2009 Hummer H3T Alpha, Part One

The H3T Alpha, despite sharing DNA with the S-10, is more than a spruced up mid-size truck. The five-foot bed is separate from the cab (unlike an Avalanche or H2) and can accommodate a load up to a 1/2 ton, so that means a pair of dirtbikes are no problem with the tailgate down. Most important, though, are the upgrades to the drivetrain, including e-locker differentials from Eaton, and a high- and low-range transfer case.

Getting a chance to off-road a Hummer is a special treat, and doing it in on the "Hell's Revenge" trail in Moab, UT is nothing short of heaven. The trail is noted for its diverse conditions including slickrock, sand, dramatic inclines and tilts and is rated a 4 out of 4 for difficulty. Getting there was half the fun, as our route took us down the winding Utah State Highway 128 that hugs the Colorado River through Castle Valley.

This is the Alpha version, which means it's outfitted with the 300HP, 5.3-liter V8, instead of the inline-five on the base model. The wheels are 16" split rims with 33" BF Goodrich tires for extra off-road capability. Leather seats, body match painted grille, sunroof, roof lights, reverse cam, nav system and power everything round out the options package. Protective plates are fitted underneath the truck to help keep the most vulnerable parts intact. Offered as a standard package, the four shields protect the front, oil pan, transfer case and fuel tank.

The really surprising thing about the H3T is its innate ability to tackle off-road trails. Despite its Hot Wheels looks, it's actually a completely capable vehicle off-road, even with its relatively long wheelbase. When put into Crawl Mode the holding power of the gears and engine braking are enough to keep the vehicle under control on grades up to 60%. The limited-slip differentials negated the need to lock the differentials on all but the toughest of obstacles. The 4.10 final drive ratio provides plenty of get up and go, too. Ground clearance was adequate, but the frame took more than a few good knocks during the day. During an obstacle called Hell's Gate, the truck wound up losing footing and tipping the passenger side into the cliff face, but the tires kept any of the side panels from getting damaged and allowed the Hummer to climb right out of the hole.

On the highway, acceleration is healthy. Driving on 128, along the Colorado River, the H3T felt a lot like a truck. I could feel the tar snakes and bumps in the uneven pavement. Because of the height of the driving position, 60 mph feels more like 45, even with the bouncy ride. The cabin is well-insulated from road noise. The windshield is far enough away to almost give the impression of watching a flat panel TV. Finding reference points for correct lane placement took a few minutes, as in any new car, but I never did get quite comfortable enough to loosen up on my concentration on a two-lane highway. The feeling of dissociation probably fades as one racks up the miles, but there definitely seems to be a learning curve.

On the inside, there weren't any rattles, on or off the highway. The doors are solid and heavy, and do their part to eat road noise. The leather, heated, power, tilt bucket seats are nothing short of awesome. Absolutely comfortable and luxurious, but also practical and solid. Control positioning is all within reach and placed where one would expect to find things on a domestic car. The dash lighting scheme has a bit of thought behind it, and it looks great behind the analog/digital combo instrument panel. Fortunately, the design team toned down the chrome to a subtle brushed-aluminum flashing on the entertainment and climate control portion of the dash. One problem with the placement of the entertainment/nav system is that it creates a distracting reflection in the flat glass of the rear window, making rear view mirror use a bit tough at night. Fortunately, there's a rear vision system with camera built into the bumper and screen built into the rear view mirror. Which at least helps when you're reversing around a parking lot.

The results speak for themselves: after a day of abuse from novice and amateur alike, there wasn't much battle damage and nothing broke. Apart from some scuffed underbelly armor, chaffed tires and a bucket or two of dust, the Hummer looked like it'd just come back from the grocery store.