Once again, North America finds itself addicted to trucks and SUVs, spurred on by cheap gas. What we lack is a rolling symbol of this phenomenon; the last time it happened, it was without question the Hummer H2.
It represented the pinnacle of early 2000s excess, extreme consumerism, General Motors’ arrogance, empty post-9/11 American patriotism, and an absolute waste of natural resources. If there’s an automotive equivalent to the phrase “we’ve gone too far,” it’s the Hummer H2.
Personally, I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of this vehicle. I find something compelling about an absolutely useless contraption that doesn’t do anything particularly well, but somehow manages to be desirable anyway. At least the military-derived H1 had a real purpose. But this? How on Earth could such a stupid business case have been considered a good idea by anyone, at any car company, ever? Was it just because it looked really cool that the H2 was given the green light for production?
I had to find out. So I took one out for a drive.
(Full disclosure: the opportunity to drive a Hummer H2 came from the same Jalopnik reader that allowed me to review his Corrado G60. He also happened to have one of these badboys lying around.)
What Is It?
Introduced in 2002, the Hummer H2's mission was to take what had made the H1 so successful— make military grade ruggedness and off-road capability available to the masses—and condense it into a more affordable, “daily-drivable” utility vehicle.
Except, unlike the H1, which was first and foremost a military unit built to be dropped out of helicopters and jump over sand dunes during Operation Desert Storm, the Tahoe and Escalade-based H2 had more in common with a GM pick-up truck than an actual Humvee.
The H2 at least looked the part, a design that had spawned from the creative mind of Clay Dean, the dude behind pretty much all the cool post-millennium GM designs, notably all the latest Cadillacs.
Power and engine sizes varied throughout the H2's seven-year existence, but they were always GM-sourced small-block LS V8's, an engine that has powered everything from Suburbans to 240SX drift cars.
The 2003 to 2005 Hummer H2s, like the one you see here, were fitted with the 6.0-liter good for a claimed 316 HP and 385 lb-ft of torque, which all went down to the ground through a GM-corporate, and also pretty darn awful, four-speed automatic transmission. Horsepower then increased in 2005, up until 2007 to 325 HP.
2008 H2s and onward got the 6.2-liter. That one had a claimed 403 HP and 417 lb-ft of torque on tap. The gearbox was also upgraded to a far better but still kind of shitty six-speed unit.
Why Does It Matter?
The Hummer H2 was actually marketed as a serious offroader back in the day. (Notice I said “marketed,” not “was.”) It was fitted with a slightly more “sophisticated” four-wheel-drive system than conventional Chevy trucks, as well as an all-new ABS system developed by Bosch.
To GM’s credit, the H2 was quite capable, at least, a lot more than most SUVs at the time. Thanks to a shorter front overhang, and a 47-degree approach angle, the H2 could easily outclimb a Chevrolet Tahoe, its mechanical cousin, but would still get humiliated in the trails by a Hummer H1.
So the initial idea behind the H2 wasn’t all that bad. GM bet its investment on the fact that most large SUV buyers wouldn’t take part in actual extreme offroading, but would still appreciate the idea of having something more capable and considerably larger than a conventional utility vehicle, all while maintaining the fashion statement momentum the original H1 had created.
Also, utilizing platform sharing techniques, like grabbing bits and pieces from other GM trucks would lower production costs, thus reducing the H2's sales price.
On paper, it all added up to being a decent business plan.
But the problem with the H2 wasn’t its “I want one” factor; GM sold quite a few of them. The issue was that the H2 was released at a time when awareness of climate change, reduced carbon emissions, cleaner cars, and hybrid and electric propulsion were starting to be serious things. It wasn’t great on gas, obviously, and when gas stopped being cheap it stopped being chic.
Also, GM wasn’t doing all that well financially back then. As we saw, it all hit the fan a few years later in the form of a bankruptcy.
Sure, the big, brash Hummer H2, with its fake, hood-mounted tow hooks and gigantic chrome wheels may have looked like a kick-ass idea on a projector screen during a marketing board meeting, but the reality of releasing a 16-foot long, 12 MPG, 6,400-pound V8-powered G.I. Joe monstrosity at a time when your company was about to crumble to the ground, and the world was turning to smarter, greener cars was a totally idiotic move.
So Much Plastic
I picked up this big guy from my friend Remy the same morning my shooter Myle and I were photographing a Honda Pilot. Upon my arrival, the H2 was the first vehicle I spotted as it sat there, as large as Remy’s house, over-towering the other cars in his driveway.
As I climbed—yes, you climb inside a Hummer—aboard the gargantuan vehicular block of American steel, totally stoked over the fact that I’d finally get to drive one, my expectations quickly shattered to pieces as I laid eyes on an interior covered in cheap, beige on grey plastic finishing—craaaaack—sorry, that was me resting my elbow on the center console storage compartment.
Seriously, it’s awful in there. Your kid’s Power Wheels has higher quality dashboard materials than a Hummer H2.
Being a GM parts bin special also means that gauges, door locks, chimes and the entire center console are identical to the ones found in a GMC Express van.
