Looking out at the caravan, nightly news images of The Iraq War spring to mind. The military HUMVEE is well known from its Desert Storm years, and, now, it’s further imprinted in our collective consciousness as a result of its on-going overseas duty. Stateside, its civilian counterpart, the Hummer H1, has two disparate images. It’s fair to say that it has replaced the Tonka truck as an icon for young Americans, and it’s widely known as a bane to environmentalists everywhere.
Undaunted by that fact, General Motors has just introduced a more powerful version of the H1 – called Alpha. GM officials claim that it is the most capable off-road truck available to the civilian market, now with better on-road manners, improved off-road capability, and increased fuel economy. They’ve brought the Hummer H1 Alpha to this technically challenging landscape to prove their case.
Exclusive high-powered versions of almost any premium-priced model are commonplace. Automakers, in an attempt to attract adrenaline-loving horsepower fans, often supplement their car brands with top-of-the-line performance variations. BMW has its M, Volvo its R, and Mercedes-Benz its AMG. At Chrysler, SRT denotes tire-shredding capability, and GM’s Cadillac division has enjoyed additional success by creating its V-series lineup.
But unlike its General Motors sibling Cadillac, Hummer does not define performance in terms of 0-60 acceleration, skidpad adhesion, or high-speed stability. Customers who step up and buy a Hummer clearly desire and define performance and image differently from those who do not. To cater to people who understand what a Hummer is and does, this new super-high-performance offering, and the special-edition Alpha designation, will eventually be available across the Hummer lineup.
The Hummer lineup will also now come in three sizes. The H1, H2 SUV and SUT, and forthcoming H3 comprise, completely, Hummer's product portfolio, and each will be available in Alpha trim. The opening volley is the 2006 Hummer H1 Alpha.
Unlike its predecessors, the Hummer H1 Alpha no longer uses the 6.5-liter Optimizer turbo-diesel V8 that put out 205 horsepower and 440 lb.-ft. of torque. Instead, GM's 6.6-liter Duramax turbo-diesel V8 delivers a 46-percent increase in horsepower, up to an impressive 300 hp at 3,000 rpm and a 70 lb.-ft. bump in torque to an impressive 520 lb.-ft. at just 1,500-1,600 rpm. Additionally, the previous-generation four-speed automatic transmission has been shelved in favor of a five-speed Allison 1000 unit.
General Motors eagerly brandishes these power figures to prove the on-road capability of its most extreme off-road vehicle. Engineers even claim an improved 0-60 acceleration time of 13.5 seconds, a full three seconds faster than the old H1. But, these days, news likely to please converts and, perhaps, the unconverted, is the "significant improvement" in fuel economy. Hummer executives report that the H1 Alpha will achieve mileage of up to 12 mpg, and estimate that the 2006 H1 Alpha’s 51.5-gallon fuel tank will allow for a 570-600 mile range between fill-ups.
But, those who make the decision to own a Hummer aren't truly concerned with fuel economy, and GM knows it. Consequently, the focus is on exclusivity, image, and off-road prowess –attributes that attract Hummer’s entrepreneurial clientele. In exchange for about $150,000 (our as-tested price), GM executives believe the pricey H1 Alpha offers consumers a unique machine that redefines the limits of personal mobility.
Regarding image, the aftermarket bling attached to high-end 4WD models, like the Hummer, now comes straight from the factory. A skid plate cover, front and upper grille covers, door handles and bezels, and a rear bumper cover, all finished in stainless steel, are available. Chrome trim decorates the tubular side steps, front bumper cover, headlight bezels, hood corner trim, hood latches, tailgate hinge covers, and the air intake cap. Additionally, 'Alpha' and 'Duramax' badges are found just above the rear bumper and on the front driver's side body corner, respectively. The body, with its Gulf Storm and Shock-and-Awe imprint, is made of hardened 6061 T6 aircraft aluminum and the panels are firmly secured with adhesive and rivets. For 2006, Hummer has also redesigned the H1's wheels.
Like previous H1s, the 2006 Alpha is offered in both hardtop and softtop versions. We drove both models, over a course of nearly 200 miles. Each has its own personality, similar to other vehicles that come in convertible or hardtop form, but, in this case, the wagon version adds increased practicality for carrying goods and gear, but at an increased price, as well.
