Hummer H3 -- 2006 Review: 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.