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Click to enlargepad2008 Hummer H3 Alpha - Review

2008 Hummer H3 Alpha

By Lori Wildrick

The first time I drove the H3, my husband, who loves to accompany me on test-driving duties, withheld his usual enthusiasm for the Hummer lineup, sniffing “They’ll come out with a more powerful engine. Then it will be something.”

So when it was time to get a 2008 H3 Alpha performance evaluation rolling, I dragged him along. And, no surprise, this time the H3 got two-thumbs-up. Way up.

Why? The story is in the engine.

Borrowed from the GM truck lineup, this aluminum small-block 5.3L, V-8 offers a pulse-pounding 295 hp (224 kW)  and 317 lb-ft of torque (438 Nm). Paired with the Hydra-Matic 4L60-E electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission, the V-8 ups the H3’s towing power by a healthy 33 percent to 6,000 pounds (2,721 kg). This means that you can not only drag around an SUV full of adults comfortably, you also can tow the dirt bike trailer, personal watercraft, jet skis, or whatever you like with complete ease.

The new engine not only greatly improves towing capacity, it also makes highway driving somewhat effortless, taking you from zero to ticket in just over eight seconds.

The aluminum cylinder block helps reduce overall mass and maintains a more desirable front-to-rear weight balance. The small-block configuration is also handy for drivers who want to think that they aren’t total polluters; Alpha drivers can feel good that they are driving an engine that beats the U.S. Federal standards by a year.

It’s the construction that makes this small block engine cleaner than truck engines of the past. The cast iron exhaust manifolds and catalytic converters help reduce cold-start emissions, eliminating a lot of the “ugly” in vehicle emissions right off the bat. Cold-start emissions are a sizable factor in emissions pollution.

A true midsize SUV, the Alpha’s frame and engine compartment have been modified to make room for the new V-8. The H3 Alpha is nearly 17 inches shorter in length, six inches shorter in height and a little more than six inches narrower than the H2. This makes it roughly the same size as the typical midsize family sedan. So, on the plus side, you sit up a bit higher in traffic, but you don’t have to look for those wide parking spots when you get to your destination.

The Alpha’s size also works to its favor when it comes to maneuverability. The nimble Alpha has a 37-foot turning radius, which is basically the same as a typical compact. This works in your favor in tight parking garages as well as when you take the Alpha off-road.
While most of your driving is likely to be done in the city, the Alpha is a Hummer after all, and much thought has been put into the off-road experience. In fact, the Alpha can do everything an H3 can do, and maybe even a little better. It can ford 24-inch streams at 5 mph, climb 16-inch vertical steps and rocks, and easily manage deep sand.

The Alpha features a 9.1-inch ground clearance and a maximum breakover angle of 25 degrees (on 33-inch tires), which makes it possible for you to clear the rocks and other obstacles you’re likely to encounter. Its maximum approach angle of 39 degrees and maximum departure angle of 37 degrees gets you into and out of just about any off-road experience with ease.

So, now knowing that the H3 Alpha can tow, up my potential for getting a ticket in my neighborhood, enable us to off-road in the canyon, and isn’t a total polluter, we focused our attentions on the Alpha’s interior.

First of all, any vehicle that can tuck a 6’2” tall man in the back seat with the driver’s seat all the way back and still offer decent leg room is a keeper. That means you can load up an SUV full of grownups with no problem. There’s a lot to be said for that.

The Alpha features a “Luxury” package, which is comprised of standard leather-appointed seats and embroidered front headrests, an in-dash 6-disc CD changer with a premium 7-speaker sound system, special “Alpha” interior and exterior badges, a lot of chrome (including 16-inch chrome wheels).

A new optional Rear Vision camera system is designed to make parking easier, but it takes a bit of getting used to. Basically it uses a camera mounted near the rear bumper to provide a view of objects directly behind you. When in use, the Rear Vision system pops out of the rear view mirror. When not in use, it tucks back in.

If you like navigation systems, the Alpha offers a new optional turn-by-turn navigation system that will keep you from ever getting lost.

Also new as standard items are head curtain side airbags, StabiliTrak electronic stability control system, four-wheel antilock brakes with traction control, dual front air bags with Passenger Sensing System, a tire pressure monitoring system, vehicle-to-vehicle crash compatibility and LATCH rear child seat anchors.
What all of this means is that if you like to buy your vehicles fully loaded, the Alpha is your Hummer. And if you want more—as in accessories—the options are endless. There are an infinite array of cool after-market goodies available.

As to whether an Alpha should be in your driveway, the answer is pretty straightforward: if you want off-road capabilities but not look like you’re driving a monster truck to the grocery, the H3 Alpha is an exceptional choice. That said, my husband and monster-truck-loving son liked what they saw. But I know what they’re really thinking: Which comes first, the dirt bikes and dirt bike trailer or the vehicle that can easily tow them out to the desert for us?


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