First Drive: 2009 Hummer H3T Alpha
Words By: Mike Levine Posted: 04-07-08 03:12 PT
Photos By: Jim Fetts, Videography By: Chris Coole
© 2008

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It's ironic that the first US pickup since 1986 with a seven-slot grille wears a Hummer badge instead of a Jeep logo (technically, the Jeep Comanche, produced from 1986-1992, had an eight-bar opening, and the Brute pickup from American Expedition Vehicles is an aftermarket conversion).

This after Jeep teased us for years with prototype pickups. The 2003 Scrambler Concept was slated for production but never arrived. The brilliant Gladiator concept, shown at the 2005 Detroit Auto Show, remains in cold storage. And last year the Wrangler JT Concept was baptized during the 2007 Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, Utah but you’ll only be able to drive one if you enlist in the Egyptian army.

Hummer didn't even exist as a brand when you could buy a Jeep CJ-8 twenty-two years ago. But Hummer has reinvented the segment for a modestly sized, immensely capable off road pickup and jumped in with all four wheels by introducing the new 2009 Hummer H3T. And to kick some sand in Jeep’s headlights, they invited us to drive it in Moab the week before this year’s Easter Jeep Safari.

Hummer picked one of the most popular and challenging trails in Utah for us to put the H3T through its paces, "Hell's Revenge". Many of the 4x4s tackling its slickrock paths are customized with 35-inch to 37-inch maximum traction tires, high-end suspensions and roll cages. But the fully loaded pre-production H3T Alpha we're driving is only equipped with factory kit.

The Alpha's 5.3-liter V8 puts out 300-horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque. The optional Adventure Package adds 33-inch BF Goodrich MT (Mud Terrain) tires, extra low range gearing optimized for rock crawling and electronically locking front and rear differentials. The pickup is also equipped with Hummer's optional 16-inch bead lock wheels that clamp the BFG rubber in place as we lower tire pressure to about 20-psi, for extra grip.

Having never traversed Hell's Revenge, the opening ascent is sobering. It's not so much a hill but what frequent off-roadies call a 'fin' – a single-lane landscape feature with steep drops on either side. Conveniently, twin lines of black rubber are etched in the sandstone from tire wear. The rubber expertly marks the optimal line up and over the fin.

The red rock surface that looks smooth from a distance surprisingly has the texture of sandpaper – very good for traction. We've been in parking garages with half the frictional coefficient of Moab's grainy paths. Yet, it's testament to the extreme driveline stresses the H3T will experience throughout the day when we already see recent-laid drops of transmission fluid or oil on the trail from an earlier off-road vehicle. By the time the day is over we’ll see two four wheelers disabled on the trail.

They don't call it rock crawling for nothing. We’re only doing a few miles per hour over the tough terrain, to keep driveline stress and truck bounce to a minimum.

We shift into 4-Lo in tricky sections of the trail because we’re prioritizing torque over fuel economy, to pull us out of any challenges. The H3T's first gear ratio is 3.06 and its low-range gear reduction is 4:1. Multiplying first gear times low-range times a 4.10 rear axle gives us a 50:1 crawl ratio – meaning that in 4-Lo the H3T's axles are turning 50 times slower than the engine’s RPM. Think about that if we’re only doing 2-to 3-mph! It's an astounding 70:1 if you have a 5-speed manual 5-cylinder H3T. And while all that mechanical torque management is going on, the H3T’s engine computer constantly adjusts the truck's throttle response based on speed and gear to prevent lurching and driveline stress.

We keep the transfer case in 4-Lo, often shifting the 4-speed automatic transmission between D1 and D2, and occasionally D3, depending on the trail’s difficulty and slope.

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