– Stand-out presence
– Good off-road ability
– Good rear legroom
– Too big for the streets
– Full-size fuel economy
– Poor cargo-area management
The American Humvee is “small” enough to be considered a light tactical vehicle, in the context of military hardware. In the context of civilian vehicles however, the almost-unrelated Hummer H2 is a downright tank. It is probably the largest vehicle you are legally allowed to drive without needing to apply for a truck licence.
While the 2008 Hummer H2 doesn’t look very different from when it first appeared in 2001, the refreshed model receives a new 6.2-litre V8 and a totally new interior. On the outside, the biggest change is the spare wheel, relocated from inside the cargo area to the outside tailgate. Improvements aside, entering the cabin still remains an exercise in mountain-climbing, even with the chrome side-steps.
Once the mountain is conquered, climbers are greeted with heavily-improved cabin materials. Many of the surfaces are soft to the touch, like the dashboard, door sills and armrests, with smatterings of metal-look trim and well-done leather upholstery, all offering better ambience than the cheap work-truck vibe of the previous model. Hard plastics are kept to a reasonable level. But overall build quality, inside and out, is average at best, as plastic and rubber trim-pieces seem hurriedly assembled.
Interior space is immense. There is tons of legroom for first-row and second-row passengers, while the third row can actually hold average-sized adults with ease. However, climbing into that last row is another back-breaking story altogether. Overall headroom isn’t as tall as you’d expect in a vehicle this size. Also, foot-space for the front passenger is partially taken up by a stupid dealer-installed fire-extinguisher, as seems to be the case with many of the General’s GCC-spec four-wheelers. Half the controls require a long reach, as simply adjusting the central rear-view mirror requires stretching out. There are enough cup-holders and storage cubbies to satisfy any family, while there is still enough room out back for a small suitcase or two even with the third-row seats in use. Trying to extend the cargo area is a chore, as the third-row seats flip down but don’t fold into the floor, so they have to be removed for larger items. It also took us a while to figure out the three-step procedure to swing away the big spare tyre and open up the heavy tailgate, all of which might be a problem if space around the parked truck is limited.
The H2 is fully loaded, as a vehicle should be at this price range. While there is nothing revolutionary, equipment levels are good, including the usual power accessories, auto-dimming mirrors, front and rear a/c with roof-mounted vents and separate digital controls in the back, basic keyless entry, multiple front and side airbags, a large sunroof, cruise control, traction control, tyre-pressure monitor, a rather good CD stereo mated with a navigation system, a rear ceiling-mounted DVD screen, and lots of little lights on the roof for that UFO mother-ship effect at night, if its sheer size isn’t enough to scare nearby people. The navigation is touchscreen-based, and a bit complicated to figure out, but it has the useful feature of tracing your previous movements, should you get lost in the desert. The a/c takes a bit of time to cool the large interior, but once it gets going, it gets very cold even in the summer afternoon heat. Another interesting feature is an “inflator” valve, mounted in the cargo area, presumably to re-inflate tyres after a sandy workout, although we didn’t find any tubes included to connect the inflator to the tyres.
Powered by a new 393 hp 6.2-litre V8, the larger engine is more powerful than the old motor, and actually supposed to be more fuel-efficient too. Thanks to 562 Nm of peak torque at 4300 rpm, we managed a reasonable 8.7 seconds in the summer-time 0-100 kph sprint, and averaged an awful fuel consumption 21.5 litres/100 km, although incidentally, that is comparable to the smaller Chevy Tahoe and even the Toyota Land Cruiser. The smooth 6-speed gearbox, operated by a childishly-huge aircraft-style lever, even has a manual mode. After we finally found the manual-shift buttons behind the wheel a few days into our test drive, it was useful to have better control of the revs, even if reactions to inputs are a bit delayed. The automatic mode generally hesitates to downshift unless the throttle is pounded on, and thereby probably contributing to the surprisingly competitive fuel economy.
Daily life in the city with the H2 is a pain in the ass. It makes us wonder why some insecure rich people want to add to their troubles by having to manoeuvre this tank around crowded by-lanes in the name of vanity. All-round visibility is limited, so we had to move our heads a lot to peer around the thick pillars. On the road, cars behind disappear, although parking is made easier by the rear-view camera. This doesn’t solve all issues though, as the distorted camera view has no guiding lines, as is common in other cars, and there are no beeping sensors, so some guesswork is required. However, the turning circle is as tight as can be for a vehicle this big, and with the soft steering, parking isn’t a strain on the arms. After somehow managing to fit the H2 in a standard parking space, the doors can only be opened partially without banging the car alongside. Also, low-ceiling parking garages can give a bit of a scare, but the H2 made it through all of these mall lots.
On the open highway, things get better. The ride is comfortable enough, and some wind noise is there, but not as much as expected from a rolling brick. It feels only slightly wallowy sometimes, and gets jittery on some rough surfaces, but it feels more composed than a Tahoe Z71, on which the H2’s platform is based.
It surprises again with its on-road handling. While body roll is excessive and handling is soft, it still sways noticeably less than the Tahoe Z71 around corners and sharp turns. And with 305/60 rubber on optional 20-inch chrome wheels, the tyres manage to stay quiet longer than the Tahoe before they start squealing in a turn. We feel the tyres might even out-grip the latest Land Cruiser, even while tilting like the Titanic. Even the big ABS-assisted discs offer solid braking power, feeling less mushy and more linear than the stoppers on the Tahoe. All this is obviously the effect of upgraded Hummer components, but the results make the smaller Tahoe and even the H3 feel comparatively outdated.
The H2 is considered to be the king of rock-climbers, which would be great if off-roading in the GCC didn’t largely consist of sand dunes. The heavy truck did fairly well in our limited jaunts, but it seemed to sink more easily into soft sand than lighter offroaders. It stays from drowning too deep and keeps going thanks to excellent ground clearance, fat tyres, responsive all-wheel-drive and a strong engine. The steering offers no feedback, but it is manageable. There is a dial that some might mistake for the stereo volume knob, but it is the transfer-case control for automatic 4-high, locked 4-high, and 4-low. Our tester also had an optional adjustable air-suspension system, although changes in height were so miniscule that we don’t know if it was even functioning. Standard metal bash-plates protect parts of the underbelly, while an electronic locking rear-diff is also included.
Pimping around in an H2 can be described as fun, as people stared at us with respect, disgust and fear. It handled itself well on the road, given enough space, while it does fine off-road too. We just felt embarrassed every time we jumped out of the H2, as you’d have to be at least 7 feet tall to look smart standing next to one of these. There are Hummer clubs out there that take these trucks off-road on group trips, and we respect them. The rest of the snooty owners, including D-list local celebrities and binge-drinking soccer-moms, should be banned from buying them.