2008 Hummer H3 Alpha

V-8, Rear Locker, 33-inch Tires and 4.03:1 Low Range. Need We Say More?

Mar. 31, 2008 By Craig Perronne

Mention the name Hummer and images of the big and brawny original H1 conquering Iraq way back in Desert Storm One come to mind. Hummer was quick to build upon that image giving a Hummer to the equally big and brawny Arnold Schwarzenegger to drive. Soon a civilian version of the military vehicle was available and taking up multiple parking spaces all over the country.

Fast-forward a few years later and somehow Arnold had become the Governator (or Gropenator depending on who you ask) and there was a new Hummer in town. The H2, introduced in 2003, was built to be a more-civilized version of the designed-for-the-military H1. Built on a blend of a truck and Tahoe platform, the H2 offered more comfort than the H1 could ever dream of, while still offering off-road capability.

Like the original though, the H2 is still large and somewhat unruly to those used to smaller vehicles. For those looking for a more manageable and less testosterone-intensive Hummer experience, the H3 was introduced in 2006. Based on GM’s Colorado mid-size pickup chassis, it is smaller than the H2 but still shares the bold styling of its bigger brother.

While the newer baby Hummer seems just about the perfect size for the close quarters combat of city commuting and trail running it does have one major Achilles heel. Like the Colorado pickup it is based on, the H3 uses GM’s 3.7L five cylinder engine. Producing 242 horsepower and 242 lb-ft of torque, the mill looks decent on paper and under the hood of the Colorado is adequate.

However, coupled with the girth of the H3, it is a fairly unimpressive combo producing 0-to-60 mph times around 11 seconds. With acceleration like that, be prepared to get handed a major beat-down by the Geo Metros and Kia Rios of the world.

To combat the major lack of oomph, for 2008 Hummer introduced the H3 Alpha. Wedged between the frame rails is the same 5.3L V-8 as found in GM’s half-ton pickups. Producing 300 horsepower along with 320 lb-ft of torque, the V-8 is a massive improvement in power over the five-cylinder. Backing the V-8 is the familiar 4L60 four-speed automatic.

The Alpha moniker is more than just three-extra cylinders though. Available as options in the Off-Road package are 33-inch tires, an electric rear locker and a 4.03:1 transfer case! Eager to test out the heavily-off-road-orientated options, we grabbed a brand-new Hummer H3 Alpha equipped with all the bells and whistles and headed to Moab, Utah for the annual Easter Jeep Safari.

Of course the first item we were curious about is how much of a difference the V-8 powerplant would make on the Hummer H3 Alpha. An extra 58 horsepower and 78 lb-ft of torque never hurt any vehicle and the H3 Alpha is no exception. Acceleration is much improved over the five-cylinder with 0-to-60 times now just over 8 seconds. The H3 is not a rocket ship but it can, thankfully, no longer be described as slow or underpowered. Torque is plentiful across the spectrum and the Hummer no longer has problems with freeway on-ramps or passing maneuvers. All that extra power only comes at a marginal MPG cost over the five-cylinder as we averaged 14.8 mpg over our trip, with a best tank of 16.9 mpg and a worst tank of 13.3.

A trick feature is this rear camera display that pops out of the side of the rearview mirror when the transmission is put into reverse. It is very useful, as rearward visibility out of the back of the H3 is poor.

Spending 12 hours straight in the H3 on the drive from our Santa Ana, California cubicle farm definitely told us a lot about the Alpha. It is a comfortable place to rack off the miles as its firm leather seats are supportive and offer plenty of adjustment. Making our trip easier was the built-in XM radio along with the slick GPS system with voice guidance that kept us on the right track. The interior is also fairly quiet with the barn-door aerodynamics of the Alpha only producing minimal wind noise.

Cruising on the highways and back roads of Utah the Hummer rides nicely but on the rough and broken freeways of the urban death maze of Los Angeles the H3 Alpha yields a firm rider. It won’t knock your teeth out but is more truck like than SUV. While the ride didn’t bother us, if you live in an area with lots of rough pavement you may want to take a thorough test drive.

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The Hummer H3 Alpha’s interior is a nice blend of functionality and style. Nothing seems oddly-placed or non-intuitive. It was comfortable for our week long journey to Moab, Utah. Front and center in the H3 Alpha is a big display that doubles as the navigation system and XM radio. Both are easy to use, and having loads of channels to pick from was more than welcome on our long drive. We were also impressed by the sound system - Ronnie James Dio sounded great!

Once in Moab and hitting the trails we expected to get knocked around a bit by the firmer suspension of the H3 Alpha, but the valving and spring rates proved to be spot-on. The H3 absorbed the smaller, rough chop common on many Moab trails without a fuss. Even as speeds increased, the H3’s suspension still did an admirable job of absorbing the bumps without rattling its occupants.

When the trail gets rough, the Hummer H3 Alpha really shines. Like many vehicles, it is equipped with traction control but, unlike many vehicles, it actually works off-road. Employing all four wheels, the traction control works by sensing slip and applying the brakes to the spinning wheels, thus sending power to the wheels with traction. Many of these systems allow far too much wheel spin for our taste but the Hummer’s is quite effective. It takes some adjustment, because to make the most of the system one has to stay on the gas and off the brakes, but usually the H3 Alpha would go over most obstacles with little slip and little fuss.

For those situations where even more traction is needed, the Alpha features an electric rear locker. Simply hit the magic button and the rear differential locks, expanding the Hummer’s off-road capabilities immensely. We got the Alpha majorily crossed up a couple times on purpose and simply engaged the rear locker to easily get out of the situations. Every vehicle should come with a rear locker straight from the factory floor.

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Simply depress the second button from the right and the rear differential becomes locked. The rear locker, 4.03:1 low range and traction control system make the H3 very capable off-road right out of the box.
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A dumb option are these side steps which attach to the Hummer’s nerf bars. While the nerf bars look very stout, the side steps hang low and are not. We bashed them on everything.

As if a rear locker wasn’t enough, the Hummer H3 Alpha also comes with 4.03:1 low range. It is a blessing in very technical terrain and steep descents as it offers way more control than the typical low-range gearing. The H3 can actually carefully crawl and pick its way through the tough spots without heavy use of the brakes. Gear reduction is excellent and combined with the locker and real tires, the Hummer H3 Alpha is vastly more capable off-road than most SUVs.

Also helping the Hummer H3 Alpha in the dirt is the fact that it comes with decent tires. Bridgestone Dueler A/T’s are used to provide traction and measure out to 33-inches in diameter.


The Hummer H3 Alpha is perfect for those looking for a vehicle that can be highly capable in the dirt straight from the factory floor.

Its long list of off-road orientated options shows that Hummer is serious about making their vehicles at home in rough terrain and it is not just marketing hype.

Even better is that our inside sources at Hummer tell us that for next year the Hummer H3 will come with a front locker as well. If you are looking for off-road capability with V-8 power in a small package than look no further then the Hummer H3 Alpha.


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