Selling Points: Great off-road ability, comfortable interior, easy to drive
Deal Breakers: Five-cylinder engine lacks power, abysmal fuel economy, poor visibility
Our Advice: If you’re looking for a truck-based SUV that can handle off-road and on-road duties, the 2006 Hummer H3 is a stylish, comfortable and capable vehicle.
It’s a mystery of the automotive universe: While gas prices spike and SUVs tank, the one maker of things large and cumbersome always seems to be able to bounce back. Just when conventional wisdom dictates that your local Hummer dealership should be the quietest place in town, it proves to be more resilient to the continuing fuel price crisis and environmental awakening going on in America.
We Americans sure love being King of the Road – even if it costs $80 per tank. We also like to drive exciting vehicles, and the Hummer brand has adrenaline running through its sheetmetal: it goes off-road better than the best of ‘em, and looks like it eats Hondas for a late night snack. The new 2006 Hummer H3 falls right in line, too, in a package more people will find appealing. Call it a 9/10ths-scale Hummer, and for most folks, that’s more than what they really need. Stem to stern, the H3 is a commendable vehicle that delivers a smooth, if truck-based, handling character, extreme off-road capability, a comfortable and usable interior, and that appealing Hummer design. On that basis, it’s a good buy for a mid-sized, five-passenger SUV, at a starting sticker price of $28,935.
Ah. But there’s a price for all that good Hummer stuff, and it starts with fuel economy, that old SUV bugaboo. Rated at around 20 miles per gallon, the H3 will achieve that if you park it. Hurting the H3’s efficiency is a 3.5-liter, inline five-cylinder engine that feels overmatched for the job of lugging 4,700 lbs. around town. And even what you love – that Hummer design – comes at price. It’s okay to put form ahead of function, but when you combine large headrests, small windows and a spare tire stuck on the back door, seeing out of the Hummer H3 is like playing peek-a-boo with nearby motorists.
Still, the price is aggressively set. Add options such as side curtain airbags ($395) and the Luxury Package ($3,125), and you’re looking at a real-world cost of around $34,000, a fair price for a comfortable vehicle that offers all that comes with the Hummer name – the good, and the bad.
For such a tough guy, the 2006 Hummer H3 sure lacks punch, and for an otherwise excellent SUV, that’s its biggest flaw. The H3’s 4,700-lb. curb weight is pulled by a 3.5-liter, inline five-cylinder engine that makes 220 horsepower at 5,600 rpm, and 220 lb.-ft. of torque at 2,800 rpm. Power is managed by either a standard five-speed manual or an optional four-speed automatic transmission. Such a powertrain package means that the H3 really gets a sweat up during anything beyond normal driving situations. Uphill or during hard acceleration, it squeals like a pig with a hot foot, and you can almost hear the fuel slushing out of the tank. After a combination of freeway, off-road and city driving, we logged just over 14 miles per gallon, thanks at least partially to an overworked engine. At $3 or more per gallon, you should figure that into your purchase of this vehicle, especially if you plan to use it as a daily driver. Once you get the H3 up to speed, however, it’s a nice cruiser and an excellent freeway vehicle, gobbling up miles with an easy pace and nicely handling traffic. Better still is a cabin that, despite the steep angle of the windshield, stays quiet under most driving conditions.
Stopping also comes with some compromises, though the H3’s four-wheel-disc brakes come standard with ABS. It’s a good thing, for the vehicle more meanders to a close than just flat out stops, its weight settling in and shifting as it loses energy. The pedal is sloppy underfoot, and, as a result, fails to give the driver much confidence in its braking ability. It is what it is, though, so it’s hard to expect stop-on-a-dime reaction from a vehicle as heavy as the H3. Other critical aspects of safe driving are better: the Stabilitrak stability control system works well to keep the car on the road, and the rack-and-pinion steering communicates road irregularities and responds well to commands, even though the H3 is outfitted with big 32-inch wheels and 285/75R16 tires. You’d think that such big tires would make the asphalt sing like a bumble bee choir, but the H3 was actually quite quiet. We’re not sure if we were overcompensating, but the feel and noise that came from the tires sure sounded muted, and the ride was quite compliant for a truck.
