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Hummer powers smallest, best-selling model with V-8 engine
There's a new reason to love -- or hate -- Hummer.
For 2008, the maker of brutish, military-styled sport utility vehicles is offering a powerful V-8 for its smallest and best-selling model, the five-passenger H3 SUV.
For Hummer fans, the addition of the 5.3-liter, small-block V-8 to the lineup brings a hearty and pleasing 300 horsepower and 320 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 rpm -- more power than ever before -- to the midsize H3.
Along with the new powerplant, Hummer brings back for 2008 its "Alpha" label to highlight that this top H3 with V-8 is a performance model.
No doubt this won't please environmentalists who already consider any Hummer, whether it uses the base, 242-horsepower, five-cylinder or new, eight-cylinder engine, a poster vehicle for gas-guzzlers.
But shoppers seeking a distinctive and extremely capable SUV should put the H3 Alpha on the test-drive list.
Just be aware that this newest model, which comes well-equipped with standard four-speed automatic transmission, leather seat trim, shiny, chrome-covered exterior accents and power front seats, is pricey.
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $39,310, or $8,615 more than the starting retail price of $30,695 for a base, 2008 H3 with five-cylinder engine and manual transmission.
All H3s come with standard four-wheel drive.
H3 competitors include other off-road-ready, five-passenger SUVs, including the 2007 Nissan Xterra, which has a starting retail price of $22,805 with V-6, manual transmission and four-wheel drive.
Competitors specific to the new H3 Alpha are other rugged, midsize SUVs with V-8s, which include the 2007 Toyota 4Runner with 260 horsepower V-8 that starts at $30,295 and the 2007 Jeep Grand Cherokee with 330-horsepower, Hemi V-8 that starts at $35,875.
Frankly, none of these vehicles has great fuel economy.
And while the federal government hasn't reported the fuel economy rating for the 2008 H3 Alpha, the V-8 will most surely provide lower mileage than the 14 miles per gallon in city driving and 18 mpg on the highway that's the rating for a 2008 H3 with five-cylinder engine and automatic transmission.
Still, the H3 Alpha, like other H3s, requires only regular gasoline, not costly premium.
The new H3 engine -- a version of the capable V-8 that's in Chevrolet's Silverado full-size pickup truck -- makes the H3 seem sprightly and energetic, even on hilly mountain roads.
The test H3 Alpha got up to speed swiftly, with confident, pleasing engine sounds all through the acceleration, which, by the way, is estimated at a commendable 8 seconds for 0 to 60 miles an hour.
Yet, in city traffic, the V-8 idled smoothly, the transmission moved through the gears virtually imperceptibly, and the vehicle merged and traveled with other vehicles easily.
On my first drive, I modulated the power via the gas pedal without needing to practice, and I found the engine response so noteworthy, it made earlier test drives of the H3 with five cylinder seem a bit lacking.
Towing capacity with the H3 Alpha is 6,000 pounds, up from 4,500 pounds with a non-Alpha H3.
Off-road, the newfound power in the H3 Alpha doesn't make the vehicle some uncontrolled, off-road racer. Instead, while the H3 Alpha can move through terrain in a zippy, unperturbed manner in high gear, the vehicle's available low gearing provides the right slow-speed, deliberate "crawl mode" over rocks and treacherous ground that off-roaders demand.
Because off-roading can put the vehicle in awkward positions, engineers installed a special oil pan so the V-8 always has oil pressure, regardless of the kind of steep grade the vehicle is driven on.
Other changes involve frame modifications so the V-8 could fit under the hood, new engine mounts to support the heavier engine and new suspension tuning.
Surprisingly, despite its brawny looks and off-road ruggedness, the test H3 Alpha with optional off-road suspension rode smoothly on most pavement, with truckish motions coming through only on big abrupt bumps.
I did hear road noise and wind noise, though not as much as I expected.
And, of course, driver and passengers get great views out in front and to the sides of the H3. Everyone must climb up a good bit to get inside this tall-riding vehicle which has a minimum ground clearance of at least 8.5 inches.
I suggest getting a rearview monitor to help a driver see what's behind the H3 as the vehicle backs up. Otherwise, it's impossible to see what's back there from the front seat. Hummer sells a nifty rearview monitor that slides out stealthily from the right side of the rearview mirror when the vehicle is put into reverse.
This monitor -- just a few inches square -- displays what a camera detects aft of the tailgate.
The H3 Alpha's turning circle of only 37 feet is akin to that of some compact cars and can make for stress-free U-turns. But at 85.5 inches wide, the H3 Alpha stretches a tad wider than either the Grand Cherokee or 4Runner.
The federal government has not reported crash test ratings for the new H3 Alpha.
But the 2007 H3 SUV with smaller engine earned top, five out of five stars for front- and back-seat passenger protection in side crashes. It received five out of five stars for driver protection and four out of five stars for passenger protection in frontal crash tests.
Side curtain air bags have been optional on 2007 H3s. For 2008, they are standard.
Other standard safety features on the H3 Alpha include electronic stability control and traction control.