The Hummer driver is not going to feel good pulling up outside the organic food store for that stash of quinoa and tofu, even if he is wearing sandals and a ‘Save the Whales’ T-shirt because, frankly, he’s incinerated a huge jug of fossil fuel just driving round the block. More likely that Hummer owner is wearing designer camo and a T with a ‘Global Warming Rocks’ message as he roars up to the local butchery to load up on chops and steak in preparation for another bout of emissions generating activity.
See the Hummer V8 is one of those ‘no apologies, not ever’ kinds of cars. A classic case of image before taste. Yet in truth it’s an unfair victim of prejudice. It looks bad to the bone, representing wanton excess and all that was wrong with American foreign policy. Truth is it uses less fuel than a typical Land Cruiser or Range Rover petrol, and though nearly two metres wide as they are, is actually shorter and lighter. Chew on that for a moment.
Against the Hummer H1 or the H2, it’s a midget, based on a very ordinary (right-sized in the US) Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon pick-up or GMT 345 platform. It also makes it a technological dinosaur, using antediluvian ladder-on-frame chassis, solid rear axle with leaf spring and an independent front. Super tough then, in the mould of a Land Cruiser 70 Series or typical bakkie workhorse, but with a floating front, and unforgiving, jarring rear. Despite the special gas shocks and four-channel ABS, it shimmies and rolls, is better in a straight line than the curves, and brakes likes a squirming dog that doesn’t want to go for a walk. Worse, the Hummer appears to be a parts bin mongrel, constructed by borrowing bits from all over the GM stable and throwing them together with the minimal attention to detail or integration. Drive one and it feels like an underfunded project, chock full of hastily conceived elements that don’t quite talk to each other.
Yes, it’s loads of fun. Yes, it looks mean and square, and yes it’s full of that hard to define presence. Pull up to the pumps and attendants are all over it, filling you up first and muttering things about a ‘man’s car’. Watch lesser cars dive out of the way on the highway as that wide grille spills over their rear-view mirror. If that sort of stuff makes your day, well fine. But dig deeper to the vehicle itself, and massive disappointment awaits.
The supersized wheels and tyres (265/75R16’s with a 32 inch outside diameter) are key to the car’s ground clearance and contribute to the off-road capability (which is not in doubt at all), but the hub element is a plastic knock-off made to look like the original military tyre inflater. Tap on the big chrome vents on the bonnet – they’re also plastic. Ditto the grille, the rear steps and so on. Fine for cutting weight (down to a mere 2352kg for this all-spec Luxury version) but mostly badly executed. At least the side steps, signature tow hooks on each corner and that beefy back plate are the real thing. The new V8 is also much more of a pleasure to drive than the wimpy 180kW five-in-line 3.7 litre alternative. The 224kW 5.3 litre unit sounds better, if a bit muted and it give the sort of throbbing power you must have in a vehicle of this sort. But the small-block LH8’s main virtue is its size, not the tech. It is epically thirsty, delivering just on 18 litres/100km on a highway stint and more in around-town driving. Yet unlike the Rangie and Cruiser rivals, for example, it’s not particularly smooth or fast, and badly matched to the same strong but unsophisticated Hydra-Matic 4L60 four-speed auto that is also used for the 3.7 litre unit. Instead of surging up hills, it hunts to third or lower. Kickdown is a lurching, screaming affair as the Vortec V8 gets out of its comfort zone. On hills, it’s better to manually shift down to prevent the ratio-grabbing charade. This car needs more auto ratios and at the very least a free-flow exhaust fitted to match the visual fury with some proper noise. More to the point, where the hell is that turbodiesel that’s been on the cards for years. Word is, it’s going to be a smaller capacity four cylinder. At least this kind of torque will be (a bit) cheaper.
Going inside is another letdown. Everything bows hugely inward – the dash, the doors, the roof. Peering out through those pillbox slit windows the effect is mildly claustrophobic. Yup, you’re high up, the seats are huge and adjustable for warmth and every kind of body shape, plus they have that elegant old world piping trim. The rear pews have lots of legroom, the load area is pretty big, even if the door swings the wrong way for our roads, but there’s so much space for more. Instead of creating pockets and stash areas, sheets of cruddy plastic cover up empty space. There’s no place to stash your iPod or cellphone or any other trash unless you want to use the relatively small cubbyhole or centre pod. In their defence the knurled rubber knobs on the HVAC and audio controls are pretty cool, and the reversing camera in the rear-view mirror is essential. The steering wheel offers a meaty grip, even if it is heavily assisted, and that gigantic T-grip is all it should be – totally over the top. But sadly, the overall effect is all too pedestrian, ho-hum. The ho-hum Hummer. Now that’s an insult. Let’s hope the new Chinese owners do something with it. Certainly Tengzhong Industrial Machinery Company didn’t push the boat out too far with an estimated purchase price of $500 million. H3s will still be built at Shreveport in Louisiana – heaven knows they need it – and it can only get better. Roll on the turbodiesel with some revisions to the shoddy, tramlining handling and a refreshed interior that feels less like a horror movie with the walls closing in. Give us that tank on the rampage. Then I’m first out the blocks for a serious dirt session, shod in khaki and camo.