Driving in the Family Way: 2008 Hummer H2
Is it possible to have too much of a good thing?
From the moment the Hummer's roof banged against the height-restriction bar stretched across the exit of my parking structure I knew my initial concerns about the size of the H2 were just the tip of the iceberg. It didn't bump the pole on the way up the ramp!
That scrape, and the sign on the gate that said "No vehicles over 5000 pounds," set a heavy tone. At 1600 pounds too ponderous and just one inch too tall, parking the H2 during my one-week review was worrisome from the start. Turns out, I was able to back down the ramp to avoid contact and further damage to the roof of the giant vehicle. I pretended not to notice the weight warning.
Once out of the lot and navigating city streets and highways, however, the full-size SUV was much easier to maneuver. Face it: A vehicle as big, high, and wide as this is not going to corner like a Corvette, but the steering feels nice and the suspension is comfortable. An all-new 6.2-liter V-8 joins with a six-speed transmission to provide acceleration that belies the vehicle's tanklike size. Fuel economy did not, unfortunately, and according the SUV's onboard computer, I averaged just 9.5 miles per gallon during my evaluation. Ouch!
It's hard for others to miss a vehicle of such imposing magnitude, but it's important for the driver to keep an eye out for smaller cars as, due to limited visibility out the back window, even full-size sedans can be easy to overlook. When shifted into reverse, an optional rear-vision wide-angle camera displays what's behind the Hummer on a dashboard screen; this is a real advantage in crowded parking lots and especially helpful at detecting wayward pets and children. Maneuvering into tight spaces takes some finesse; I confess, I never dared try to parallel-park the colossal car.
Its hip-high step-in height provides a 24-inch fording depth, but presented a challenge for me and my family members when entering and exiting the vehicle. On most cars, we count powerpoints (five) and cupholders (five cupholders plus two bottle holders); on the Hummer, I was looking for handles and steps. Thankfully, every portal offers three grips to assist doorway acrobatics. Toddlers and small children will definitely need assistance. If you're loading an infant in a carrier, expect to install the wee-one using a multi-step process that involves lifting the child up onto the rear seat, climbing in yourself, then negotiating the baby into place. Save yourself some effort and opt for the dealer-installed side steps.
Don't get me wrong, there are things to love about this beguiling behemoth. A redesigned interior features delicious leather surfaces and brushed chrome accents for a premium look and feel, while heated seats for both front and second-row passengers will keep your riders' backs and bottoms toasty warm. A remote-start system allows pre-heating or cooling before loading up the family, but use this judiciously because too much extra idling will affect the already-poor fuel economy.
Entertainment options allow DVD viewing via a monitor that folds from the ceiling or mounts in the headrests (and on the front video screen when in Park). Auxiliary A/V inputs and powerpoints on the center console provide other options such as gaming systems or video cameras to occupy rear-seat passengers. During our particularly precipitous test week, only a bag of popcorn and some hot cocoa could have made our time spent waiting out a rainstorm any more enjoyable. On sunny days, one button can lower all four side windows and the rear window with a single touch, and a panoramic power sunroof really opens up the cabin.
While the majority of H2 buyers seldom take their beloved barge off-road, the Hummer's military heritage promises a firm foundation for off-road performance and maximum towing ability of up to 8000 pounds. Snowy/muddy driveways, deep sand, and rain-flooded streets present little threat to this titan.
Because of its size, the 2008 Hummer H2 has not been rated by the government for frontal crash, side crash, or rollover risk, though its superior size, three-ton weight, and rugged construction will give it the upper hand in most collisions -- at the expense of anything smaller. Four-wheel anti-lock brakes feature a traction control system that provides optimal traction on either icy or gravelly surfaces, through a single wheel if necessary. New safety features include tire pressure monitors, a panic brake assist system that detects emergency braking and helps control the vehicle for a safer stop, an electronic stability control system with rollover mitigation, and roofrail head curtain side airbags for first-, second-, and third-row passengers with rollover sensing system. Dual-front airbags and front seatbelt tensioners are standard; second- and third-row seatbelts are integrated into the seats themselves to simplify their operation. Two LATCH anchors and three tethers are mounted in the second row, with one more tether available in the third row.
That new third-row bench seat betrays the vehicle's size, offering more comfort for two girthy passengers than long-legged ones. The second- and third-row seats easily split and fold to offer a variety of storage and access options; this is especially important if the back of the vehicle is blocked, because the rear-mounted spare tire must be swung completely away from the back of the SUV for the rear hatch to be raised. When another driver parked too close to the rear of the Hummer, I was able to pack my week's groceries easily onto the roomy second-row seat and floor instead.
If you're in the market for a luxury SUV with true off-road capabilities, the Hummer can be compared against the Range Rover, Cadillac Escalade, Lexus LX470, Lincoln Navigator, or GMC Yukon Denali. But none of these offers the rock-solid military heritage or unmistakable broad-shouldered stance of the Hummer. For some, this jumbo mover might seem like overkill; for others, nothing else is good enough.
By Brandy Schaffels