What's New for 2009
The 2009 Hummer H3 soldiers on with several functional upgrades, including standard Bluetooth connectivity and hill-start assist, an available front locking differential and a revised rearview camera system. An optional H3X chrome appearance package adds a bit more distinction to V8 Alpha models. There is also a new H3T pickup model added to the Hummer line. (We reviewed it separately.)
Hummer's sales are in a slide steeper than the hills the H3 can climb. Hummer drivers never seemed like the environmentalist sort to begin with, so let's assume that it's rising gas prices that are making these big off-roaders suddenly less popular than squid-flavored sorbet. Nevertheless, the 2009 Hummer H3 soldiers through these tumultuous times with a few more weapons added to its utility belt for this year. That's certainly good news for the folks who wanted one of these off-road warriors but couldn't afford them. Today, massive rebates make the already affordable H3 even more so -- but would you want one anyway?
Of course, the Hummer H3's most alluring aspect is carrying over: the brand's signature military-inspired styling elements, which include the gun-slit windows all around, expressive grille and oversized tires and wheel flares. For 2009, the reasonably sized Hummer H3 and V8-powered H3 Alpha add even more off-road function to their legendary form with standard hill-start assist and a driver-selectable full-locking front differential -- a factory first among vehicles with independent front suspensions -- as part of the available Off-Road Adventure package. In combination with its inherently generous ground clearance and short overhangs, these enhancements help the H3 maintain its terrain-conquering advantage over other rough-and-tumble competitors.
The Hummer H3's nearly 2.5-ton curb weight is also along for the ride, unfortunately, which doesn't translate quite as well when using it in highway mode. Its standard 3.7-liter inline-5 power plant labors against the hefty load and is ill-suited to such a large vehicle -- and GM actually lowered the horsepower and torque rating for this year, which isn't helpful. The Alpha model's more muscular 5.3-liter V8 boasts 300 horsepower and is the more satisfying choice, but you won't be winning any races or passing up many gas stations in either case. If you can live with that, and accept a more sedate pace, the H3 can tackle the daily routine decently, with a smooth ride over varying pavement and comfortable seating for four adults. If you're used to carrying a full load, however, keep in mind that rear-seat headroom and cargo space aren't overly generous for a vehicle in this segment.
The 2009 Hummer H3 can be a satisfying ride if you venture off-road regularly or are taken with its unique styling. However, its rivals -- whether purpose-built like the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited and Toyota FJ Cruiser, or more traditional SUV fare like the Jeep Grand Cherokee or Nissan Pathfinder -- tend to offer greater overall value and quality for most consumers. If you're looking for a road-going sport-utility vehicle with lively performance, decent fuel economy and ample cargo capacity, the Hummer H3 is not it.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Hummer H3 midsize sport-utility vehicle is available in two basic models: the base five-cylinder H3 and the more powerful Alpha. The standard H3 features 16-inch alloy wheels, full skid plates, hill-start assist, air-conditioning, cruise control, foglamps, keyless entry, OnStar, Bluetooth and a six-speaker CD player with satellite radio. The better equipped Alpha model adds a V8 engine, plus polished 16-inch wheels, leather-trimmed seating and steering wheel, carpeted floor mats, heated and power-adjustable front seats and a universal garage door opener. A Luxury Package outfits the base model with many of these extras plus a Monsoon audio system with a six-CD changer, while the H3X Appearance Package dresses up the H3 Alpha with a chrome fuel-filler cap, wheels and roof rack, plus other goodies. A sunroof, special metallic paints, a navigation system and a rearview camera system are also available.
Hummer H3s are offered with two suspension packages to suit different terrain requirements. The standard Z85 Heavy-Duty Handling and Trailering suspension provides more balanced on- and off-road performance, with 32-inch all-terrain tires and different rear-axle gearing. The optional Off-Road Adventure Package is designed for more aggressive off-pavement capabilities, with taller 33-inch tires, specially tuned shocks, a cast-iron front differential case, locking front and rear differentials and shorter transfer-case gearing for maximum control during hill climbs and descents. It also adds some of the Luxury Package's items, like a power driver seat and the upgraded Monsoon sound system.
Powertrains and Performance
All 2009 Hummer H3 models are equipped with full-time four-wheel drive and a two-speed transfer case. The standard engine is a 3.7-liter inline five-cylinder that generates 239 hp and 241 pound-feet of torque, backed by a standard five-speed manual transmission or optional four-speed automatic. Acceleration is unenthusiastic thanks to the H3's nearly 5,000-pound weight, and the maximum towing capacity is rated at a modest 4,500 pounds. EPA-estimated fuel economy checks in at 14 mpg city/18 mpg highway and 15 mpg combined with either transmission.
The Alpha model picks up the pace with a 5.3-liter V8 cranking out 300 horses and, more importantly, 320 lb-ft of mass-moving torque mated to a four-speed automatic transmission. Overall performance is noticeably improved, with 0-60 sprints in the 8-second range, and maximum towing capacity shoots up to 6,000 pounds. As expected, though, estimated fuel mileage suffers further, with a thirsty 13 mpg city/16 mpg highway rating and 14 mpg combined.
Antilock disc brakes, traction control, stability control, hill-start assist, OnStar and full-length side curtain airbags are standard on all H3s. In government crash tests, the H3 scored a perfect five out of five stars for driver protection and four stars for protection of the front passenger in frontal impacts. Side-impact testing resulted in five-star protection ratings for both front and rear passengers. In Insurance Institute for Highway Safety tests, the Hummer H3 was awarded a second-highest "Acceptable" rating in both frontal-offset and side-impact crash testing.
Interior Design and Special Features
The cabin is handsome in a utilitarian kind of way, which makes it seem a bit plain when compared to the Hummer H3's bold exterior design. The available leather seating livens things up a bit with a two-tone color scheme and contrasting piping. Build quality is passable, but check out the competition if you seek finer appointments. Also, stereo and climate interfaces aren't as user-friendly as those found in other GM vehicles. The seats are comfortable, though outward visibility is compromised for shorter drivers and passengers owing to the H3's high beltline and low-profile window design. Rear-seat occupants have plenty of room to stretch out once inside, but ingress and egress through the smallish door openings can be a challenge, and taller individuals may find headroom somewhat tight. Cargo capacity lags behind some rivals, at just 63 cubic feet with the seats folded. The cargo-floor liftover is also quite high, but easily accessed though the side-hinged rear door.
The standard inline-5 generally manages to keep up with traffic when tooling around town, but the Hummer H3's 4,700 pounds cause it to strain when tackling inclines and high-speed passing situations. The solution to this problem, of course, is the V8 engine found in the Alpha model. With it, the H3's character undergoes a transformation of sorts, with a muscular and much more promising exhaust note, and improved throttle response at all speeds. Off the road, the junior Hummer comes into its element and can overcome just about any terrain you encounter, owing to 9 inches of ground clearance, ample wheel travel, standard skid plates and impressive approach and departure angles. Given this off-road capability, the H3 performs admirably on pavement, with decent stability at speed. The ride is surprisingly smooth and belies the H3's tough-truck nature, but we would still advise you to steer clear of the 2009 Hummer H3 if you never intend to take it off the beaten path.