After several hours of debriefing by GM Defense personnel at the GM proving grounds in Milford, Michigan, it was time to take our test vehicle for a spin. Upon watching the LAV effortlessly climb a 60-percent grade, cross 18-in.-deep potholes as if they weren't there, navigate a slalom course at 70 kph, and sludge through swamps as if they were paved, we were ready to get behind the wheel.
Once lowered into the driver's compartment, the seat can be adjusted--hatch wide open, partially open, or closed--and raise or lower the line of sight by 12 in. With the hatch closed, peering through the limited-visibility periscopes is like being in a submarine, with an engine right next to your head. And with so many electronic panels to look at--flashing lights, warning buttons, ammo switches, etc.--in the cockpit, there isn't enough time to get claustrophobic, although we thought about it for a second or two.
Right and left walls are filled with lights to mark switches, toggles, and buttons: bright blues, yellows, oranges, and greens. And if you screw up (not saying that we did), a few loud, red flashing lights will make you stop whatever you're doing in a hurry.
The least visually exciting aspects of the LAV cockpit are the speedometer and dash gauges: classic GM parts bin. In fact, the steering wheel and gauge layout are similar to a traditional Hummer's. Once moving, however, the LAV is all medium-duty big rig--but with a twist. Something this large, powerful, and unique is bound to have handling quirks. Not surprisingly, there's a significant amount of understeer through decreasing radius turns, even with four-wheel steer.
The plowing was unnerving at first (not unlike the old Range Rovers that had a considerable amount of body roll), then took a hard set into just about any turn you threw at it. The hydraulic suspension is fairly quick to respond when the 18-ton mass loads to one side in the turns. Although not unpleasant, the system does seem to do better when given a few seconds to recover after taking a difficult right or left. Cornering ability and performance handling are undoubtedly not key requirements for this machine, but it still impressed, given the tremendous mass involved. Think of it as a 38,000-lb motorhome, with the feel of a mid-'80s small-block Suburban.