In the 1980s, AM General, experienced in developing military vehicles, delivered a unique truck to the government that could ascend a 60-percent concrete slope fully loaded (3200-4300-pound payload), maintain 16 inches of clearance laden, traverse a 40-percent slope, climb a 22-inch vertical obstacle, and ford 60-inch waterways properly equipped. Try that in your cuddly little sport/cute.
Most evolutionary improvements appear first on the military models. This year, the roles may be reversed as AM General introduces a traction control system, called TorqTrac 4 (TT4), on civilian models only. TT4 works with the new anti-lock brake system to transform seemingly impossible off-road challenges into point-and-shoot operations for even Tread Lightly neophytes. Equipped with two Torsen II torque-biased differentials and a locking transfer case, the four-channel TT4 system effectively directs power to the tire(s) with grip, regulated via brakes. Air-down the massive 37-inch Goodyears with the optional Central Tire Inflation System (CTIS), and, as AM General insiders say, the Hummer reduces the off-roading equation to 90 percent truck, 10 percent driver.
Negotiating the slippery-sloped course recently near AM General's South Bend, Indiana, factory was an eye-opening experience in the unique vehicle's stunning abilities. After a brief warm-up on a boulder- and log-strewn obstacle course that would have left lesser sport/utes awaiting helicopter rescue, we crawled into the woods. Despite the Hummer's immense girth, its short overhang, clearly visible brush guard, and 26.5-foot turning circle conspire to permit easy navigation through tight trails. At one point, we crossed a 200-plus-foot flooded section that was essentially chocolate milkshake. Chugging along in low, with all 430-pound-feet of torque multiplied in the 1.92:1-geared hubs (effectively doubling output), the Hummer crept its way through the waist-deep muck without hesitation.
On- or off-road, the Hummer is relatively comfortable to drive. The fixed steering position works well, with appropriate yet minimal feedback. The turbocharged 6.5-liter/195-horsepower GM diesel engine provides most of the auditory accompaniment, with a fair measure of wind noise as the rolling brick pushes through the air. Throttle response from a standstill is immediate, with battleship-level-torque waiting to uncork, reach its peak at a mere 1800 rpm. Although it requires 15.7 seconds to hit 60 mph from rest, the Hummer doesn't feel like an underpowered double-wide on wheels. It holds its own in traffic, and it reaches a comfortable 80-plus mph on the highway.
A big beast, for sure, the low-volume Hummer represents the extreme end of the sport/utility spectrum for consumers with checking accounts as great as their off-road enthusiasm. Prices range from $65,732 to $82,421, though the Hummer is exempt from luxury and gas guzzler taxes.