Aside from going and stopping, then, the H3 performs admirably, with excellent maneuverability, the kind one would expect from a smaller SUV. In that way, the Hummer H3 drives small, and it’s good. Unfortunately, the H3 also drives small in other areas, such as power, and drives bigger than it is when it comes to fuel economy, braking and cornering.
Hey – 2006 Hummer H3 is a truck that weighs 4,700 lbs. and is designed to travel the Rubicon Trail. If you want a smooth ride, go buy a Honda Pilot. But if you don’t mind a little harshness and body roll in return for awesome off-road capability, the H3 does the job nicely. Just avoid taking corners sharply, or entering into an autocross competition. Seriously, though, push the H3 hard and you’re sure to get plenty of a-rockin’ and a-rollin’, not to mention loud complaining from the big 32-inch tires. This is not the type of vehicle you ever drive aggressively, unless you’re fording a stream.
Once again – it’s a truck, bubba, with a ladder-type frame, basically from the Chevrolet Colorado pickup platform. Drive it like a truck and you’ll be content with its handling. Indeed, chances are that you’ll be very happy with its handling on a day-to-day basis, given the H3’s tight turning radius and overall easy maneuvering character. In traffic or on city streets, the H3 handles adeptly, and the 9.1-inch clearance gives drivers a nice view of the road ahead. The result is an SUV that overcomes a critical shortcoming in terms of rearward visibility and reacts to commands in a nimble fashion during urban driving chores such as changing lanes, turning, and merging into traffic. It’s the more civilized Hummer, indeed, one that feels at home on city streets as well as canyon trails.
True to its Hummer nameplate, the 2006 H3 excels off-pavement, tracking down virtually any trouble you can drive yourself into, whether it’s hills, rocks, sand, or streams. In fact, in some respects it’s an easier vehicle to drive off-road than its larger brother, the H2, as it’s smaller, with better visibility to the front and sides. It’s a real Hummer, though, with the pedigree you expect to come with the name, able to tackle 31-degree grades, slick side slopes and up to 24 inches of standing water. Best of all, at least for novices, is that the H3 is easier to maneuver, easier to switch into low gear, easier to see out of and, as a result, much more enjoyable for those who really just need to get to that great fishing hole. And while we didn’t stretch the H3’s off-road capability, we did give it a work out, chasing fire trails and climbing hills in southern California.
As a result of its capability and the ease of use built into the vehicle, it’s one of our favorite off-roaders. In one setting, we found ourselves at the top of a small hill. The H3 was able to complete a three-point turn using very little real estate, and, traveling slowly down a medium grade marked with rocks and loose soil, the H3 kept its composure nicely, never really threatening to lose traction. Add the Off-road Package and get 33-inch off-road tires, an electronically controlled locking differential, a 4-to-1 transfer case, and off-road shocks. For serious off-roaders, we can only imagine how far one can go with the H3.
Allow us to go only slightly gaga over the bucket seats inside the 2006 Hummer H3. Comfortable and supportive, the leather seats are nonetheless set at what feels like an odd angle that takes a little getting used to. Specifically, your legs feel out of place at first, though it’s a feeling one is likely to get used to within a few days. Another aspect of riding in the H3 that takes a little getting used to is the high beltline and small windows. On one hand, these create a “tank” type feeling inside the cabin. On the other hand, it creates a “tank” type feeling inside the cabin. Whether you like that depends on whether you like to breathe air and stick your elbow out when the window’s down. For this reviewer, the feeling was a little claustrophobic. Nonetheless, the H3 is a comfortable SUV, with plenty of legroom up front, almost 42 inches, which competes nicely with SUVs such as the 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe (41.3 inches) and the Toyota 4Runner (41.8 inches). Width-wise, the Hummer H3 offers separation between the driver and passenger, though it’s slightly narrower than the 4Runner, and a little more than four inches skinnier than the Tahoe.
