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New H3 Alpha borrows from original
[SIZE=-1]Charleston Post Courier, SC - 6 hours ago[/SIZE]

After 15 years traveling civilian highways, Hummer is gaining distance from the original war wagon.

Just as Jeep adapted to a postwar world of cul de sacs and leafy suburbs by branching out into varied vehicles, the Hummer brand must find a reason to exist beyond its brutish personality.

From the militaristic AM General original, the brand's current owner, General Motors, derived the H2 with more creature comforts. With the original H1 on the way out, GM introduced the smaller H3 in 2006. Although still unmistakably Hummerous, the H3 is much more approachable, comfortable and maneuverable than its H1 ancestor.

Now comes the H3 Alpha, a more powerful version with a 5.3-liter, 300-horsepower V8 and a performance personality. With a base price of $38,645, the Alpha costs about $9,000 more than the regular H3 with the 3.5-liter, 242-horsepower, 5-cylinder engine. Alpha also comes with a luxury equipment package, the chrome appearance package, 16-inch chrome wheels, and special Alpha badging.

The H3 Alpha follows the path of the original H1 Alpha, both of which were developed in concert with the GM Performance Division. To make the H3 more appropriate for everyday use, new child-safety locks were added for the rear doors and new power-window switches were introduced during the '07 model year.

Head curtain side air bags, previously optional, join the front air bags as precautionary measures. Safety is further enhanced with StabiliTrak electronic stability control, anti-lock brakes with traction control and a tire-pressure monitoring system.

For $850, you can add the Rear Vision system that uses a camera mounted near the rear bumper to provide a view of objects directly behind the vehicle. The OnStar communications system is standard. A power sunroof adds another $950.

Years ago, when I first drove the military version of the Hummer, it was like driving a quonset hut with a surprisingly tight turning circle. Despite its breadth, the big Hummer could go just about anywhere, crawling over rocks or racing across level ground.

By comparison, the H3 Alpha feels much more like a real sport-utility vehicle with very civilized road manners. Classified as a midsize sport utility, the H3 is 16.9 inches shorter in length, 6 inches shorter in height and 6.5 inches narrower than the H2. Measuring about the same length as a midsize family sedan, H3 maneuvered nicely in a tall, downtown parking garage and fit neatly between the yellow lines.

The potent V8 is similar to the small-block V-8 found in the Chevy Silverado pickup, offering a 3-ton towing capacity. If you plan to tow trailers, you can add the trailer hitch and wiring harness for $390.

While you won't win plaudits from the Sierra Club for driving the H3, at least you don't have to pay a gas guzzler tax. Consuming unleaded at the rate of 13 miles per gallon in the city and 16 on the highway, you would spend about $2,838 on refills if pump prices were to average $2.65 per gallon.

Alpha can claim some small environmental merit badges, however. Alpha's V8 engine beats the deadline for new, U.S. federal emissions standards by a year. Compared with truck engines of a decade ago, the small-block engine family is about 90 percent cleaner.

Although the H3 is a completely different creature than the original, no driver should hesitate to take it off road. The electronically controlled four-wheel-drive system is designed for rugged terrain, as are the standard underbody shielding, brake traction control, and optional transfer case with rear locking differential. H3's 37-foot turning circle is about the same as a compact car.
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