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  ROYAL FORD
Globe Staff
10/13/2002
2003 General Motors H2
2d take on Hummer is practical, comfortable

 

GLOBE STAFF PHOTOS/JOHN IOVEN
The 2003 H2 seats six. The ride is smooth, quiet, and luxurious.

 
We’re Humming along the highway when one of my daughters makes a good point from the third-row seat.

She keeps wondering why people are staring at us, waving at us, pointing at us, giving us the thumbs up.

Then, realization redawning, she explains, ‘‘I keep forgetting we’re in a Hummer.’’

She does remember our earlier rides in the H1, the original Hummer, a snarling, loud, off-road beast closer to its military roots than practical suburban use. That one drew attention, too, but you never forgot why, even for a moment.

This time, we are in the H2, the socalled Baby Hummer, which, although taller and longer than the original (yet narrower for easier handling) is strongly evocative of the original. Park them side by side, and you see the obvious difference, the way aNew Beetle parked beside the old Bug is clearly a more refined vehicle.

The H2 is clearly Hummer—boxy, its familiar seven-tooth grin gleaming from the grille and, though they aren’t functional, helicopter-lift ‘‘hooks’’ protruding through the hood; air intakes at the A-pillars; vents on the side panels beneath the A-pillars.

What this Hummer offers that the H1 does not, however, is practicality. It is incredibly comfortable inside; it seats six with plenty of space (as opposed to four in the original); and with triple sealed doors and heavy insulation, it is very quiet on the highway. It is, in short, a car you can use every day in comfort—if you don’t mind gas mileage around 10.1 miles per gallon and that, admittedly, can be a .financial or ethical question for lots of folks.

My test model was the 2003 H2 Adventure Series. That’s adventure as in ‘‘I don’t need no stinkin’ running boards ’cause they’ll just get ripped off in the woods anyway.’’ Thank God for the many haul-up handles located inside the doors.

The Adventure Series options ($2,215) included a rear air suspension package, air springs, air compressor, a crossbar roof rack, and brush guard.

That package comes in addition to standard equipment that includes a 3-piece ladder frame (from three different Chevy trucks), electronic transfer case, electronic locking rear differential, dual mode traction control, ABS, a full-size spare tire, 8-way power adjustable front seats, rear seat audio controls, triple sealed doors, six power outlets, a Bose premium 9-speaker sound system, heated outside power folding mirrors, and tubular rocker panel protectors.

Considering that the H2 weighs nearly 3½tons, it takes a lot of torque to move the beast. The General Motors Vortec 6000 is just the powerplant to do the job. It is a 316-horsepower V-8 that produces 360 lb.-ft. of torque.

When General Motors reached agreement with AM General in 1999 to use the Hummer name, I worried about the result. A box-that-looked-something-like-a-Hummer would get slapped onto a Suburban frame and off we’d go.

That did not happen, as GM engineers, while raiding the company’s parts bins, built a unique frame that incorporates a front section from the 2500 Suburban, a mid-section from the Heavy Duty Silverado, and a rear section from the Tahoe.

 
2003 General Motors H2
Base price: $48,065
Price as tested: $52,510
Horsepower: 316
Torque: 360 lb.-ft.
Wheelbase: 122.8 inches
Overall length: 189.8 inches
Width: 81.2 inches
Height: 82.0 inches
Curb weight: 6,700 lbs.
Seating: 5/6 passengers
Fuel economy: 10.1 miles per gallon
SOURCE: General Motors; fuel economy from Globe testing.
Nice touch
The H2 doesn’t have the self-inflating tire system of the H1, but it does have its own compressor and a valve in the rear cargo area so that a hose can be attached and tires that may have been deflated for travel in sand, for instance, can be resinate to back onto harder surfaces.
Annoyance
That big spare tire eating up serious rear cargo space. I know it’s got to be big, I know you need a spare tire (particularly if you really do go off-roading). But I wonder, would a slightly recessed roof-mount with a wind deflector be a better solution?
 
Essential lines and cables and running gear were tucked up above the frame, and the undercarriage was protected with plates to protect the engine, transfer case, fuel tank, and other sensitive gear. In addition, rocker protectors made of steel tubing were added.

This all sounds pretty heavy duty, and it is. But sit inside and, again, you can forget you are in a Hummer. The seats are broad and soft yet supportive.

Gauges, audio and climate knobs, even the big, cane-handle door handles are familiar GM parts. The 60/40 split middle row of seats holds three people with plenty of space and the optional third seat holds one passenger.

The ride is smooth, quiet, and very much the ride of a luxury SUV as opposed to the ride of a military vehicle with some fancy seats and a radio tossed in.

Views from the driver’s seat are expansive except for blind spots created by broad pillars behind the second row of seats and the looming hulk that is the fullsize spare tire taking up nearly half of the rear cargo area, floor to ceiling.

The optional load-leveling pneumatic rear suspension helped make for a stable, flat ride.

That suspension includes a fully independent/ torsion bar system up front with monotube gas shocks and stabilizer bar. The rear has a 5-link variable with stabilizer bar and monotube shocks as standard, while the 5-link system is self-leveling with the pneumatic option.

What is remarkable about this combination of suspension elements is that besides providing the smooth commuter ride that most people who buy the H2 will see as primarily vital, it also holds up remarkably well in fierce off-road conditions.

I know this because I drove the H2 on the AM General off-road test track in Indiana. It was a tortuous combo of water, steep climbs, mud, big boulders, deep holes, and offset berms. The H2 crawled and climbed and chewed this course to bits.

It will climb a 16-inch straight wall barrier. It comes with a two-speed, shift-on- the-.fly transfer case. It is full-time all-wheel- drive with a 40/60 percent front to- rear torque transfer. Lock the middle differential and the split is 50/50. Lock the rear differential and it is almost military in its crawl, creep, and bearing.

Using buttons on the dash, the H2 can be put into .five modes: high open (normal travel); high lock (snow or slippery commutes); low lock for serious off-roading; low lock with locked Eaton rear differential (serious, serious off-roading); and neutral so it can be towed.

All this in a car that can be an everyday family driver (again, you’ll have to get past that 10.1 miles per gallon—environmentally, in some cases, and financially, in others). I judge any vehicle by who it is aimed at, what the vehicle is meant to do, and whether target buyers will be happy with their purchase.

H2 buyers will be most happy with this rig.


Royal Ford can be reached by e-mail at ford@globe.com.

This story ran in the Boston Globe on 10/13/2002.