The last time we found ourselves behind the wheel of an H3, it was powered by the only engine available at the time, a 3.5L I5. Since then, the I-5 has grown to 3.7L and received a boost in power, but enthusiasts were clamoring for more. The Alpha is Hummer's answer. The standard 5.3L V-8 in the Alpha is just the right amount of engine for this chassis. While future H3s will be available with a 3.6L DOHC V-6 or a diesel, the 5.3L offers the power and torque for everyday driving with little sacrifice in fuel economy, as compared to the 3.7L I5. When pushed, the engine really gets the H3 up and running. With 33-inch tires and 5,000 pounds to push around, the Alpha isn't exactly quick, but it's no slouch, either. Despite the increased spring rate in the torsion bar and the leaf-spring rear axle, road manners were good; not cushy, but we had no complaints from any of our passengers.

Price (as tested) $43,775 - Equipped with optional DVD, navigation, rearview camera, and off-road suspension
Engine 5.3L V-8
Horsepower 300 at 5,200 rpm SAE
Torque (lb-ft) 320 at 4,000 rpm SAE
Transmission Four-speed automatic
Axle Ratio 4.10:1
Low Range 4.03:1
Suspension Independent SLA torsion bar (front), solid axle leaf spring (rear)
Brakes 4-wheel ABS with dynamic rear proportioning
Wheelbase 111.9 in
Turning (Curb-to-Curb) 37 ft
Height 74.5 in
Width 85.5 in
Approach Angle 39.4 deg
Departure Angle 36.5 deg
Break-Over Angle 25 deg
Curb Weight 4,850 lbs
GVWR 6,000 lbs
Max Trailer Weight 6,000 lbs
Payload 1,150
Interior Cargo (cubic feet) 55.7 (behind 1st row, 2nd row folded), 29.5 cu-ft (behind 2nd row)
Seating (front/rear) 2/3
Fuel Mileage 13/17 (EPA), 15.7 (as tested)

The interior of our Alpha was definitely an upgrade from our initial five-cylinder tester. Leather seats with Alpha emblems and a brushed stainless center stack bezel helped to elevate the look and feel of the interior into luxury territory, just like Hummer was aiming for. Some of the unique styling characteristics of the Hummer brand make it feel bigger from the inside, while others work against it. The nearly-vertical windshield is far enough away from the driver to keep the interior from feeling claustrophobic, but the high beltline and short windows don't help visibility. The B-pillar also creates a blind spot for taller drivers who have the seat adjusted all the way rearward, and the optional rear-view camera is practically a must-have-considering the spare tire mount and short rear window. The display for the camera slides out from the rearview mirror rather than being displayed on the navigation screen, a cool gizmo that drew a lot of positive comments. It also allows the buyer to choose to have the back-up camera without having to opt for navigation. One complaint about the H3's navigation: the unit is different from the one we've become used to using in other GM vehicles. The navigation in the Hummer worked flawlessly, but we'd become accustomed to the '07 and newer GM navigation units, which seem to have a higher screen resolution.

Off-road, the Alpha's 4x4 system worked great on muddy trails and soft dirt fields. Combining the added power with the sound of the 5.3L V-8-and the urge to do donuts and drift around corners was too much to resist. We didn't get to test the low range in the transfer case (we had the Alpha during the one week in Southern California that it rained every day), but there was plenty of mud to play in. The plan was to test the H3 at Mormon Rocks off of Highway 138, west of Highway 15 at the Cajon Junction, but ski weekend traffic put a stop to that. Instead, we headed east on Highway 138 into unknown territory. We should have heeded the warning that was flashing on the road sign: "Extreme Weather."

We didn't want a little spattering of rain to stop us from really testing the Alpha's off-road prowess, so we naively piloted the H3 onto a muddy, rutted trail. Things were going fine, until we came to a gate on the trail and had to execute a 5-point turn to head back down. (Who knows how far we'd have gone if it weren't for that gate.) On the way down the trail, the H3's Bridgestone tires weren't spinning fast enough to fling away the mud and the tread became packed. With a slippery trail to negotiate, careful steering input was required to keep the tires from plowing straight ahead. Thankfully the locking rear differential allowed us to stay moving on the trail, but the lesson was learned: Get mud tires for next time. When we finally got to a nice photo location to get some shots of our freshly-mud-coated H3, it began to hail. Foiled!

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