Extreme Road Test - 2003 Hummer H2: Leg 2, Day 6
South Bend, Indiana
After blocking most of the "For Check-In Only" parking lane with our sizely H2, we lethargically walked into the lobby of the South Bend Marriot at 9:31 am to be greeted by the desk clerk who sheepishly asked, "Weren't you guys supposed to check in last night?" Our zombie-like stares were enough to tell the story and she knew not to ask any more questions. After numerous crumpled-up gas and food receipts fell from Kiwi's pocket as he dug for his credit card for room payment, the clerk politely suggested that we pay when we checked out. We opened the door to our room, flopped down on the beds, and quickly realized that despite having just arrived we were already late for our day's activities -- partaking in the second annual Hummer Homecoming at AM General's extreme-duty off-road test facility just outside South Bend. After a brief rinse that would make even a "Navy shower" look long, we installed lightly wrinkled Motor Trend embroidered shirts upon our bodies, and walked out the door.
Upon reaching the H2 we realized there was no way we could arrive at the Hummer event with our rig looking as scrungy as it was. Thus, we hastily rounded up all the crumpled candy wrappers, fast-food bags, half-eaten pieces of beef jerky, and empty energy drink cans and crammed them into an already overfilled trash can next to lobby front door. A quick shake of the floormats did a fine job of ridding the low-nap of rogue chip and cookie crumbs before we called our clean-up good enough. Happy that we could once again see the H2's plush carpeting, we were ready to leave -- up until we heard a knock on the side glass. In our sleepy stupor we had forgotten that MT's ace video guy Jay McCarthy had flown into town to roll some tape on the Hummer Homecoming event and we were supposed to chauffeur him to and fro because he was without wheels. Our immediate forward progress was squelched as Jay suggested that we roll some quick footage on the H2 arriving/departing from the hotel, and as can be expected, some 30 minutes later we were actually on the road.
We wheeled into the Hummer event with a tight agenda before Arnold Schwarzenegger arrived and effectively all hell broke loose. Sure, lots of the town folk were there to gawk at the fine AM General products, but realistically, most attendees were jazzed to have the opportunity to rub elbows with Ahh-nold.
Within minutes we surmised that the Hummer facility was no girly-man test track. The 320-acre validation testing compound incorporates a cornucopia of suspension tweaking, body panel bending, tire popping, engine lugging, log jumping, swamp crossing, ditch laden "tests" that had fearless Kiwi Knievel saying, "Dude, I don't know about that...it's pretty gnarly."
At our disposal were two instructors from the Hummer Driving Academy, Hummer's own driving school (www.hummer.com). While their usual clients are the general Hummer-owning public, these guides were ours for the time being to help prevent us from becoming stuck in the muck. In previous Daily Logs we've touched on the surprisingly well-mannered driving prowess of the rough-and-tumble H2, but we've received many e-mails from tech-head individuals who just want to know the hard-core engineering info on the vehicle, and more specifically, how it fares in extreme off-roading. For those enthusiasts we present the following info.
On pavement, the H2 handling and ride comfort are surprisingly polished. Yet, off road, it's nearly as fiercely utilitarian as the original H1. In a nutshell, the H2 is capable of traversing 20-inch-deep streams, clawing up rocks/logs/walls that present 16-inches of vertical rise, and can effortlessly conquer sand dunes (see "airtime" photo in Leg One, Days 11-14). The H2 employs a 6.0L Vortec V-8 that shuttles 315 hp to a new powertrain-integrated Borg-Warner two-speed electronically controlled full-time 4WD system. The transfer case offers five mode selections (including a rear axle differential lock) to provide excellent performance under most any driving condition -- and trust us, we've encountered a plethora of challenging driving conditions.
