Williamstown, Mass. – Fireflies danced in the muggy darkness of a hot New England night, the kind you wait for all winter long, and the stars glittered above. The 2006 Hummer H3 carried our quartet of merrymakers along a dirt two-track through the woods, taking us to a corn field that undulated across the hilltops overlooking “The Village Beautiful.” The Hummer’s high beams and fog lights traced a tractor’s path through the tall grass, and I guided the H3’s 33-inch Dueler AT all-terrain tires onto this wavy way. When we reached the path’s highest elevation, I cut the engine. Chris, Mike, Laurie and I took our seats on the long roof and snub hood of the Hummer, just as the fireworks to celebrate the 50th anniversary of a local art museum began. We were truly off the beaten path, without a soul in sight, as thousands sat on blankets and elbowed for viewing room in the valley below.
“This Hummer is soooo cool,” said Chris, an eighth-grader at the local high school. His younger brother Mike and their mom enthusiastically agreed. As far as my companions were concerned, the new H3 looked every bit a Hummer, despite the fact that it’s a good amount shorter, a tad narrower, less tall, and significantly weaker than its closest sibling, the Hummer H2. The color of liquid sunshine, our Hummer H3 had a black brush guard and gigantic tow hooks in front, a meant-for-business roof rack on the top, chiseled fender flares at the sides, and enormous tires capable of tackling serious terrain. However, we were not boulder bashing. We simply wanted to get a small distance from civilization, and the H3 ferried us to an isolated spot that only those with high ground clearance and low-range gearing could get to with ease.
I had been waiting for this ‘baby’ Hummer to make its way to my door for a long time. Fully familiar with the upgraded 2006 Hummer Alpha H1 that retails well above $100,000 and the popular Hummer H2 with a transaction price that begins at half that amount, I wanted to see if the third iteration of this iconic model, priced beginning at $29,500, was an authentic Hummer.
“You can’t get by on looks alone,” my mom used to say. Maybe you can, however, if you’re the 2006 Hummer H3. The new baby looks just like its bigger brothers. And, while it didn’t quite get the eye-goggling attention that the H1 and H2 received during test drives when they were new to the roads of America, many necks snapped to follow the H3 and many young thumbs raised in approval during a test-drive in this mini beast.
General Motors offers only one model of the all-new five-passenger 2006 Hummer H3, although many options and accessories are available. Base H3s sticker for $29,500 and come with a 220-horsepower inline five-cylinder engine displacing 3.5 liters. A five-speed manual transmission drives power to all four wheels; a four-speed automatic transmission is optional. Other standard amenities include power windows, locks, and mirrors; an electric rear window defogger, a self-dimming rearview mirror, a compass, an ambient temperature gauge, three 12-volt auxiliary power outlets, and a 60/40 split rear seat. Visual elements such as chrome interior accents, brushed trim plates, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel provide a refined and pleasant, upscale look on the inside.
Two option packages – dubbed Luxury and Adventure – add increased sophistication and capability to the H3. Checking the box for the Luxury treatment brings leather seats with front seat heaters and power adjustment, lighted vanity mirrors in the visors, a six-disc in-dash CD changer with seven Monsoon speakers, and carpeted floor mats all around. The Adventure Package enhances the vehicle's underside, with a 4.03:1 transfer case, a fully locking rear differential, shock absorbers tuned for off-roading, and 33-inch Bridgestone tires.
Other optional off-road elements include a wrap-around front brush guard made of one-inch thick tubular steel, rocker panel protectors, and both grille- and roof-mounted auxiliary lights. Tubular stainless steel frame-mounted assist steps help occupants climb in and out, or customers can opt for the black powder-coated flat aluminum steps instead. A chrome fuel door and a splash guard – both emblazoned with the H3 logo – are also available, as are a power sunroof, chrome wheels, a Trailering Package including a hitch and harness, and extra exterior chrome treatment for the mirrors and door handles.
Nuts and Bolts
Built on GM’s compact pickup truck platform that serves as the basis for the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon, and equipped with an inline five-cylinder engine beneath its aggressive snout, the 2006 Hummer H3 could clearly benefit from more power to move its nearly 2.5 tons of mass. But then again, a 20-mpg fuel economy estimate will be a strong selling point, if you need to soapbox the environmentalists.
Though equipped with variable valve timing, dual overhead cams, electronic throttle control, and counter-rotating balance shafts, the 2006 Hummer H3’s 3.5-liter inline five-cylinder engine delivers just 220 horses and 225 lb.-ft. of torque. On a positive note the engine produces minimal noise, vibration and harshness, for a quieter ride than you might expect from a Hummer. Either a five-speed manual or a four-speed automatic transmission shuttle power to all four wheels, and the automatic has been engineered with shift modes that are designed to enhance low-range operation.
