If the Hummer H2 is the baby Hummer (compared with the H1), what should the much smaller, midsize H3 be called? The all-new H3 is the next Hummer from General Motors, sharing a frame and general suspension design (although considerably beefed up) with the Chevy Colorado midsize pickup. In fact, the Hummer people are quick to point out that less than 10 percent of all the parts on the H3 are shared with the Colorado/Canyon trucks. Not surprising, given that's exactly the same strategy used with the H2 and its "platform sharing" with the Chevy Tahoe.

We recently had the opportunity to join a validation ride with a group of H3s and some GM engineers over the Rubicon Trail in California. This trail is not for the weak. There are sections that don't look walkable, let alone navigable by any type of vehicle. But navigate it we did, albeit very slowly. The 4x4 trail is only 13 miles long but takes most people two full days. Because the obstacles (mainly large chunks of granite) are so challenging, going slow is a must. Gearing and ground clearance are the keys to success. Fortunately, the H3 has both. As for the H3's four-wheel-drive system, the H3 has a full-time system with separate high- and low-range "lock" buttons on the dash to control the transfer case as well as an optional manually selectable rear-locking differential. The traction-control system is defeatable (by dash-mounted button) and offers greater sensitivity (i.e. faster traction) in low range. Likewise, the electronic throttle control makes the gas pedal easier to control.

All H3s will have the Vortec 3500 I-5 motor from the Colorado/Canyon, offering 220 horsepower and a respectable 225 pound-feet of torque at 2800 rpm. Regardless, among the most impressive highlights of the H3 is how slow it can go. Combining a five-speed-manual first gear and an optional transfer-case low-range ratio of 4.03:1 (industry leading), the H3 has a crawl ratio of almost 69:1, where most other serious 4x4s are doing well with a 35:1 ratio. The 4.03:1 low-range transfer case is also offered with the four-speed automatic (the 4L60-E), also offering an impressive 56:1 crawl ratio. Further, Hummer engineers had to make suspension changes to allow the H3 wheels to droop and flex over ruts, holes, and rocks with poise and confidence. And although there's no anti-roll bar disconnect, trail flex was impressive for the smallish brute. The H3 will offer 32-inch Bridgestones that performed amazingly well, conforming like marshmallows over the jagged surfaces, once we took out almost 20 pounds of tire pressure.

Unfortunately, we didn't get any time behind the wheel on pavement; ride and handling comments will come later, when we can find out if the small five-cylinder is enough motor for a 4700-pound baby Hummer. Look for H3s to make it into Hummer dealerships by summer 2005 and to be priced fairly aggressively, hovering around the $30,000 to $35,000 range. Look for a more thorough test in an upcoming issue.