Second Look: 2009 Hummer H3T

Leftlane recently had the opportunity to sample the new Hummer H3T and compare it to what General Motors says will be two of its chief rivals: The Toyota Tacoma and the Ford F-150. The H3T represents a new direction for the smallest of the two Hummers currently offered: A useful pickup variant aimed more at the outdoorsy set than the suburban buyer of the standard H3.

Keen-eyed readers will remember that Mark Elias drove the H3T about a month ago. Now that GM has officially announced its intention to sell the flailing marque, we're forced to evaluate the H3T in a different light. Is it a lame-duck model from a brand that won't fall under the GM umbrella much longer? Or is it just what Hummer needs to perk up sales despite $3.50 a gallon gasoline?

GM invited us to test out the H3T on a moderately challenging off road course against two of its biggest rivals equipped with their off-road packages - the Tacoma TRD package and the F-150 FX4 package. We've decided to provide you with another full evaluation of the H3T as well as capsule comparisons to its chief non-GM rivals to see how the newest Hummer stacks up.

What is it?
At its core, the H3T is essentially a crew cab Chevrolet Colorado pickup with a lift kit, a heavy-duty four-wheel drive transfer case, available locking differentials and a Hummer-ish look inside and especially out. That said, it would take considerably more effort to make a Colorado anywhere near this capable off road.

The H3T comes in two flavors with a few different toppings: A base 3.7-liter inline-five cylinder and a 5.3-liter V8 called "Alph" in Hummer-speak. Both come standard with a surprising array of convenience and capability features, including Bluetooth, XM radio, an auto-dimming mirror and, of course, 32 inch tires, full-time four-wheel-drive and a full complement of skid plates and recovery hooks.

What's it up against?
If you haven't been paying attention so far, you might want to just give up now. Tacoma TRD. F-150 FX4. And GM no doubt realizes that the Silverado/Sierra pickups with the Z71 package and the Colorado/Canyon with the light-duty off-road suspension will probably be on shoppers' lists. In the interest of full disclosure, GM also considers the severely dated Dodge Dakota as a competitor, too.

The H3T is a bit bigger than the Tacoma and a bit smaller than the F-Series.

Any breakthroughs?
On the surface, no. It's a crew cab pickup with a lift kit. But, it has an especially stout transfer case and an especially low crawl ratio of 68.9:1 with the optional extra-low range transfer case and the standard manual transmission (I5 only). It also offers a compelling value with the aforementioned standard features and a hefty 4-year, 50,000-mile warranty.

How does it look?
Like a Hummer H3 with a bed - because that's what it is. Hummer has stretched the H3T's wheelbase to accommodate a roomy cab and a five foot bed. From the side, the proportions are a bit awkward like most other crew cab pickups and from every other angle it looks like an H3, for better or worse. The bed is awfully high off the ground thanks to the 10 inches or so of ground clearance and the 32 or 33-inch tires, limiting its usefulness for heavy loads.

Ford hasn't released the facelifted 2009 F-150 yet, so we had to evaluate the 2008. It features standard pickup proportions and the familiar big front end face we've gotten used to. The FX4 package doesn't include much additional style aside from stickers and 18" all-terrain rubber.

The Tacoma received a mild nip and tuck treatment for 2009 with new clear-ish tail lamps and an ever-so-slightly more butch front fascia. Its TRD package jacks up the suspension a bit and adds a locking rear differential.

And inside?
Again, standard Hummer H3. You sit low and don't have that much headroom thanks to the squashed greenhouse. It's also a fairly narrow cabin, especially in the front passenger's footwell area. The back seat is low to the ground and not especially well padded or contoured. The windshield is fairly far away and quite upright, though visibility overall is reasonable. And GM's brilliant rearview camera built into the rearview mirror (optional) is present.

Materials-wise, it's a mixed bag. The dash is made of quality plastics and seems well screwed together, but the standard cloth upholstery is flimsy for such a rugged vehicle. The optional leather is nicer, especially with contrasting piping.

Overall, the interior design is pleasant and appealing, though not as rugged-looking as it ought to be in a vehicle like this.

The F-150 we evaluated featured the 2008 interior, which is noticeably less rich in design and material quality than the 2009 and the H3T. Assembly quality was also a significant notch below the Hummer - flimsy panels rattled on the almost brand-new test vehicle. Obviously, it's quite a bit bigger inside and the upright seating position is more big rig than the H3T.

The Tacoma was similarly sized inside and the design was brighter thanks to light colored materials throughout and an especially airy greenhouse. Overall material quality struck us as a step down from the H3T, though the design was less gimmicky. The Tacoma's interior is much more carlike than trucklike.

But does it go?
The H3T Alpha - with its 5.3 liter V8 - moves quickly and emits a throaty V8 growl. Yet with an estimated 13/16 mpg city/highway, it's hardly efficient - even for a 300 horsepower engine motivating a brick-shaped pickup. Like the I5, it comes with an antiquated four-speed automatic. GM has a great six-speed automatic. It should be in this vehicle.

The standard H3T moves along well enough for most any taste with the automatic. We didn't get the opportunity to sample the manual transmission variant. With 239 horsepower on tap, the base H3T averages a more reasonable 14/18 mpg.

Off-road, the H3T is absolutely the most capable pickup on the market. That should come as no surprise - but what did downright shock us was how refined it was at all times both on pavement and off. It's positively quiet at highway speeds, it delivers a pleasantly plush ride (though admittedly cornering isn't its forte) and the H3T was absolutely the most rock-solid body-on-frame vehicle we've encountered. Our battered preproduction test H3Ts had nary an interior rattle or a shake of the bed even on the worst washboard surfaces we could throw at it. Naturally, it scampered up 40 degree inclines with nary a complaint - its hill-start assist working as advertised - and it hopped over 16 inch "curbs" with no more than a bounce.

Comparatively speaking, the F-150 is yesterday's news. We're told the 2009 will be a bit stiffer, but we imagine it would take quite a bit of engineering to quell the shaking bed and interior rattles, not to mention the wind noise and ride harshness. Where the H3T coddled over bad pavement and rocky terrain, the F-150 sent heads shaking from one side to another. There really was no comparison between the two.

The Tacoma was closer to the H3T in all regards, though we noticed a bit more steering kickback over the rough stuff and a bit more road noise at speed. The interior seemed similarly well screwed together, however.

Why you would buy it:
You want cargo-hauling capability in an off-road ready package and you're willing to put up with lousy fuel economy. Or, sadly, you're going to put 22 inch wheels on it and shine it up every weekend to look good in your local shopping mall parking lot.

Why you wouldn't:

You have no need to leave the pavement or you want a smaller pickup.

It's a shame that it took GM so long to bring to market a practical Hummer pickup - the H2 SUT is simply too cumbersome and, at nearly $60,000, too expensive, to be truly useful. The H3T is so much more useful than the cramped standard H3 that it is the first Hummer-badged vehicle we've driven that genuinely makes sense for a number of pickup buyers. It's better off road than its competitors and at least their equal on road.

"Too little, too late" is a standard maxim we often pull out for vehicles like this - but with the Hummer brand soon on the selling block, that overused phrase has never seemed so appropriate.

2009 Hummer H3T base price: $31,495 including destination. H3T Alpha, $36,760 including destination. Optional equipment pricing to be released soon.

Words and photos by Andrew Ganz