What's New for 2008
A new "Alpha" trim level debuts for the 2008 Hummer H3, giving the pudgy SUV what it needed most -- a serious infusion of power via a 5.3-liter V8. Other notable changes this year include standard side curtain airbags and the availability of a rearview camera.
From afar, the 2008 Hummer H3 is hard to discern from its bulkier H2 brother. And that's the idea; the smaller Hummer H3 has all the brand's signature styling cues -- the industrial grille, the massive wheel flares, the armored car-style windows -- that make these life-size Tonka trucks so appealing to so many consumers.
But the whole point of the H3, and the reason why it's Hummer's best-selling model, is that it's much more reasonable in terms of size and cost. The H3 is a little more than half the cost of the H2, and it's easier to park as well. Off-road, the H3 can still rock with the best of them. With its aggressive approach and departure angles, generous ground clearance, standard skid plates and optional 33-inch off-road tires, there's no denying the H3's extreme capabilities on rugged terrain. Hard-core off-road enthusiasts can even opt for a 4:1 low-range gearing that allows the H3 to creep down very steep trails without using the brakes.
However, the smaller H3 also carries on another unfortunate Hummer tradition: a heavy curb weight. Even though it's the junior member of the Hummer family, it still weighs nearly 5,000 pounds. And although its 3.7-liter inline-5 was pumped up last year to 242 horsepower and 242 pound-feet of torque, it's still not enough to move with any verve something that weighs more than a Lincoln Town Car. Alas, a savior comes this year in the form of a new Alpha trim level. Its muscular 5.3-liter V8 engine cranks out 300 hp and 320 lb-ft. Hummer claims a 0-60-mph time of 8.0 seconds for the new Alpha, which is a respectable time but hardly thrill-inducing.
Although it may not be speedy, the H3 is not without its daily charms. In the real world of after-school activities, big box stores and commuting to work, the H3 proves surprisingly adept. The ride is smooth over broken pavement and the seats comfortably accommodate four adults, although as with the H2, rear-seat headroom is tight.
As such, the 2008 Hummer H3 can be a satisfying vehicle to own, especially for those drawn to its distinctive styling and macho image. But there are better overall midsize SUVs out there. Other models like the Nissan Xterra, Toyota's FJ Cruiser and 4Runner and Jeep Grand Cherokee offer stronger performance, better fuel mileage, a nicer interior and more generous cargo capacity.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Hummer H3 is a midsize SUV that's available in three trim levels: base, the luxury-trimmed H3X and the performance-oriented Alpha. The base H3 features 16-inch alloy wheels, full skid plates, air-conditioning, cruise control, OnStar telematics, keyless entry, full power accessories and a six-speaker CD stereo with satellite radio. The H3X adds a Monsoon audio system with CD changer, leather seating, power and heated front seats, a host of chrome accents and 18-inch chrome wheels. The Alpha adds a V8 engine and the interior luxury features of the H3X, but has 16-inch chrome wheels and lacks the exterior gingerbread of such things as the chrome brush guard and side steps.
Two packages are available for the base H3. The Adventure package adds an off-road suspension, a shorter-geared transfer case for better hill climbing and descending, a locking rear differential, 33-inch off-road tires and a Monsoon audio system with a six-CD changer. The Luxury package comes with the Monsoon system, leather upholstery, power/heated front seats and oversized floor mats. Major options include an in-dash six-CD changer, a navigation system and a rearview camera.
Powertrains and Performance
All 2008 Hummer H3 models come with full-time four-wheel drive with a two-speed transfer case. All except the Alpha are powered by a 3.7-liter, inline five-cylinder engine that makes 242 hp and 242 lb-ft of torque. The standard transmission is a five-speed manual, and a four-speed automatic is optional. Although the five makes good power, it's simply outmatched by the H3's near-5,000-pound mass so acceleration is leisurely at best. Towing capacity is rated at 4,500 pounds when properly equipped and EPA fuel economy estimates (using the more realistic testing for 2008) are 14 mpg city and 18 mpg highway with either transmission.
The Alpha features a 5.3-liter V8 (with 300 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque) mated to a four-speed automatic transmission. Towing capacity goes up to 6,000 pounds, and we expect overall performance to be notably better. With this engine, fuel economy drops slightly to a 13/16 mpg rating.
Antilock disc brakes, traction control, stability control, the OnStar communications system and full-length side curtain airbags are all standard. In National Highway Transportation Safety Administration crash tests, the H3 scored five stars (out of five) for the driver and four stars for the front passenger in frontal impacts. Side impact testing by that agency resulted in five stars for both front and rear. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the H3 its second-highest rating of "Acceptable" in both frontal offset and side-impact crash-testing.
Interior Design and Special Features
Although the overall design is fairly handsome, the H3's rather plain interior doesn't quite match its macho exterior. Build quality is OK, but its competitors utilize nicer materials. Still, the versions with the leather seating have an attractive two-tone color scheme that spruces things up and contrasting piping on the seats. The seats are comfortable, though shorter drivers may take issue with the high beltline and low-profile window design, as they lead to lousy outward visibility. Rear-seat passengers enjoy ample legroom and decent support, but taller folks may find themselves uncomfortably close to the roof. Cargo capacity, at 29.5 cubic feet (seats up) and 55.7 cubes (seats folded) is below average for this class, though the side-hinged cargo door provides easy access.
At low speeds with the inline-5, there is sufficient punch to handle the cut and thrust of city driving. But when faced with freeway merging and inclines, the H3 grows winded, a product of insufficient power for its 4,700 pounds and aerodynamics of a brick. The 2008 Hummer H3 Alpha fares better. The low, muscular hum from the V8's exhaust is just about right for a butch SUV like the H3, and compared to the raspy sound of the standard inline-5, the Alpha sounds like Bigfoot. Throttle response is a little better with the V8 and 1st gear has some real push to it, but it's not the massive transformation one might expect.
Off-road, the smallest Hummer is basically unstoppable. With 9.1 inches of ground clearance, loads of wheel travel, aggressive approach and departure angles, oversized all-terrain tires and standard skid plates, the H3 can pretty much go anywhere without taking damage. The H3 also does fine on the blacktop. While there's no hiding its considerable curb weight in the corners it feels surprisingly stable, with predictable body roll. The ride is smooth and comfortable, making this tough truck ideal for active families who indulge in the occasional road trip.