Machine Design

2003 Hummer H2

After having driven a Hummer H1 Wagon off-road, I thought the H2 would be a let down. Wrong.

The H2 did everything I asked of it and made it look easy.

The “baby” Hummer, as it sometimes is called, is actually longer (189.8 versus 184.5 in.) and taller (77.8 versus 75 in.) than the H1 Wagon, though somewhat narrower (81.2 versus 86.5 in.). Beyond obvious styling cues borrowed from the original Hummer, further comparisons would be about pointless because the H2 is an entirely different, more-refined animal.

The interior is what you'd expect in a luxury SUV and comfortably seats five, but there is surprisingly little usable storage behind the rear seats. The spare tire consumes about half of the room and an optional, removable rear jump seat, the other half. A rear-door-mounted spare would help and a luggage rack is a must for most excursions.

Storage space aside, the H2 is remarkably quiet, smooth, and responsive, on and off-road, thanks to the purposeful chassis it's built upon.

Our test model had the automatic, air-operated, load-leveling rear suspension. Longer, 719-mm-length shocks provide an additional 20 mm of rebound travel over that of the standard, progressive coil-spring suspension to help maintain wheel contact with the ground over undulating terrain. An “extended ride height” mode jacks up the rear end two additional inches for greater body-to-ground clearance and departure angle.

Protecting the underbelly from damage is a system of shields and guards including a 4-mm-thick, angled, aluminum plate mounted below the hardened steel front bumper and terminating at the transmission, a 1-in.-diameter tubular steel cage over the transmission and catalytic converters, a cantilevered, high-tensile-strength-steel plate on the transfer case, a thermoplastic shroud over the 33-gallon gas tank, and frame-mounted, steel-tube side rails that double as entry steps. The tubular-steel cage can temporarily support the truck's entire 6,400-lb weight if necessary.

Anything that could hang up the truck (crossmembers, exhaust, brackets) sits flush with or above the frame rails. Massive LT315/70R17 all-terrain tires help boost ground clearance to 9.9 in. yet have plenty of travel in ample wheel wells. The H2 can ford 20 in. of standing water at 5 mph. Doors are triple sealed against leaks. A square-tube winch receiver in the front bumper accepts an optional 9,000-lb electric winch. The matching trailer-hitch receiver is built into the rear crossmember and handles a 7,000-lb trailer.

Powering the substantial truck is a 6.0-liter Vortec V8 engine that makes 325 hp at 5,200 rpm and 385 lb-ft of torque at 3,800 rpm. As you might expect, mileage isn't great. I averaged about 11.5 mpg in combined highway/trail driving. The potent powerplant hooks to a heavy-duty, four-speed automatic transmission and a pushbutton controlled Borg-Warner transfer case.

An electronic Eaton rear differential locks together both rear drive wheels for maximum climbing grunt. Two traction-control modes are available. The first mode immediately applies power to wheels with grip and braking to spinning wheels to claw up uneven terrain. The second mode allows more wheelspin to propel the truck through loose sand.

None of this helped, however, when mud and wet grass turned a steeply sloped trail into a slippery, tire-clogging bog. A few attempts to make forward progress from a halt only spun the tires. I backed down, built some momentum, and topped the obstacle without incident.

In fact, the H2 went all the places that the H1 Wagon conquered last trip. Surprisingly, a friend's Jeep Cherokee and Toyota 4-Runner also made it through these obstacles, which begs the question: What can a Hummer H2 do off-road that ordinary 4WDs can't? I'd say plenty. But a bigger question remains: Would you risk rough-housing your $55,000 Hummer to find out?

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