At its base price, then, the Hummer H3 competes nicely for room in the front, yet doesn’t fare so well in back, falling mid-pack. Expect to get more rear seat room for your little piggies in the Tahoe, about the same in the 4Runner, and less in the Toyota FJ Cruiser. The Jeep Grand Cherokee, meanwhile, offers less space than the Hummer. This back seat does seat three people, though three full grown people may be a bit cramped in the legs and shoulders. The back seat, in general, lacks the comfort of the front, and one wonders why Hummer decided to place cupholders inside the front middle section of the bench, which makes them inaccessible when a third person is in the back, or for a child in a center-mounted car seat.
Call it a more civilized Hummer, the one for people who like the bold look of GM’s bad boy brand but want a more livable environment. The layout of the H3’s controls is simple and straightforward, with added accents that enhance the driving experience. Indeed, aside from the famous Hummer look, the interior is the highlight of the vehicle. Consider, for example, its effective dampening of noise, vibration and harshness. Despite riding on big tires and being built on a truck frame, the sound deadening materials used in the H3 keep most outside noise to a whisper, whether noise or wind. Perhaps the loudest external element, in fact, is the whine of the H3’s overmatched engine, going uphill and wishing it were home sipping an unleaded Mai-Tai. What’s especially impressive about the elimination of sound inside the H3 is the upright nature of the windshield. It looks about as aerodynamic as a brick wall, and, while you get some whistling, it’s remarkably quiet.
Another good example of the attention to detail GM put into crafting this interior is that it takes the basic layout and equipment of the Chevy Colorado pickup truck and adds the Hummer look with chrome accents around the shifter and on the door panel, a chrome H3 insignia on the steering wheel airbag cover, and a brushed metal trim that goes nicely with both chrome and plastic. It’s unmistakably a Hummer, yet the H3 creates its own feel, despite the influence of two other vehicles in the cabin. It does so with touches such as piping along the leather seats, flush-closing vents, easy to handle controls, colorful graphics, and usable cupholders up front – though the backseat, which tends to come across as an afterthought, has cupholders inside the seat, a questionable placement that limits their usage.
The best designed gauges and controls are the ones you never notice, yet use all the time. On this score, the 2006 Hummer H3 does a great job, its horizontal layout making things easy to see and use. It’s also cool, too, with graphics that add flair to the visual experience. There’s not much new about this layout, of course, seeing as it’s largely what you get in the Chevrolet Colorado, and while the H3 adds upscale touches, one must ask: for $30K, I get the Colorado? Well, yeah, kinda, and that’s okay because it works, especially if you’re able to spend some more and add the optional leather. With the chrome highlights balanced against the brushed metal and plastic set pieces, and the iconic Hummer touches, it comes across as an upscale Colorado. The bottom line is this: the layout of the cabin is logically designed for day-to-day living, and it works well, with the exception of a steering wheel that doesn’t telescope and a base driver’s seat that’s missing a height adjustor. Except for that, the three-knob environmental control settings below the radio are easy to reach, and the automatic transmission shifter is a big, beefy unit that feels good in hand. The chrome that surrounds the shifter is nice, as well, though the chrome strip above the radio controls is silly: all it does is reflect glare.
Storage and Cargo
Less is more, or is it? The 2006 Hummer H3 makes better use of available interior space than the H2 does, and day-to-day storage of things like cell phones and sunglasses is handy thanks to plenty of well organized compartments up front made from sturdy plastic. In terms of cargo space, the H3 falls short against some of its $30,000 competitors. For example, the 60/40-split rear seat takes up more space than it should because it doesn’t fold flat, and, with the seats up, fails to match up with like-priced competitors such as the Jeep Grand Cherokee. In fact, total cargo volume can’t match that of the Toyota FJ Cruiser, a less expensive competitor. It’s the same story with the seats down, to the point where one is left with the following conclusion: if you need a fair amount of cargo and storage room, the H3 may not be the car for you.
