Sally Bottke is one of those special gearheads whose eyes light up and voice quivers with excitement any time the subject of high-performance pops up in conversation. Bottke was instrumental in leading the team that managed to fit the 300 horsepower, 5.3 liter V 8 between the 2008 Hummer H3's fenders and worked out the kinks that came with the high-performance engine swap. It was no surprise the engineering manager for the GM Performance Division could barely contain herself when asked about the Hummer H3 Alpha's newfound muscle.
We found that out firsthand during a Hummer excursion that led us over the highways of southwestern Colorado and into the rugged steps of northwestern New Mexico's San Juan mountain range. It was there, just outside Farmington, where we found the famed Rock Garden, considered by many experts to be one of the toughest trails in the country.
Like the Chevy SS moniker, Alpha represents the pinnacle of performance in the Hummer lineup--both on- and off-road. The 2008 H3 Alpha, with the V 8 package and retuned suspension, is only the second in the brand to get the special label--and it's the first engineered in conjunction with the GM Performance Division.
The initial run of H3 Alphas are rated at 300 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque. But by year's end they could be making more like 310 horses because of a running change that adds a factory cold-air intake to give the 5.3 a few more ponies.
The V 8, coupled with a four-speed automatic transmission, cast-iron differential housing, and 4.10:1 axle ratio, enables the H3 to tow 6000 pounds--that's over 33 percent more than in the base H3s powered by the 220 horsepower inline-five and five-speed manual.
Although the base Hummer H3 and Alpha look similar, the Alpha comes standard with the Luxury equipment package, Chrome Appearance package, 16 inch chrome wheels, and special Alpha touches such as headrests embroidered with the Alpha insignia and special badges on the tailgate and horn pad.
Under the hood is where the magic begins. Lee Visci, chief engineer of the H3 Alpha platform, says stuffing the V 8 inside the baby Hummer's tight engine bay wasn't all that easy. The engineers had to redesign the firewall and narrow the distance between it and the dash to get a couple more inches of space lengthwise. In addition, they had to make a few nips and tucks in the front frame rails to handle the aluminum-block 5.3 liter's engine mounts.
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.
|2008 Hummer H3X Alpha |
|Location of final assembly|| Shreveport, Louisiana|
|Body style|| 4-door, 5-passenger SUV|
|EPA size class|| Midsize sport/utility|
|Drivetrain layout|| Front engine, 4WD|
|Airbags|| Front, front side, side curtain|
|Engine type|| 90 V-8, alum block/heads|
|Bore x stroke, in|| 3.78 x 3.62|
|Displacement, ci/L|| 325/5.3|
|Compression ratio|| 9.9:1|
|Valve gear|| OHV, 2 valves/cyl|
|Fuel induction|| SFI|
|SAE horsepower, hp @ rpm|| 295 @ 5200|
|SAE torque, lb-ft @ rpm|| 317 @ 4000|
|Transmission type|| Hydra-Matic 4L60 4-speed automatic|
| 1st|| 3.06:1|
| 2nd|| 1.63:1|
| 3rd|| 1.00:1|
| 4th|| 0.70:1|
| Reverse|| 2.29:1|
|Axle ratio|| 4.10:1|
|Final drive ratio|| 2.87:1|
|Indicated rpm @ 60 mph|| 1800|
|Transfer-case model|| NV 241|
|Low-range ratio|| 4.03:1|
|Crawl ratio (1st x axle gears x low range)|| 50.1:1|
|Recommended fuel|| Regular unleaded|
|Wheelbase, in|| 111.9|
|Length, in|| 186.7|
|Width, in|| 85.5|
|Height, in|| 74.5|
|Track, f/r, in|| 65.0/65.5|
|Headroom, f/r, in|| 40.6/39.9|
|Legroom, f/r, in|| 41.9/35.0|
|Shoulder room, f/r, in|| 54.4/53.5|
|Cargo volume, behind 1st/2nd row, cu ft|| 55.7/29.5|
|Ground clearance, in|| 9.1 |
|Approach/departure angle, deg|| 39.4/36.5 |
|Load lift height, in||25.3 |
|Base curb weight, lb|| 4854|
|Weight distribution, f/r, %|| 53/47|
|Max payload capacity, lb|| 1150|
|GVWR, lb|| 6001|
|GCWR, lb|| 12,000|
|Max towing capacity, lb|| 6000|
|Fuel capacity, gal|| 23.0|
|Construction|| Ladder frame |
|Suspension, front/rear|| Independent, SLA torsion bar/solid axle, multi-leaf, anti-roll bar|
|Steering type|| Power-assisted rack-and-pinion|
|Turns, lock to lock|| 3.25|
|Turning circle, ft|| 37.0|
|Brakes, front/rear|| 12.4-in vented disc; 12.3-in vented disc, ABS|
|Wheels|| 16x7.5-inch aluminum|
|Tires|| P265/75R16 Goodyear AT|
|0-60 mph, sec|| 7.8 (mfr est)|
|EPA fuel economy, city/hwy, mpg|| 13/17 (est)|
|CO2 emissions|| 1.33 lb/mile|
|Base price|| $39,260 (Alpha)|
|Price as tested|| $43,730 (Alpha H3X)|