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The new pickup-truck variation on the gas-hungry behemoth is great for off-road driving. But for other uses, it's hard to justify the price
Some years ago, I interviewed the top executives at Smith & Wesson (SWB), and afterward the PR woman took me over to a firing range to test the company's products. I'm not a big fan of gun culture, but I've never forgotten the feeling of exhilaration and power I got from blasting away at targets with .357 Magnums and .38 Specials.
There's a similar feeling of guilty pleasure when you climb behind the wheel of a Hummer H2 SUT, the new pickup truck version of the Hummer. You know intellectually that a big Hummer is the mother of all gas-guzzlers, and far more vehicle than most people really need. But, boy, is it fun to have all that power at your command.
Despite high gasoline prices, Hummer sales nearly tripled in the first two months of this year, to 10,859. But the increase is due to the runaway success of the new smaller H3 model, sales of which jumped from zero to 8,071 units in January and February (see BW Online, 12/27/06, "The Mini Hummer Is Quite Mighty"). Sales of the big, bulky H2 plunged 25.8%, to just 2,745 units, in the period, about half their peak in the first two months of 2003. Adding the pickup-truck version of the H2 is an attempt by General Motors (GM) to freshen up the line and keep sales from plunging further.
The SUT is far from a typical pickup truck. It has almost exactly the same off-road capabilities the regular H2 has: You can ford 20-inch-deep streams, climb 16-in. steps or rocks, travel sideways along a 40 degree grade without turning over, and climb a 60 degree grade. In the SUT, however, the H2's station-wagon-style cab is shortened to make space for a 35-in. pickup-truck bed in the back. If you need to haul longer payloads, you can fold down the rear seats and open a mid-gate at the back of the cab to lengthen the bed to 73-in.
From the side, the SUT's stumpy rear-end and squared-off cab make it look a lot like a tugboat on wheels, especially at night, with the numerous orange and red running lights all lit up. The bed doesn't provide enough hauling capacity for most plumbers and contractors, but it's adequate for weekenders. It's handy to have someplace where you can haul garbage, a lawnmower or jugs of gasoline without stinking up the cab.
The downside is that opening up the mid-gate on a frigid winter day isn't very practical. I hauled two long ski bags one day and had to stand them up in the bed, leaning against the back of the cab -- pretty precarious during highway driving.
However, this may be the pickup truck of choice for serious off-roaders. I didn't get to test the SUT's rock-climbing and river-fording abilities, but I did take it out one day after a foot of snow had fallen in my corner of northeast Pennsylvania, and I can report that a person can barrel down an unpaved logging-style road in deep snow at 20- to 25-miles-per-hour, no problem.
Getting stuck in mud or snow in an SUT would be virtually impossible. Among other things, it has a four-wheel-drive system that GM contends is "perhaps the most advanced ever offered on a consumer vehicle." You can lock the automatic transmission into low-speed and low-gear modes to power out of ditches or climb over big rocks.
The system electronically monitors all four-wheels and transfers power to the other wheels if any are losing traction -- a Hummer can often continue moving forward even when three wheels are slipping. And there's a wrinkle in the traction control system that allows the wheels to slip more than usual in certain situations so the truck can "paddle" its way out of deep snow and sand.
SHOCK AT THE PUMP.
If I were going to buy a Hummer, though, I would go with the H3. There are just too many downsides to a full-size Hummer, beginning with the price. The H2 SUT starts at just under $54,000, including standard features such as power and leather-trimmed seats, a sunroof, and a CD player. And the price goes up fast as you add options to make the thing look cool, such as roof-rack cross bars ($400), brush guards ($675), extra chrome ($850 or more), extra running lights ($450 to $1,000), tail-lamp guards ($250 or more), etc.
The "Pacific Blue Ltd. Edition" package on my test truck, which includes a lot of this stuff plus a very cool blue paint job and a rear-seat entertainment system, adds $7,160 to the base price. There's a similar "Fusion Orange" package for $7,425. Add another $1,570 for the navigation system and you're talking real money: My test SUT listed for $66,085.
On top of this sticker shock, I nearly went into cardiac arrest the first time I gassed up the H2. There are no official government mileage ratings on big trucks like the Hummer, but I only got 10.7 miles per gallon over 209 miles of mixed driving, I figured I had miscalculated, so I drove another 126 miles -- and got 10 mpg. The one small consolation is that the SUT uses relatively inexpensive regular gasoline.
Another negative for some buyers: The SUT can only tow 6,700 lbs., maximum -- considerably less than club-cab pickup trucks like the Ford (F) F 150 (9,100 lbs). If you want to haul a big boat or trailer, you need a big pickup, like, say the Dodge RAM 2500, which can tow nearly twice as much weight (see BW Online, 3/22/06, "Dodge's Living Room on Wheels").
The Hummer's bulk and stability make it very safe, but it's even clunkier to drive in the city than the H3. Visibility out the narrow side windows is limited and you can't see behind you when parking. It's so high off the ground that there are big honking handles on the ceiling and a step on the side so you can hoist yourself up into the cab.
Some of the features seem poorly integrated into the design, too: My test truck had a power sunroof, but one of the light bars on the roof ran right across the middle of it, blocking out the sunlight, and you couldn't use the navigation system and play a CD at the same time because you had to remove the nav system's DVD to play music.
The number of buyers willing to put up with the cost and inconveniences of an H2 is dwindling as gas prices rise. The pickup truck version will appeal to a few buyers who otherwise wouldn't consider a Hummer -- but probably not all that many.