If there's anything out there that drives like an LAV, we haven't tested it. In fact, when we first got the call from our contacts at GM Defense, we thought someone was playing a cruel joke on us: "How would you like to drive one of our eight-wheel-drive 31,000-pound turret-equipped $2 million infantry carriers? It'll go 60 mph." Long pause. "Sure," we said, about ready to jump out of our skin. "We'll see what we can do about showing you the big guns," came the reply.

With an overall length about 3 feet shorter than a 1-ton long-bed crew cab, the LAV III has a 55-ft turning diameter, a top speed of 62 mph, and a range over 300 miles. Designed as a rapid-deployment troop carrier, the LAV holds 10 people: one driver, one vehicle commander, one gunner, and seven fully geared troops in the rear-seating (dual-bench) quarters--but all we cared about was the seat with our name on it.

Peruse the following pages to find out more about our road test of this unusual vehicle. Afterwards, if you'd like more information on military-equipped civilian-made vehicles, check out our associated photo gallery: "They're All Getting in the Game."

The Vehicle
From the outside, the LAV looks like a small tank with wheels; however, once you see it in action, similarities quickly disappear. Significant tactical mobility was its first design priority--it had to move at a steady 100 kph for extended periods and be easy to drive. All eight wheels are independently suspended with hydropneumatic struts, capable of raising or lowering ride height almost 6 in. A central tire-inflation system, similar to that used on military and civilian Hummers, is also an option. Each wheel is independently driven, so if one gets blown up by a land mine, the other seven will still receive power from the engine. In addition, both sets of front axles are steerable, and the rear three use six-channel ABS. The rear two sets of axles provide traction during normal driving operation, with a selectable 8WD option for serious cross-country recon missions.

The transfer case is the ultimate, heavy-duty hunk of metal, weighing several hundred pounds and capable of handling more than 800 lb-ft of torque. Gearing is unique, with 0.86:1 high range and 1.31:1 low range. This, in effect, allows for the better highway cruising and more controlled low-range crawling. Other impressive details include almost 24-in. ground clearance and built-to-climb-walls 40-degree approach and departure angles.

The engine, not surprisingly, is a monster Caterpillar I-6, capable of generating 400 hp and almost twice that in torque. Our Canadian LAV III test unit featured the slightly detuned version, reportedly putting out 350 horses, although it didn't have a chassis dyno. The equally heavy-duty Allison six-speed transmission uses all the high-tech electronics found in a 1-ton pickup transmission, but it's built specifically for ultimate survival.

The Drive
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.

The Gun
Oh, did we forget to mention our test vehicle came equipped with a 25mm armor-piercing gun, capable of shooting 200 rounds per minute at targets as far as 2500 meters? "We can ruin your day from a long ways away," says the jovial 24-year vet who handles marketing. The whole arrangement is wired into a complex thermal-imaging system that allows the gunman to lock onto any target. A stabilizing system keeps the gun steady, regardless of speed or terrain. In addition, our turret had a quick-mount 7.62mm machine gun and two four-cluster grenade and smokepot launchers. The two manholes in the turret hold the gunner and vehicle commander. They can stand upright or drop to their seats, close the hatch, and view surroundings via periscopes or thermal (night-vision) imagers. In all, the turret system is amazing and costs almost as much as the rest of the base platform (a nice option perhaps for more urban full-size SUVs when you need a parking space).

As our day was ending, we became slightly more frenzied to test this vehicle. We headed to a nearby water-soaked field, looking for traction-robbing ooze. It wasn't long before we came to a stretch of deep puddling surrounding a small, murky swamp. We were assured the LAV would float if the terrain disappeared--so long as we stayed on the throttle, the churning of the mud-claw tires would keep the beast moving forward. We closed the hatches, locked the seals, and attempted to creep our way across the mire, playing the engine revs against the suspension stretching and compressing each wheel as the terrain rolled underneath us.

Body creaks echoed inside as hydraulic lines hissed and repressurized. Water splashed onto the rig's front nose and periscope lens, as the left side of the LAV dipped into a hole. Staying on the throttle helped the right side push us along as each wheel climbed out and pulled the rest with it--slow and plodding, yet powerful and confident. We climbed out of the mess, dripping ancient debris and goop. Naturally, we tried a few more laps, with a little more speed, each time cutting through the trail easier than the last.

As the sun touched the horizon, we performed one last test when we rolled up to a wall of dirt, positioned to be some sort of flood-control basin. Up the wall the LAV climbed, pushing, pulling one, then two axles over the hump, then it teetered forward until level. As the machine dug down, its Achilles' heel showed itself: a high center. The sheer weight of the vehicle had tires digging dirt until there was no more. The LAV then quietly rested on its underbelly, treads floating in air. How does one get an LAV unstuck? Obviously, with another LAV. So we waited, at the end of an amazing day of driving an amazing vehicle, finally halted by a careless driver doing something he probably shouldn't have. Our advice: If you ever have the chance to get an LAV stuck, take it.

Specifications, Where, and How Much?
Although the LAV has a long and heroic history, the latest version is a joint venture between General Motors and General Dynamics and Systems, with most of the technology research and design coming out of the manufacturing facility in London, Ontario, Canada. Over the next seven years, the overall contract could be worth as much as $4 billion and will need to equip six brigade combat teams (up to 2131 vehicles). The basic platform costs about $1 million without the turret, $1.75 million with the turret, and about $4 million with the full electronics and weapons package. The LAV III is currently being built in London, Ontario, Canada; Lima, Ohio; Aniston, Mississippi; and in Switzerland.

General Specifications
Location of final assemblyLondon, Ontario, Canada
Body style4-door, 11-pass
EPA-size classN/A
Drivetrain layoutFront engine, 8WD
AirbagsNone
Powertrain
Engine type Caterpillar 3126 I-6, cast-iron block, head
Displacement 7.2L
Compression ratio 18.9:1
Fuel induction Direct injection
SAE horsepower, hp @ rpm 350 @ 2800
SAE torque, lb-ft @ rpm 580 @ 1400
Transmission type 6-speed Allison MD3560 P
Rpm @ 60 mph 3200
Axle ratio 2.42:1
Transfer-case model GM Corp.
High-range ratio 0.86:1
Low-range ratio 1.31:1
Recommended fuel Diesel
Dimensions/Capacities
Wheelbase, in 185.0
Length, in 283.0
Width, in 103.2
Height, in 103.0
Total volume, cu ft 250.0
Ground clearance, in 18.0
Approach & departure angle, deg 40/36
Base curb weight, lb 31,000
Payload capacity, lb 6500
GVWR, lb 38,000
GCWR, lb 50,000
Towing capacity, lb 10,000
Fuel capacity, gal 65
Chassis
Suspension, f/r 8-wheel independent, hydropneumatic, w/height management
Steering type Power w/ground-driven pump
Turns, lock to lock 3.7
Turning circle, ft 55.8
Brakes, f/r ABS rear 3 axles
Tires 1200 R20 CTIS
Sound level @ 55 mphLoud
Price
Base price $1 million (est)
Options Too many to list
Price as tested $3 million (est)
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