrives and becomes an instant icon. And Jeep also recently lost a legal battle to stop Hummer from using their “trademark” seven-slot grille…
We can’t remember when last (and the team at Leisure Wheels has combined experience in this industry exceeding 70 years) we drove a four-wheeler that elicited so much response from other road users and passers-by, so don’t buy one of these if you want to fly under the radar…
But does this newest of SUV brands live up to the hype and does its newest model, the “little” H3, set new standards for the class?
It certainly sets a new standard in the looks department, combining a utilitarian ruggedness with highly chromed details for an unmistakably American take on things. It looks like a giant desert racer but while it is big it isn’t the biggest in its class. A Discovery is some 60mm longer and only a few mils lower.
It is the Hummer’s width that makes it stand out: the body is exceptionally wide, made to look even more so by the massive chrome grille surround which extends right across the vehicle. The sensation is heightened by the huge mirror housings and the substantial track widths enhanced by 265/75 tyres, which fill vast wheelarches.
Add in the heavily tinted windows, high window line and tailgate-mounted spare wheel and you start to understand why so many people go completely gaga when the Hummer rumbles into view.
On test here is the mid-range Adventure version, which in two-pedal guise costs R417 000.
Features and equipment
★ ★ ★ ★
Adventure spec is what you want if you’re serious about off-roading, and it adds a rear differential lock to a permanent four-wheel-drive system which includes a facility to lock the centre differential for 50:50 front/rear torque distribution. This can be done in both high and low ratio but it seems strange that the rear diff lock function only works in low range.
Drive is via a four-speed automatic box – a quantity of ratios which looks positively archaic in this day and age. Talking of numbers, there are five cylinders to the 3,7-litre engine, though it does have 20 valves and variable valve timing on the exhaust camshaft.
Interior spec is as oddball as the drivetrain. “Adventure” means you get leather chairs but the air-conditioning – while very effective – is old-fashioned and there’s no climate control. There’s a compass and ambient temperature readout in the auto-dimming rear-view mirror – but no driving computer. Front seats are electrically adjusted (and heated) – though backrest angle must be set manually.
★ ★ ★ ★
The seats are indeed comfortable, but some fiddling is required to get them set correctly. The driving position received mixed reviews, and some lankier testers felt that by the time you got your arms at a comfortable height and distance, your legs were too bent with knees too close to the wheel. Some drivers also cited clearance issues with the umbrella- type handbrake and wheel rim (despite it being height-adjustable), which could make getting in a less than straightforward affair.
In fact, the front of the Hummer can feel claustrophobic and initial impressions are of being in the turret of a tank. The glasshouse is very narrow, the pillars short and broad, and the high and broad transmission tunnel eats into the footwells.
Despite all this, seeing the extremities of the vehicle isn’t problematic and the leading edge of the bonnet and the distance to the rear corners can be confidently judged. However, over-the-shoulder visibility is poor, which can make lane changes fraught.
Getting into the rear seats is adversely affected by the considerable height of the door sills, and the apertures themselves are small, with the rear wheelarches narrowing them at floor level.
But once you’re inside, the generous amount of rear legroom becomes apparent and this is a car in which you can really stretch out. The seats are well padded, too, with a sofa-like feel. Considering the width of the vehicle, though, the cabin is not especially charitable in term of shoulder or elbow room, but it is still a genuine five-seater.
The cabin’s poor packaging is revealed in the luggage compartment. While it is wide and flat with an unencumbered floor, the 60/40 rear seat doesn’t fold completely flush with the floor: the cushion tilts forward and then sinks down but when the backrest is then tipped forward the surface is still far from flat, compromising utility.
Two other major oversights are the lack of provision for a luggage cover, and the poor oddment space. Off-roading gadget junkies are going to be hard-pressed to find appropriate storage for the likes of the GPS, Leatherman, binoculars and bird book – not to mention a pack of Camels. Finally, the rear door is hinged for left-hand-drive, which means you have to walk around it when loading from the kerb.
