Each year since 1974, Four Wheeler magazine hosts a week-long competition among new or improved four wheel drive SUVs. This year, the 2008 Hummer H3 Alpha came away with the top prize: Four Wheeler of the Year.
In order to qualify to compete, each vehicle must be brand new or have substantial mechanical changes from previous model years, and include a two-speed transfer case. The lineup included six vehicles this year including the Hummer H2, Jeep Liberty, Grand Cherokee CRD (diesel), Nissan Pathfinder, and Toyota Land Cruiser. With the exception of the H2, it doesn’t seem like any vehicles on the list can even put up a fair fight.
Sure Jeep has their ‘trail rated’ stamp and Nissan and Toyota will demonstrate muddy puddle driving in their commercials, but when was the last time you saw a group of Liberties or Pathfinders heading out to the trails for some off-road fun?
First I wondered if it was really fair to test the Hummer against these vehicles aren’t really built for ‘off-road’ conditions, but rather nasty weather more commonly found in northern states. Then I remembered that each has a two-speed transfer case, implying that at some point, the engineers of these vehicles thought it may be necessary to switch into low gear and climb rocky hills or descend steep slopes.
During H3 off-road training, there were Jeeps and Nissans and Toyotas all purchased by GM to attempt the trail ride alongside the new, smaller Hummer. I remember coming up to a pretty steep hill in a ‘trail rated’ Jeep and knocking a piece of the front end clean off due to the long overhangs. Our ride along product experts assured us that wouldn’t be the only damage of the day. So, are these vehicles capable of some true off-road driving? No. Are they good, four-wheel-drive vehicles for the northern winters in the U.S. where drivers may have to drive through
The folks at Four Wheeler magazine seemed to agree – with the Hummer H3 Alpha winning several categories like Off-Road Performance, Exterior Styling, and Empirical Scoring, which measures data like acceleration, braking, and break over angles.
“Hummer is intent on becoming the off-pavement adventure brand, and in the three years since the introduction of the H3, Hummer has listened to its critics and made major improvements each year, culminating in the H3 Alpha,” said Four Wheeler technical editor Sean P. Holman. “To our testers, there was no better vehicle in the test to tackle a favored trail, or the road taking you to the trailhead. The H3 Alpha, with its V-8 engine, supple suspension, ample clearance, and exterior protection, was able to earn the respect of our judges in every aspect of the test, and performed in some cases beyond expectations.”