As I fired up the LS V8, it turned over with the classic low-strung rumble you’d expect from such an engine. At least the H2's motor lives up to the Hummer nameplate.
I put the truck into D through its enormous and plastic-intensive gear lever that resembles something you would use to apply throttle to a nuclear submarine. It appeared robust until I grabbed it and realized the pump action mechanism on a Super Soaker feels of better quality.
A loud mechanical clunk was felt through the gearbox as I moved the lever. The Hummer was in gear, and I was ready to roll.
How much time you got?
As you approach a Hummer H2, you rapidly realize the entire thing was built quickly to look cool on the road, and nothing more. All the classic Hummer design cues like the central tire inflation system are actually fake.
The massive rear hatch handle appears to be one solid steel bar, but it’s actually a shaking lump of inexpensive Fisher Price-grade malleable material.
That bitchin’ clam-shell hood is in reality a large, flimsy piece of fiberglass that wobbles worryingly in your hands as you raise the hood to show the beast’s heart to your homies - until one of them says: “hey, that’s the same engine as in my GMC Sierra, man!”
And those sidesteps are a huge joke, defying the entire purpose of marketing a vehicle that was raised off the ground specifically to be a “genuine” offroad machine.
You first look at the Hummer H2 expecting to drive a super cool military truck like the one Sean Connery drives in The Rock, but it ends up being the equivalent of a Ferrari kit car body strapped on top of a Pontiac Fiero.
Riding around casually in the H2 is actually kind of fun. This particular example has had a slight tire modification: 37-inch Mickey Thompsons that give it a rugged, Halo’s Warthog demeanor - way cool. They also make the entire truck wallow about under the slightest steering inputs. And the H2's massive steel frame transcends road imperfections through unpleasant spine-destroying jolts.
People look at you and give you a big thumbs up when you’re in this thing. Either that, or they totally hate you.
Most often, it’s the latter.
“It looks like America is coming to kick our ass,” Myle said as he climbed in after grabbing a few rolling shots of the thing.
The H2 has massive leather chairs which seem to come straight out of a Suburban, or a Yukon; they’re fine as far as comfort goes, but not as supportive as the ones found in a modern crossover.
Fuel economy is nearly nonexistent. At 12 mpg for combined driving, there’s no point to even mention it.
Then there’s the sheer size of the damn thing which makes it a pain to park. And the interior isn’t particularly spacious, at least, not in relation to the H2's exterior dimensions. Total cargo space is actually smaller than a Honda Pilot’s at 52 cu-ft with all seats lowered.
Somehow though, default cargo space with all seats raised is rated at 22 cu-ft, which is not bad, about the same as a new Ford Explorer. The H2 could have a larger trunk area if it weren’t for that ginormous spare wheel rack that takes up a large chunk of the available space.
What a stupid, amazing car.
Forget it. Don’t even try. Or you’ll probably die. Anyway, you’ll never go anywhere fast. Because the H2 is slow. Back in the day, 0-60 mph was claimed at 10.7 seconds, and it doesn’t even come close to feeling spirited when you gun the throttle. The engine also sounds like ass.
The four-speed automatic downshifts only when it wants to. And the entire truck handles like it just downed a two-four of Molson Canadians.
My tester had a lot of play in the steering wheel, presumably due to this H2's age, and considerably high 175,000 km (about 108,000 miles) odometer. Or was it because of the tires? This meant I constantly had to correct the truck’s line with the steering wheel as I attempted to coast at reasonable freeway speeds.
Any attempt at slowing down would take forever, all while spewing worrying burned brake pad emissions through the cabin. Was this normal, or was it due to poor maintenance? Who knows. But it was definitely scary as shit.
I didn’t take the H2 offroading. I guess that’s where this thing makes sense. You tell me. On the road, there’s absolutely nothing appealing about the way the Hummer H2 drives.
Because of the Hummer H2's cool-guy, movie-star looks, its value has held up rather well over time. When new, these things went for about $50,000. Remy bought his for $14,000 Canadian three years ago. Good luck finding one under that price.
The 6.2-liter models will retain a better value since less than 7,000 of them were sold during the final two years the H2 was produced.
The benefit of being heavily based on GM-truck mechanical components means the H2 is a rather solid vehicle. The only thing Remy changed on his were plug wires and a crank sensor. He says parts are easy to find, and in typical GM fashion, very cheap.
So if you’re on a budget and looking to go full gangster but seek something more reliable than a second-hand Land Rover all while looking more original than a Cadillac Escalade, then the H2 works. I guess.
It’s true: the Hummer H2 is an opulent, useless and clumsy gas guzzler that dumbed the iconic Hummer nameplate down to a humiliating vehicular fashion statement. You look like an asshole if you drive one today.
But here’s the thing: while I had both the Hummer H2 and the Honda Pilot parked side-by-side in my driveway, two completely different generations of SUV’s, with entirely different purposes, I knew that the Hummer was an absolute piece of shit in every possible way, but it was the one I preferred taking out for a drive.
As bad of a car as it is, it’s simply too fascinating to be ignored.