- The Washington Times - Friday, February 8, 2008

MOTOR MATTERS

Hummer H3 Alpha brought back fond memories of the very exciting drive I had years ago in the huge Hummer H2.

On that drive, I climbed up a mountain and drove over boulders. Dangling on top of a boulder and being held by only one wheel, the H2 brought me safely down to the ground.

Today’s 2008 Hummer H3 is a midsize SUV and much more civilized, but it’s also extremely off-road capable. The interior has comfortable leather seats and the interior not only warms up quickly, it also provides the option of heated seats, and its curb-to-curb turning circle is just 37 feet — typical of a compact car.

Options on my $43,120 tester were the eight-way power seats; leather-wrapped steering wheel; shift knob and boot; carpeted cargo area floor mat and cargo cover; sunroof and a trailer hitch.

An enjoyable sound is the rhythmic “tick-tock” tone when using the turn signals. The H3 Alpha features a powerful 5.3-liter V-8 engine that produces 300 horsepower. This is a similar engine used in the legendary Chevy Silverado. In four-wheel drive, I felt I could go off-road and challenge Mother Nature — and the H3 Alpha can tow up to 6,000 pounds.

Driving over bumpy, paved roads, the H3 Alpha absorbs the road-jolts, making the ride feel much smoother compared to other vehicles. That’s because it is equipped with independent torsion bars and gas-charged shocks, plus a large tubular stabilizer bar.

This vehicle rides on 16-inch chrome wheels that are wrapped with Bridgestone tires. The H3 Alpha provides off-roaders with a 12-inch ground clearance, which is about 4 inches higher than most SUVs.

In order to utilize its off-road capabilities, the driver and passengers must make a tough 22-inch climb into the cabin without the assistance of running boards.

I’m told the frame was modified to accept the V-8 engine, and a special oil pan was designed to ensure constant oil pressure on steep grades — which is a hallmark of Hummer’s off-road ability. It’s capable of climbing 16-inch vertical rocks.

This five-passenger SUV has a rear vision system with a camera near the rear bumper. When I put it in reverse, a small screen slid out from the rearview mirror, allowing me to see what was behind from two viewpoints.

The H3 comes equipped with StabiliTrak, which is an electronic stability control system. Other safety features are four-wheel disc anti-lock brakes with traction control and dual front airbags.

Here’s the bad news: EPA gas mileage rating is 13 city and 16 highway.

It gets high marks with the government’s safety ratings. It received five stars for the driver’s side frontal crash and four-stars for the passenger. It also received a five-star rating in side crash testing.

Compared to the Hummer H2, the H3 Alpha is 16 inches shorter in length, 6 inches shorter in height and 6.5 inches narrower, roughly the size of a midsize family sedan, which makes it easy to negotiate city driving and slip into parking spaces.

My tester also featured XM Satellite radio and an AM/FM six-disc CD player with a seven-speaker Monsoon sound system. The Alpha also has GM’s OnStar, which is a remarkable system that only requires a touch of a button to be connected to an advisor who can give directions to your destination from wherever you are. OnStar also advises when you’re in need of an oil change or anything else the vehicle needs.

Best of all, if you have an accident, OnStar will send help immediately.

The H3 certainly is the Alpha dog of civilized, rugged off-road beasts.

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