★ ★ ★
The big five-cylinder engine can trace its roots to a commercial vehicle application, and it shows. Rev it much past 3000 and it gets seriously bad-tempered, with noise and vibration very much in evidence.
Fortunately, more than three thou’ isn’t necessary, and there is plenty of torque down low, despite the peak listed at 4600 r/min. When cruising at a true 120km/h there are 2600 revs on the tachometer but that figure is sent soaring – accompanied by a harsh jolt and further sensory assault – when the archaic ‘box kicks down a gear.
It is better, therefore, for the driver to preempt this and shift down earlier and hold it there manually – this is a car where it would be nice to have a sequential gate, but there isn’t one!
Top speed of the Hummer is limited to a conservative 156km/h, translating into 5000 r/min in third gear or just on 3000 in the overdriven top.
It gets to its maximum velocity pretty rapidly, stepping away from standstill smartly for a 2240kg machine and then marching to the highway limit in just under 18 seconds – with the box still in second gear! Full bore acceleration is obviously accompanied by lots of noise, too, and gearshifts that border on being harsh.
The low range reduction is sufficient to give the Hummer exceptional crawling ability, and steep descents can be tackled confidently. On the other hand, the engine can feel almost peaky, which means there can be a tendency for an unloaded wheel to spin relatively easily.
Stopping performance is handled by a mix of ventilated and solid discs, aided by ABS. While the brakes are relatively fade-free, there was a disconcerting tendency for the pedal travel to increase after half-a-dozen stops. Outright retardation is only mediocre, especially considering that the Hummer is certainly not as portly as some rivals.
Ride and handling
★ ★ ★ ★
Getting to an adventure destination should be part of the fun and the Hummer boasts a ride that would make a luxury sedan proud. The tall tyres act like an additional set of dampers, disguising the shortcomings of what isn’t exactly state-of-the-art suspension.
The medium at the front is a pair or longitudinal torsion bars, with the wheels located by upper and lower wishbones, while at the back it’s a burly but simple leaf sprung arrangement. There’s an anti-roll bar thicker than a decent piece of boerewors at the front and another – albeit of a more modest diameter – at the back.
These play an important role (pardon the homophone) in how the H3 behaves on tarmac and along with nicely weighted rack and pinion steering give it handling characteristics that are mostly benign, apart from the occasional (and often unanticipated) tendency for the tail to kick out of line on bumpy surfaces.
While it doesn’t exactly shrink around the driver, the Hummer can be placed with reasonable confidence on narrow roads. Sure, even the ultra-wide track widths can’t stop it from leaning some in sharp corners (revealing that the seats are short of lateral support) but the tyres hang on grimly, also providing a useful amount of feel and feedback.
Off road it is pretty much a case of point and squirt, though we were occasionally surprised by how soon the rear differential lock was needed. Nothing on the underside touches anywhere – though the metal “ladder” which covers the drivetrain hardware is quite low-slung – and the wide track turned out to be a non-issue on “middelmannetjie” paths.
★ ★ ★
It is hard not to be seduced by the Hummer’s combination of visual presence and emotional appeal. Making it easier to like are the plush suspension, low road and wind noise levels and the fact that it is quite relaxing to drive in a ‘normal’ manner. But try to hurry it and flaws are revealed, mainly pertaining to drivetrain noise, vibration and harshness.
Hummer is also exposed as a relative newcomer to the art of making “conventional” passenger vehicles, and there are some glaring omissions in the cabin.
Nonetheless, we think it will attract two kinds of buyers in droves (initially anyway), one being the image-conscious individual who wants one at any cost (expect a surge in sales of 20- inch chromed wheels), and who couldn’t care about using 17 litres per 100 km around town.
The other comprises hard-core off-roaders who feel more comfortable with a relatively low-tech vehicle which can be tweaked in terms of equipment and fittings to meet their unique requirements. For them, 12 or 13 litres per 100km on the open road will be considered a bonus.
Neither group will be too concerned by the Hummer’s unresolved ergonomic and refinement issues.