Driving these beasts produces an adrenalin rush. The H1 cuts a swath through traffic like Moses parting the Red Sea and, if you have any conscience at all, the thought of conspicuous consumption is something you have to come to terms with because the politically incorrect H1 Alpha has the power to make passersby stand at attention.
Because of the new engine and transmission, the Alpha H1 sits two inches higher than the old model, and adds a few extra pounds. Because it’s a tall step up to the interior, a new grab handle on the doorframe assists short drivers and passengers. Once settled at the wheel, the 2006 Hummer H1 Alpha is surprisingly easy to drive, feeling like a much smaller vehicle than it is. Power-assisted steering guides its nearly four tons of mass through everyday driving maneuvers that are surprisingly controlled, thanks in part to the H1 Alpha’s four-wheel independent suspension, with double “A” frame, open-end coil springs and hydraulic shocks. Of note, because of its wide track and width, is the 25.5 ft. turning radius. While this doesn’t exactly comprise turning on a dime, improved steering makes for lighter and quicker response than the previous generation H1; the behemoth wanders only the slightly at speeds up to 90 mph.
The four-wheel independent suspension, combined with the high vantage point from the driver’s seat, also provides ample eyesight for precise carving through city streets, as well as guiding the Hummer H1 Alpha’s 37-inch tires onto the sweet spot of boulders and other treacherous terrain. Also impressive is the 2006 Hummer H1 Alpha’s improved stopping power, thanks to larger 12-inch brake rotors, which almost erase the old H1’s annoying sway from front to back upon heavy-footed braking and quick stopping maneuvers.
Improved creature comforts help distinguish the 2006 Hummer H1 Alpha. Soft touch materials are inviting and the black and brown leather seats are comfortable. The front seats are heated, keeping your backside warm while the eight-speaker Monsoon sound system with six-disc CD changer massages your eardrums. The gauges are straightforward and the newly illuminated shift levers are positioned within easy reach. A new console switch makes it easier to disable overdrive, switch into tow/haul mode and operate the locking differentials. Storage bins are found both overhead and in all four doors.
Despite its gargantuan cockpit that only seats four and has yards of space that goes unused (due to military requirements to up-fit armament and communications systems) we found the H1 Alpha’s overall habitat slightly plusher than before. To be fair, the flat load floor between the rear seats has tie downs to secure gear, but they don’t help a hoot when it comes to carrying a load of groceries home from the Piggly Wiggly.
Standard features include power locks and windows, air conditioning, keyless entry, electronically controlled outside mirrors, and a heated windshield. Another standard feature is the Central Tire Inflation System (CTIS) that allows drivers to increase or decrease tire pressure as dictated by terrain demands. Pushing a button on the dash either deflates the tires or runs an onboard compressor causing the 37-inchers to inflate. The Runflat tire system, as found in its previous generation version, has a 30-mile range and is effective up to 20 mph when a tire has completely lost pressure and cannot be revived by the CTIS.
The interior is also significantly quieter than the old H1, a result of upgraded soundproofing compliments of an interior sound insulation package and new low-noise axles.
Status, visibility and an upgraded interior are not the only virtues that sell this supertruck. The H1’s original appeal was its off-road capability. With its wide track (71.6 inches); high ground clearance (16 inches); side slope capability (40 percent); crawl ratio (41.5:1); two-speed transfer case; and the standard CTIS, the 2006 Hummer H1 Alpha is almost unstoppable off-road.
Generous breakover (29 degrees), approach (72 degrees) and departure angles (37.5 degrees) only add to the H1 Alpha’s capability. With this rig, you can climb a 22-inch vertical wall, ford a body of water 30 inches deep, and traverse a 40-percent side slope with close to 2,500 lbs. of gear on board. Plus, you have the benefit of a braking system that is tucked away and mounted on the raised drivetrain for protection. The larger 12-inch brake rotors (up from 10.7 inches) use four-channel ABS to supplement on-and off-road maneuvers, and full-time 4WD is engineered mechanically and electronically with a TorqTrac4 (TT4) system that employs a combination of ABS, a Torsen III limited-slip differential, and a two-speed transfer case. Finally, the new Allison transmission provides a crawl ratio of 45:1 (a 25-percent increase), for situations like descending steep slopes when low-end torque is in severe demand, coupled with low-range gear ratios that make the 2006 Hummer H1 Alpha a veritable mountain goat, whether going up or down steep hills.