The H2 features a long, wide wheelbase that delivers sure-footedness. Interestingly, at 122.8 inches, the H2's wheelbase is almost seven inches longer than its rugged brother, the Chevrolet Tahoe, while its overall 189.8-inch body length is nine inches shorter. For serious off-roading the H2 features extremely short overhangs, including a 32.6-inch front overhang and 34.6-inch rear overhang. The standard LT315/70R17 BFGoodrich All-terrain T/A tires team with the short overhangs to generate an impressive 40.4-degree approach angle and 39.6-degree departure angle (that's without the extended ride height feature engaged). With the optional air-leveling suspension (which our H2 had), the result is a radical 41.7/38.1-degree approach/departure angle. All this results in the ability to drive right through potholes large enough to swallow a MINI Cooper without so much as jiggling your morning cup of coffee.
A rock-defying underbody shield system not only provides outstanding undercarriage protection, but it looks downright cool. The package includes large skidplates (including a neat-looking engine shield stamped with big "H2" lettering), an undershield for the fuel tank, chassis-bolted steel rocker panel protectors, a protective shield for the optional onboard air compressor, and mud flares that attach to the wheelwells. All this safety gear teams up to deliver serious puncture protection when scraping over jagged rocks, such as those we experienced in Death Valley.
The H2 uses independent front torsion bars and five-link coil-spring rear suspension for surprisingly good on-road performance along with serious rear-axle articulation off road. The optional self-leveling rear air-spring suspension system fitted to our H2 delivered a surprisingly cushy ride, but did regularly emit a flatuation sound when we rolled to a stop. As Mexican food lovers, the farting didn't bother us, but it does give audible indication to the H2s serious nature.
Out on AM General's extreme test track we tried our best to get our copper-colored H2 stuck, but it just wasn't in the cards. A few times we did get our mighty rig wedged into a predicament (which made us quite happy), but our joy was quickly squashed when the Hummer driving school instructors sprang into action telling us to lock up the whose-a-which-it and to activate the transfer case thing-a-ma-jiggy. Within moments of button pushing, the H2 effortlessly clawed its way out of its once-stuck situation. "Hey, guys, where's the fun in that?" young Stick-Boy asked. After successfully conquering the "Grassy Knoll" we moved on to some high-speed dirt roads laced with surprises that can only be likened to the result of a C-130's worth of Claymore mines being tested on the dirt access road -- which, knowing AM General's close ties with the military, probably isn't too far from the truth. Once again, this was no real challenge for the H2. Next up was a bit of water testing. Although Hummer P.R. folks stated that the H2 had a maximum depth rate of 20 inches, we conquered one particularly stinky swamp that was clearly more than the "approved" limit.
Just as we were ready to get into some seriously non-corporate-approved fun, the driving instructor's radios crackled to life with the announcement that Arnold was moments away from arriving. Thus, our H2 testing/damaging antics were stymied as we made a spirited drive down narrow tree-lined roads in a hasty attempt to arrive before the madness began.
Arnold arrived looking debonair in his silk shirt, perfectly pressed trousers, and lizard-skinned shoes. Within nano-seconds of stepping out of his H2 taxi, he was accosted by scads of media and autograph seekers. A 45-minute "git yer photo with Arnold" session finished up with a presentation of a specially decorated birthday cake (Schwarzenegger didn't divulge his age, however) followed by the generous gift of a brand-spankin'-new H2 courtesy of General Motors. Hey, Hummer, Kiwi's birthday is just around the corner (hint, hint). Afterwards, Arnold was off to the woods to thrash his new H2 on the test course before meeting up with us for the filming of a campy skit that essentially entailed him roughing up the Motor Trend crew (see the "Arnold vs. MT" video clip listed in the Multimedia section). Before we knew it, Arnold was whisked away for some more four-wheeling before being wedged into a private jet to fly off to the set of his next movie (where he would likely be busting skulls on bad-tempered aliens).
We got back to our room stinking of swamp water and dirt, but didn't have time to shower as we were behind schedule (Again, do you see a theme here?) with our online update stories/photos. Kiwi fired up our trusty Apple Powerbook G4 Titanium laptop and got to work while Stick Boy scored a couple of pizzas to fuel us through the night. The plan was to finish the story, uplink the info to the Web site, and then knock off for three hours of sleep before getting an early 2 a.m. start on the next day's driving. That was the plan at least.