We can testify to the first two. But it can't be overstated: There's a clear performance tradeoff to accomplish the third. Our five-speed manual test unit, weighing 4884 pounds, with the Adventure package (big tires, locking diff, 4:1 transfer case, and heavy-duty shocks for $1025) ran a 0-to-60 mph time of 11.1 seconds. Braking distances were average for the segment, stopping from 60 mph in 138 feet. On the 600-foot slalom, the H3 managed a 56.1-mph speed through the traps, but overcoming the SUV's large contact patch on the 33-inch tires (285/75R17s made for a lot of squealing).

Although efficient, the Vortec 3500 is the smallest engine of the segment. Where many competitors offer more powerful V-6s and even some V-8s, the H3 is betting on gearing--and vast amounts of image. With the exception of flat stretches of highway or long down grades, the manual is functionally a four-speed; there's just not enough oats to carry fifth against the wind. The 20-valve I-5 is surprisingly willing to rev up to 5000 rpm and even beyond, however.

Hummer is being conservative with sales projections, estimating the H3 will bring about 25,000 new buyers to the brand per year--most likely a younger, less affluent, and family-oriented buyer. It further estimates the downsized model will likely attract between 30 to 40 percent female buyers.

With Hummer the subject of mounting environmental criticism, and soft sales due to high fuel prices, the H3 could prove to be its direction out of tough times. "This is exactly what we think a good number of people are going to want," says an optimistic Docherty. "The H3 is packed with personality, it's a serious off-roader, but this one's much more affordable and gets great fuel economy."

If company officials are nervous, they're not showing it. But it's early.