Ah, but perhaps there actually is enough room in the H3, and it’s you who has the problem with a cluttered life full of soccer equipment and kids. Sacrifices must be made in the name of beautiful exterior design. If you can’t fit that last suitcase into the back of your Hummer H3, or must take up backseat room for the last of the groceries, perhaps you ought to pack a little lighter and eat a little less. It is, after all, a Hummer, and if you can’t fit into a Hummer… Right. Perhaps a smarter interior cargo design is in order – such as seats that fold flat into the floor, a not-so novel concept.
Say this much for the 2006 Hummer H3: It ain’t no wilting pansy. The look is smash mouth all the way, something any good soccer Mom would find to be an endearing quality about her SUV. You want that guy in the wimpy Honda to move out of your way, after all, and in the H3 he may just do that without complaint. It helps, too, that in addition to its aggressive stance, the H3 is an exceedingly good-looking truck, with its seven-slot grille, round headlights, short overhangs, slab sides, and high beltline. Aside from other Hummers, there’s nothing else is like it, really, with its upright windshield and big, come-hit-me black bumper. This vehicle has a personality, aye, an attitude that says, in essence: Just because I never get to go off-road don’t mean I can’t, so na-na-na-na.
But enough happy talk. Whether you think it’s well-designed depends on whether you put form over function. While it’s attractive (save for those flashy fender flares), the Hummer H3 lacks some serious function in its design. Consider the high beltline, plastic fake bits all over the outside, and small windows. Yeah, it looks great, but visibility is terrible. Add to that the spare tire, located on the backside of this beast, and your ability to see what’s behind is severely limited. Because the spare must be mounted there, the H3 suffers another design flaw – the swing-out tailgate. It is a monstrous thing that, while spring loaded, could crush a finger swinging shut on an uphill slope. Consider, too, the joy of parallel parking with a swing-out tailgate. You did want to carry your stuff over the top of the backseat, right?
Talk about your lowered expectations. Thanks to the quality issues found in the larger and more expensive Hummer H2, the H3 could have been built out of cardboard, with egg crate seats, and it would have been an improvement.
Kidding. But only just. The surprise is that the 2006 Hummer H3 is a well done truck, with plastics that feel like they’ll stick around for awhile, comfortable seats and a spacious interior. Whether it reaches its final sticker depends on your expectations, but it just may be better than you think. On the outside, panel gaps are pretty consistent, though there is far too much plastic attached to various spots, especially the large black plastic hood insert. Things break down a bit up front and in the back, where the rear swing-out tailgate doesn’t look like it lines up very well, and the gap between the bumper and the bottom of the gate is larger than any other side of the door. The rear bumper, in fact, suffers all the way around, with at least a quarter-inch gap between the metal and the plastic. That’s in back, and while build quality is better up front, it’s not much better. While we loved the chrome grille, the most disturbing thing about the front was the cheesy plastic insert on the hood, which on ours looked a little off. Side trim, however, looked like it was evenly installed, and the door handles had a nice, firm feel, as if they would last a long time.
Overall, on the outside, designers did an excellent job of bringing Hummer signature touches down in scale to fit the H3 size. The seven-slot grille, the round headlights and slab sides all shout Hummer style, and, in fact, look cooler in the H3 application than on the larger trucks.
Inside, the H3 borrows nits and bits from other GM vehicles, namely the Chevrolet Colorado, adding its own Hummer touch. An especially nice touch, in fact, is the vents: GM designers worked to make the vent flaps close flush – a small touch, but one that matters to the overall environment of the cabin. The seats, with leather piping, were very comfortable and supportive – but buy up and get the eight-way power seats, as a vehicle this large takes a little futzing on the inside. Once you find your spot, controls feel nice to the touch and well-placed, though a little more heft would be nice in the stalks. The brushed aluminum trim goes nicely with the bright chrome H3 insignia and trim. Fit and finish inside the cab is consistent, though we wish for tighter tolerances. Case in point: where the plastic and brushed metal meet in the center console area, the gaps are consistent but could be tighter. Among the highlights, however, is the two-tone choice of materials up front: the plastic looks nice and feels like a quality grade.
