How I grew to love the Hummer

It’s big, it’s brash, it’s American and you can’t afford it. Or can you? Gavin Foster comes to grips with the car environmentalists love to hate—the Hummer H3.

Buy a new Hummer H3 and you get a free Harley-Davidson 883 Sportster. That’s the offer General Motors has been advertising for the past few months, and it’s good news for buyers, even those with no interest in motorcycling.
Why? Because it means that GM’s willing to discount the vehicles, and buyers who don’t want the motorcycle can negotiate anything up to R90 000 off the price of the 4X4 instead. Vehicle sales have slumped with the global economic crisis, and 4X4s have been hit the hardest, for economic and environmental treasons. Sadly for General Motors, the Hummer has ended up being unfairly labelled as the biggest, dirtiest gas-guzzler of the lot. 

Let’s look at the Hummer H3 and sort fact from fiction:

  • Myth number one: The Hummer is just too big to drive on public roads.

    Rubbish. The original American military Hummer H1 and its civilian counterpart, the H2, were both enormous. The Hummer H3, built in Port Elizabeth, although similarly styled, is much smaller; it’s also slightly smaller than the Land Rover Discovery and considerably smaller than the Mercedes-Benz GL and ML series, the Toyota Land Cruiser, the Audi Q7, the Jeep Grand Cherokee and the Range Rover, to name just a few.

  • Myth number two: The Hummer is very thirsty and pollutes the environment enormously.

    While the Hummer isn’t economical to run, its average consumption of slightly less than 15 litres of fuel per 100km is way better than many of its rivals in the marketplace. Some of the big 4X4s gulp down 25l/100km, almost double the Hummer’s consumption. Pollution is a by-product of the fuel burnt, so the Hummer is far from the biggest culprit in this department.

  • Myth number three3: The Hummer is hugely expensive.

    On the couple of occasions I’ve had Hummers to drive, I’ve been surprised at the number of people who’ve come across to admire them, but said they were put off by the ‘R1-million” price tag. Here again the public tends to confuse the Hummer H3 with the much bigger and more expensive H2, a vehicle that has never officially been brought into South Africa. The H3 retails here at between R393 000 and R480 000, with up to R90 000 discount available to those who fight for it. That’s still expensive, but no more so than most good 4X4s with serious off-road capability, and cheaper than a lot of soft-roaders that are nowhere near as good off-road. 

    Having knocked those misconceptions on the head, I can tell you what I like and dislike about the Hummer H3. Starting with the bad, the four-speed automatic gearbox option just doesn’t work for me. Top gear is very high and third too low, so the car tends to feel like it’s in the wrong gear a lot of the time. A five or six speed auto gearbox would be better. I’d go for the cheaper five-speed manual version for now.

    The Hummer’s five-cylinder 3,7 lire petrol engine feels a little underpowered for some, but it can get up to 100 km/h in around 10,5 seconds, which is reasonable. Top speed is electronically limited to 156 km/h, so if you’re a speed freak you could be disappointed.

    As for as just about everything else goes, I love it. The styling is brilliant, build quality really is superb, and noise levels are low on the open road, making the car feel extremely classy. Despite the Hummer’s apparent bulk it’s also not unwieldy to drive, and all the usual conveniences—aircon, ABS brakes, airbags, sound system, electrically adjustable seats, electric mirrors and traction control—are there. And it’s extremely capable in serious off-road conditions, thanks to generous ground clearance, a low range transmission, and short front and rear overhangs that mean the bumpers won’t dig in on steep hills.

    For me, the Hummer is one of the most appealing 4x4 wagons available, and I really believe that, although expensive, it’s still a bargain for those who need a serious, stylish, 4X4. The politically correct brigade will no doubt shun the wagon because of its image, but for those with a slightly thicker skin who fancy the vehicle, I reckon it’s a bargain!

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