On the trail, the various gearing combinations boost the crawl ratio from a sufficient 33:1 to an impressive drive-like-a-snail 69:1 (the crawl ratio is the combined gear ratio obtained by multiplying first gear by low range gear by axle gears). With a 4.56:1 axle gear option, a heavy-duty transfer case 4.03:1 low-range ratio, and a locking rear differential option, the H3 is just about the most formidable climbing beast since the creation of the Peruvian mountain yak--and that's before you consider the 33-inch tires (the largest on any SUV in the segment) and the sophisticated traction-control system.

The four-wheel-drive system itself is full-time, splitting engine torque 60/40 (back to front) during normal pavement conditions, but is able to send as much as 100 percent of available torque to the front or rear wheels when needed. Four buttons control the system: 4 Hi, 4 Hi Lock, 4 Low Lock, and Rear Locker. We found ourselves in low range much of the time on our desert trail ride, but hit the rear-locker button for the worst terrain. Some called the selectable rear locker the "escape switch."

The interior design is just about the best on a GM truck in a long time. The simple center stack and superior materials on knobs and flush surfaces set a new standard for Hummer. We hope this new layout works its way into future Hummer models and redesigns. The steering wheel has a thick, substantial feel; the transmission levers in manual and automatic are hefty and solid; even the grab handles all around the vehicle are meaty. Seating materials feel durable and are of higher quality than current H2 interiors. The luxury package ($1025) offers a better quality leather and look, with inserts and piping, than you'd expect in a midsize SUV in a similar price range.

Speaking of which, H3 pricing starts at just a tick over $30,000, but can quickly escalate if you check a lot of option boxes (trailer package, sunroof, chrome wheels, various audio systems, NAV, OnStar, and a host of GM-manufactured accessories). GM wanted to pack the H3 with value to give it a better chance of success, but making a smaller, more fuel-efficient, easier to park, comfy-on-the-inside H3 could have some accusing Hummer of building a girlie truck.

"We haven't made a softer Hummer--we couldn't do that," says Mark Hernandez, Hummer product director. "Every vehicle we put our name on has to be a rugged, adventure-driven 4x4. What we've done is make a smaller Hummer more affordable for those buyers who couldn't consider Hummers before--this one's for the family, it's easier to park, and it'll be easier at the pump."