All H3s arrive with a two-speed 4WD transfer case by Borg-Warner. The standard low range ratio is 2.64:1, but 4.03:1 gearing is available as part of the Adventure Package for more intense obstacle clearing. The H3s compact proportions – a 111.9-inch wheelbase inside a 186.7-inch body – contribute to excellent maneuverability thanks to a 37-foot turning circle, an approach angle of 40 degrees, a departure angle of 37 degrees, and a breakover angle of 25 degrees (when equipped with the 33-inch Bridgestones). Additionally, a ground clearance of 9.1 inches allows the H3 to ford 16 inches of water at 20 mph or 24 inches at 5 mph. Vertical barriers up to 16 inches are also conquerable. Four-wheel-disc brakes with ABS and Dynamic Rear Proportioning feature 12.4-inch front rotors and 12.3-inch rear discs. Power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering directs standard P265/75R16 Goodyear tires on 16-inch aluminum wheels bolted to an independent front suspension and a solid rear axle. The optional Bridgestones are specified as LT285/75R16C.
The H3’s ground clearance and sheet metal design make it more versatile off-road than the Jeep Grand Cherokee (ground clearance: 8 inches; approach angle: 34.1 degrees; departure angle: 27.1 degrees; breakover angle: 20.6 degrees); the Nissan Xterra (ground clearance: 9.5 inches; approach angle: 33.2 degrees; departure angle: 29.4 degrees; breakover angle: 24.6 degrees); and the Toyota 4Runner (ground clearance: 9.1 inches; approach angle: 31 degrees; departure angle: 24 degrees; breakover angle: not available). On extreme terrain, even the much more pricey Land Rover LR3 (ground clearance: 9.5 inches; approach angle: 37.2 degrees; departure angle: 29.6 degrees; breakover angle: 27.9 degrees) can’t clear boulders as capably as the 2006 Hummer H3.
The success of the 2006 H3 will depend heavily on its recognition and acceptance by customers as a true Hummer product. GM realized this and integrated several elements that are present in the H2 full-size SUV. Common styling cues include flat design surfaces, an upright windshield, a wide stance, large tires, a seven-slot grille, round headlights, and conspicuous fender flares that boldly announce the H3’s lineage. But despite the family resemblance, this all-new Hummer occupies much less space. Parked beside an H2, the new model is 16.9 inches shorter in length, 6 inches smaller in height, and 6.5 inches narrower in width. Unlike the H2, or even the H1, the H3 includes a rear gate-mounted spare tire, a first for GM.
With militaristic exterior styling adhering strictly to the precedents set by the H1 and H2, Hummer’s designers felt a little interior innovation was in order. Quality measures such as tight gap tolerances and advanced material finishing were priorities in development. The center stack and gauge cluster benefit from a process called Nissha, which provides both a brushed metal look and polished finish. Another surfacing feature, known as TuflorO, creates rubberized flooring rather than carpet or traditional rubber floor mats. TuflorO includes a foam underlayer to cushion heavy objects and a ribbed pattern on top that provides traction and stability. It’s a nice touch when carrying messy and weighty cargo in the rear compartment.
With the rear seat folded down, H3 swallows 55.7 cubic feet of stuff. With the rear bench raised, 29.5 cubic feet of cargo can fit. Maximum payload is 1,150 lbs. – enough to cart you and three beer-swilling buddies plus a couple hundred pounds of gear – and the Hummer H3 can tow 4,500 lbs. of goods, although such a load will clearly render the H3 a Sunday-driver clogging traffic lanes.
Safety and Technology
Aside from the 2006 Hummer H3’s robust ladder-type construction and all-steel body panels, several safety features work to protect occupants in the event of an accident. Dual-stage front airbags include occupant sensing for front passengers and electronics can disable the passenger-side airbag when a small occupant or no passenger is present. Curtain airbags are optional and stretch to the beltline of both rows. In addition to regular impacts, these units are also activated by a rollover sensing system for increased protection. Tire pressure monitoring and StabiliTrak stability control are also available.
Hummer’s electronically controlled full-time transfer case, regardless of the gear ratio, includes several modes of operation in the H3. For normal cruising, 4High-range Open should be engaged. When conditions deteriorate, or should you choose to foray into the backcountry, 4High-range Locked allows torque to be transferred to each axle, as needed. Locked 4Low-range should be used for difficult rock crawling or when traversing deep snow or sand. This mode also includes driver-selectable rear differential locking. With the available 4.03:1 gearing, this engineering boost provides crawling on par with the H1 and H2. Finally, Neutral allows the H3 to be towed flat.