An optional $5,726 Off-Road Adventure Package enhances the 2006 Hummer H1 Alpha even further, adding a 12,000-lb. capacity winch, 17-inch aluminum wheels with dual beadlocks, Goodyear GSA tires (MT-R LT 17-inchers are also available for $100 more), and front and rear Eaton E-locker locking differentials. By simply pushing a button, the Eaton differentials lock the wheels at the rear or both the front and rear axles, delivering torque exactly where it’s needed.
Wrap-up and Specs
Standing tall, Hummer's flagship H1 Alpha model is sure to attract a large crowd. The actual owner's circle will, however, be much smaller, and may not grow significantly until Alpha H2 and H3 variations appear. Nevertheless, at the end of our test drive, we found no quarrel with GM's claims about its newest Hummer. Its off-road prowess is unmistakably excellent in open spaces and wide tracks, but its overall brawn restricts its use in smaller environments. As for on-road handling, we agree it's improved and appreciate the bump up in fuel economy and emissions.
Test Vehicle: 2006 Hummer H1 Alpha
Price Range: $126,185 - $139,771
Engine Size and Type: 6.6-liter turbo-diesel V8
Engine Horsepower: 300 at 3,000 rpm
Engine Torque: 520 lb.-ft. at 1,500 rpm
Transmission: Five-speed automatic
Curb weight, lbs.: 7,847 - 8,114
EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway): 11-12 mpg estimated combined cycle)
Length: 184.5 in.
Width: 86.5 in. (without mirrors)
Wheelbase: 130 in.
Height: 77 in. (wagon); 79 in. (open top)
Legroom: 38.1 in. (front driver); 44.1 in. (front passenger); 29.9 in. (rear)
Head room: 41.6 in. (front wagon); 44.4 in. (front open top); 40 in. (rear wagon); 42.9 in. (rear open top)
Max. Seating Capacity: Four
Max. Cargo Volume: 58.3 cu. ft. (wagon)
Max. Payload: 2,186 lbs. (wagon); 2,453 lbs. (open top)
Max. Towing Capacity: 9,186 lbs. (wagon); 9,453 lbs. (open top)
Ground Clearance: 16 in.
Competitors: Land Rover Range Rover, Lexus LX 470, Mercedes-Benz G-Class; Porsche Cayenne
What is the 2006 Hummer H1 Alpha?
GM’s Hummer division designed the new H1 Alpha to raise the bar on what they consider “the most capable off-road truck available to the civilian market.” With bigger and better components, and the latest technological advances in engine and transmission technology, the new version has a 46-percent increase in horsepower, an 18-percent increase in torque, an 18-percent increase in its zero-to-60 acceleration time, a 13-percent increase in towing capacity, a better cruising range, a greater crawl ratio, larger brake rotors, and improved fuel economy.
Will there be other Hummer Alpha models?
Yes, the Alpha appellation will appear on the H2 and H3 models to designate future special high-performance models. GM has not released a release date for the H2 Alpha and H3 Alpha.
Is the standard Hummer H1 Alpha the best off-roader in the arsenal?
The 2006 Hummer H1 Alpha's $5,726 Off-road Package heightens backcountry capability with a 12,000-lb. capacity winch kit, 17-inch two-piece aluminum wheels with dual beadlocks, more aggressive Goodyear tires, and front and rear Eaton ELocker locking differentials that can be locked instantly at the push of a button.
When does the 2006 Hummer H1 Alpha go on sale and how much does it cost?
On sale now, Hummer brand executives hope to sell approximately 500 of the new H1 Alpha models this year for prices around $150,000.
The 2006 Hummer H1 Alpha is a huge beast that attracts attention whether you want it or not. Certainly, its size is a liability in some locations, from small city streets and tight urban parking lots to four-wheeling in places with narrow tree-lined trails.
Photos courtesy of General Motors