For the dollars, this is a more livable interior compared to the more expensive H2, and beats lower-priced competitors such as the Toyota FJ Cruiser and the Nissan Xterra. It’s a poor cousin to the new Chevrolet Tahoe in terms of quality, however, so one would be wise to check out that vehicle. All together, however, it’s a well done truck – with a little help from its friends.
Test Vehicle: 2006 Hummer H3
Price of Test Vehicle: $39,835 (including $565 destination charge)
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: Four-speed automatic
Curb weight, lbs.: 4,700 lbs.
EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway): 16/19 mpg
Observed Fuel Economy: 14.8 mpg
Length: 186.7 inches (with spare and 33-inch tires)
Width: 74.7 inches
Wheelbase: 111.9 inches
Height: 74.5 inches
Leg room (front/rear): 41.9 inches/35 inches
Head room (front/rear): 39.9 inches (with sunroof) / 37.9 inches (with sunroof)
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)
Buick Rainier, Chevrolet TrailBlazer, Chevrolet Tahoe, Dodge Durango, Ford Explorer, GMC Envoy, Honda Pilot, Honda Ridgeline, Isuzu Ascender, Jeep Liberty, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Kia Sorento, Mercury Mountaineer, Mitsubishi Montero, Nissan Pathfinder, Nissan Xterra, Subaru B9 Tribeca, Suzuki XL-7, Toyota 4Runner, Toyota FJ Cruiser
2nd Opinion - Wardlaw
Men two sizes too small for their britches have already labeled the 2006 Hummer H3 a chick car, which is just stupid. Yeah, the inline five-cylinder engine is gutless on the highway and screams like a pansy when it’s all revved up, but otherwise this is the best civilian Hummer of the lot. It’s sized right, priced right, and provides all that macho B.S. image that people who want play soldier, but would wet themselves if they actually found themselves storming insurgent strongholds in Iraq, want.
That said, the H3 is my favorite Hummer riding on four wheels. It’s got those cool gun sight windows all around, and a giant panoramic sunroof overhead. The dashboard is clean and user-friendly, unlike the H2’s hodge-podge of parts and porno movie air vents. The seats are comfortable and, on our test model, trimmed in piped leather. There’s even room in back for adults and lots of cargo space. It’s not easy to get into or out of the H3, especially with the step rails installed, but if you thought it would be simple to clamber aboard before signing on the dotted line, you deserve dirty clothes. Of course, I think the exterior is way overdone with those exaggerated wheel flares and fake air boxes on the hood, but styling is what converts a Hummer intender into a Hummer buyer, and the H3 certainly looks the part.
Even the driving experience is authentic. Anyone who’s been behind the wheel of the original, the H1, knows it is slow and loud. Same here. But it pounds the worst pavement into submission, that’s for sure. And if you’ve driven on the decades-old surface streets of Los Angeles since the massive rainstorms two winters ago, you know that the H3’s heavy-duty underpinnings and giant tires come in handy even when the nearest off-road trail is hours away.
I drove our Hummer H3 like most of its buyers will: On the freeways and side streets of a large metropolitan area. It will cruise at 90 mph as long as there isn’t a hill to climb, and it can keep up with traffic without any trouble. It’s much easier to maneuver than the oversized H2, fitting into fast-food drive-thrus and low-clearance parking garages. Plus, you can squeeze it into spaces marked “compact” without raising the ire of the Prius owner in the next slot. But the ride is truck-tough, it behaves like any box on wheels might in crosswinds, and visibility through the back window is horrible.
Rumor has it that an H3 Alpha, complete with V8 engine, is in the works for 2008. Guys with “issues” might want to wait until then. Or they could just buy a used H2. I hear that resale values of these fuel-sucking SUVs are plummeting now that gas sells for three bucks a gallon. – Christian J. Wardlaw
Photos courtesy of General Motors