The engine received a unique lower-profile oil pan with better baffling that retains the same capacity as the standard pan. It also utilizes high-flow heads and electronic throttle control, the latter well calibrated for hard-core off-road use.

A pair of close-fit catalytic converters are found immediately downstream of each exhaust manifold, necessary to meet all current and 2009 federal emissions standards.

On- and off-road, the newfound muscle provides a comfortable driving sense--there's power underfoot when you need it. (According to GM, the H3 Alpha, which weighs 100 pounds more than the five-cylinder version, clips off 0-to-60-mph times of less than eight seconds.)

Handling also is nicely improved. The steering is quick and precise, the ride comfortable. The handling is better than the standard H3's because Alpha gets a slightly stiffer front anti-roll bar and retuned front shocks when compared with its less expensive counterpart.

The Rock Garden is a famous play area where hard-core off-roaders go on BLM land rife with miles of sandstone (slickrock) formations more demanding than those found around Moab, Utah. The location is the perfect proving ground for the H3 Alpha.

There are few SUVs that could keep pace with the H3 Alpha off pavement. The long suspension travel, 9.1 inches of ground clearance, excellent approach/departure angles, electric-locking rear differential, 4L60 automatic, and 4.03:1 low-range gear ratio give it tremendous footing in the worst of conditions. That, coupled with the torque of the 5.3 liter, make a highly capable off-road package.

Although we never had the chance to test Hummer's claim that it can ford water 24 inches deep, we did climb over miles of sandstone rocks, crawled up rocky steps at least 16 inches tall, and made our way easily though deep sand.

A few driver miscalculations (the visibility out of the H3 leaves a lot to be desired) here and there allowed us to test the thick under-armor of skidplates and stout nerf bars.

While the H3 is cross-shopped against the likes of BMW X3, Jeep Grand Cherokee, Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited, Nissan Pathfinder, Toyota 4Runner, and the Toyota FJ Cruiser, the H3 Alpha will probably stand alone for those seeking the best of both worlds. It has the power, off-road prowess, and unique styling to capture the hearts of those who want to stand out.

One area where the H3 Alpha falls short against the competition is in fuel economy. The estimated numbers come in around 13 city/17 highway. Those figures are far short of what the 5.3 liter V 8 delivers in GM full-size pickups and SUVs. As one GM engineer commented while we were on the trail, "The H3 isn't aerodynamic in any way. The V-8 is trying to push a box through the air."

But for those who see the Hummer as a must-have status symbol, fuel economy won't be the deciding factor. Nor is price. Base model H3s start at $30,695 and a well-appointed H3X lists for $38,990; however, the base H3 Alpha is $39,260. Step up to the H3X Alpha and the starting price is a cool $43,730.

If one really puts the Hummer H3 Alpha to use on- and off-road as it's been designed to do, paying that additional five grand for the V 8 package could be a justifiable choice. No doubt it'll get you noticed.