But the H3 is not simply a terrain-busting machine, as evidenced by the four available stereo systems, XM satellite radio, and On Star telematics system. The top stereo includes a 6.5-inch touch-screen linked to a DVD-based navigation system, and includes separate slots for DVDs and CDs.
The 2006 Hummer H3 set a poor first impression when I stepped up to get behind the wheel. Its rock rails are protection for side damage only and do not provide a flat surface to accommodate foot placement for assistance with the long step up. Nor is there a grab handle of any type (either overhead or at the A-pillar) for the driver, and the steering wheel does not provide an adequate anchor. Front seat passengers get a single overhead handle, and rear outboard passengers have two options – a grab handle overhead and an assist handle positioned appropriately on the B-pillar.
Once inside, the interior is modern and attractive, based on the Chevrolet Colorado but with materials that are pleasantly upscale. Of note are the large control knobs, with visually and tactilely appealing textured rims on the surface of the knobs. Front seats are comfortable, but without the Luxury Package that brings power seat controls, taller passengers are at a disadvantage for driving due to the low roofline. Rearward vision is compromised by the small rear glass and by the tailgate-mounted spare tire that cuts visibility. Additionally, while short passengers benefit from the tall seating position, the steering wheel lacks a telescoping feature and there aren’t any power adjustable foot pedals, which means the steering wheel and driver’s airbags are closer than some would prefer. However, the passenger cabin is spacious overall, with headroom and rear-seat legroom that matches most of its competitors. But the Hummer H3 provides below-average cargo room for the stowage of gear and goods.
The H3 handles like it’s smaller than it is with quick steering, a throttle and brake pedal that are well modulated to increase power or decrease speed, and little to no body roll in its everyday ride. Despite the fact that this 4,700-lb. SUV takes more than ten seconds to accelerate to 60 mph, it feels capable around town. At speed on the highway, you will need to plan your passes in advance for safe distance.
Although the H3’s short wheelbase and underbody dynamics made it skip along dry washboard like a pebble skimming a pond, it shines when the going gets tough. Its gearing; locking differential; angles of approach, departure, and breakover; tall tires; underbody shields; and skid plate protection all contribute to make this a great four-wheeler, with capabilities that will take it into the wilds far beyond many of its class competitors. Its width, however, can be a liability in tight spots, such as the 4WD trails of wooded New England.
Smaller in size, less fuelish and perhaps most important to its mission, close to half the cost of its H2 stablemate, the 2006 Hummer H3 not only talks the talk, but can walk the walk. The H3 could clearly benefit from more power to move its nearly 2.5 tons of mass. And while looks are not everything, in the case of a Hummer, they’re definitely something. Just ask any prepubescent boy. They’ll tell you the new H3 is a Hummer by a simple glance at the sheetmetal.
But, beyond that, the new H3’s off-roading prowess supports the brand’s heritage. The H3 can take you to places far from the madding crowd. And, in the lands beyond, especially in the wide-open spaces, you can enjoy a hot summer’s night far from civilization, and maybe even be lucky enough to see some fireworks.
Test Vehicle: 2006 Hummer H3
Base Price: $29,500
Engine Size and Type: 3.5-liter inline five-cylinder
Engine Horsepower: 220 at 5,600 rpm
Engine Torque: 225 lb.-ft. at 2,800 rpm
Transmission: Five-speed manual
Curb weight, lbs.: 4,700 lbs.
EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway): 16/20 (manual); 16/19 (automatic) mpg
Length: 186.7 inches (with spare and 33-inch tires)
Width: 74.7 inches
Wheelbase: 111.9 inches
Height: 74.5 inches
Head room (front/rear): 39.9 inches (with sunroof); 40.6 inches (without sunroof) / 37.9 inches (with sunroof); 39.9 inches (without sunroof)
Leg room (front/rear): 41.9 inches / 35 inches
Max. Seating Capacity: Five
Max. Cargo Volume: 55.7 cu. ft.
Max. Payload: 1,150 lbs.
Max. Towing Capacity: 4,500 lbs.
Ground Clearance: 9.1 inches
Approach angle (degrees): 38 (with 32-inch tires); 40 (with 33-inch tires)
Departure angle (degrees): 36 (with 32-inch tires); 37 (with 33-inch tires)
Breakover angle (degrees): 24 (with 32-inch tires); 25 (with 33-inch tires)
Competitors: Buick Rainier, Chevrolet TrailBlazer, Ford Explorer, GMC Envoy, Honda Pilot, Isuzu Ascender, Jeep Liberty, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Kia Sorento, Mercury Mountaineer, Mitsubishi Montero, Nissan Pathfinder, Nissan Xterra, Suzuki XL-7, Toyota 4Runner
Photos courtesy of General Motors