Go anywhere... just not quickly
When Hummer's PR folks invited us to come drive the 2009 Hummer H3T crew cab midsize pickup truck, they didn't take us to a track to show off the four-wheel drive crew cab's power, which is good because its competitors have better power to weight ratios. They didn't take us out to a farm to show off the four-door pickups utility, also smart because at $5,000 more than the competition, the H3T is a bit pricy to be just a work truck. They didn't send us threading our way through the urban jungle to show off the new Hummer pickup's refinement or economy, which would be laughable because it is neither economical nor refined. Instead they took us into the Sierras and turned us loose on a tight, twisty, rock-strewn off-road trail to showcase the H3T's whole reason for existence: The ability to haul people and cargo anywhere.
The Hummer press wranglers constantly referred to the H3T as a niche vehicle, catering to a lifestyle of adventure, making the H3T Adventure a niche within a niche. If go anywhere capability has a higher priority for midsize pickup buyers than more responsive acceleration, and that capability is worth the additional $5,000, then the H3T is the only choice.
Nobody is surprised to find that using a 3.7-liter, five-cylinder engine to lug around 4,934 pounds of vehicle results in anemic highway performance. But winding the motor up through each of the five manual gears does get the vehicle up to maintainable highway speed provided there are no hills in your future. Still, Hummer claims the manual H3T with the inline-5 engine will get to 60 mph quicker than the 2008 Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon, so enthusiasts shopping for go-anywhere capability will have to find other reasons not to pick the H3T Adventure. If manual transmissions are not your thing, there is a four-speed automatic available as well.
Hummer refers to the H3T line as a niche market vehicle since no other mid-size truck offers the same trail abilities right out of the box. With the inline-5 and manual transmission combination only accounting for an anticipated two percent of sales, that makes this drivetrain combo the niche of the niche.
The reason for offering such a low volume vehicle is to appease the enthusiast market. The manual five-speed gear box offers a 69:1 crawl ratio providing tractoresque performance. On the trail, we were able to let the clutch out and forget about it as the H3T climbed over every obstacle in its path, stalling only twice.
In an era where trucks are made to offer drivers a more car-like experience, from the way they handle and feel to the creature comforts included in their long lists of options, the act of driving the H3T Adventure still feels like a truck. The seating is upright, gearing is low and the manual tranny has to be wound out to get it to speed just like an early pick up with granny low. But these weren't bench seats we were sitting on and they were comfortable enough to hold up over a long haul.
The H3T is big for a midsize truck, but don't let the size fool you, it is still very maneuverable through tight situations as we found out on our trail ride. Steering is not noteworthy other than it avoids being as ponderous as so many midsize trucks and SUVs tend to do. In the H3T, it simply exists and does what it is meant to do. The longer wheelbase of the H3T gives it a decided advantage over the H3 SUV, by distributing imperfections in the road over a longer area to reduce rocking and bucking. Hummer claims the suspension and shocks are specifically tuned to the H3T and we could find nothing to argue the contrary. The ride was smoother than any mid-size four-wheel drive pickup in recent memory and the truck handled corners well.
Where the longer back end does come into play is while the H3T is in reverse. There is no backup camera for manual transmission models and anything directly behind the vehicle and lower than the top of the tailgate will soon be reduced to scrap if you are unaware of its presence.
The same suspension that worked so well on the road to maintain our comfort did equally well on the trail, absorbing boulders and dipping into holes without getting tippy and tempting gravity to see how well Victory Red paint holds up against pedal car-sized boulders. Watching the droop and compression of the compliant suspension, it seems there should be more body roll on the highway, but Hummer seems to have found an ideal balance between off-road performance and on-road comfort.
Our tester came in the H3T Adventure trim which meant LT285/75R16 (33-inch) on-/off-road Bridgestone radials differentiated it externally from a base H3T. And the lack of an Alpha Badge is what distinguishes it from H3T Alphas equipped with simlar Adventure gear.
The inside is a different story. The H3T Adventure only comes with cloth seats, but they are hardly a penalty as they are good enough that for the first time they can be ordered in Alpha models. The fabric feels durable and the seating is comfortable and semi-supportive even when bouncing over rocks. However, the seats are only manually adjustable and do not have a heating option.
The center and door armrests as well as the door insets are padded, but most other areas are made up of nicely texture, low gloss plastic. A little extra padding on the door sill would make it more comfortable to poke your head out when watching for trail obstacles.