Hummer’s H3 combines the best of the H2 with some all-new attributes

It’s hard to call anything Hummer builds petite. That said, the H3 SUV is a good idea that’s long overdue. H1 and H2 models continue to retain their hardcore fan base – but last summer’s high gas prices drove home the point that for most people, those two behemoths are simply too impracticable for everyday driving.

Enter the H3. At first glance, this truck appears to simply be a scaled down version of its big brother H2. That image is deliberate: The H3 takes the bulk of its styling cues from the H2, including that familiar, aggressive front grill, angular body styling and its dashboard and interior amenities. Taken as a whole, these features give the H3 an exaggerated stance. The first time you see one – even up close – you think, Well, it’s not a whole lot smaller than the H2. But looks are deceiving. The H3 is actually about the size of a Jeep Cherokee or Ford Explorer.

Get behind the wheel and it’s immediately obvious that the H3 is much more refined than an H2. Its handling qualities are top notch and its 37-foot turning radius was impressive. A friend (who used to work for Hummer) complained that the truck tended to drift around a bit at highway speeds. I never noticed that. Indeed, I thought the H3 felt most at home on a long stretch of interstate.

In the city, though, the H3 is a bit underpowered. Despite its small size, it feels like a heavy truck. True, the H3 weighs about 1,000 pounds more than the Ford Explorer. The real issue is the H3’s 220-horsepower, inline, five-cylinder engine. It’s OK once the SUV is up to speed. But you’re not going to break any records getting there. On the other hand, the little engine turns in something like 20 mpg on the highway. So it’s a wash, essentially – you can have power or fuel economy, but not both. For once, the Hummer folks opted for gas mileage.

Inside, the H3 is spacious and comfortable. The ride is extremely smooth and exterior road and engine noise is minimal. The head-turning potential isn’t as great as with an H1 or H2. But the bottom line is that Hummer – a company famed for building impractical vehicles, did a darn good job of designing a sure-footed urban cruiser while retaining enough of its off-road DNA to easily handle any muddy jobsite.