The Next Really Big Thing By Ed Hellwig Dressed in a Tonka-truck shade of yellow, the new Hummer H2 can't help but look like a 7-year-old boy's dream come true. But rest assured, the H2 is the real deal. When General Motors purchased the Hummer brand name from AM General, it did so with the promise of preserving the core attributes of the original Hummer (now known as the H1). This meant GM couldn't pass off one of its infamous rebadge jobs using a reskinned Tahoe and some big plastic "H"s stuck to the tailgate. The H2 had to demonstrate unmatched offroad capability while providing a more drivable, practical and affordable vehicle. After driving the H2 in conditions varying from stop-and-go highway traffic to hard-core offroad trails, we think it's safe to say that GM accomplished its goal. The H2 drives like your typical fullsize SUV, complete with a soft but controlled ride, vague but reasonably tight steering and a penchant for unleaded that demands the full attention of your gas card. The interior is comfortable and functional, while the exterior is as much of a head-turner as the original. Add in the fact that the H2 can tackle offroad obstacles that would leave most other sport-utes cowering in their chrome wheels, and it's easy to see why GM expects the H2 to be one of the most sought-after vehicles in years. Building a sport-utility that could live up to the Hummer name while still providing reasonable highway manners meant drawing from GM's vast inventory of truck and SUV parts. The front suspension is an independent torsion bar design similar to that of Silverado and Sierra fullsize trucks, while the rear consists of a five-link solid axle design borrowed from the half-ton sport-utes. Variable-rate coil springs are standard in the rear with an adjustable air suspension being optional. Key suspension components were beefed up to handle the additional demands of severe offroad duty, while a special frame design in front isolates the front axle for less vibration and noise in the cabin. Ford Excursions can't touch this. All of these parts come together to give the H2 a controlled, but still truckish, ride quality. The stiffer springs needed to support the H2's substantial weight (6,400 pounds) give the big sport-ute a slightly harsher ride than your average Suburban, but even a 2-hour slog through Friday afternoon traffic in downtown Chicago didn't prove uncomfortable. The steering is light for such a big vehicle, but with roughly 35-inch all-terrain tires at each corner, road feel is understandably lacking. Short stopping distances were never one of the H1's strong points, but the H2's large four-wheel discs provide plenty of power and a decent pedal feel. Stout drivetrains are almost a given in GM trucks and SUVs, and the H2 is no exception. The sole powerplant offered is a 6.0-liter V8 rated at 316 horsepower and 360 lb-ft of torque. It's hooked up to a heavy-duty 4L65-E four-speed automatic transmission and a full-time dual-range transfer case that splits power 40/60 to the front and rear wheels under normal conditions. Shifting into either "4 Hi Locked" or "4 Lo Locked" sends power to the front and rear driveshafts in equal proportions, while another button on the dash will lock the two sides of the rear axle into a similar 50/50 split. As if that weren't enough, shifting into "4 Lo Locked" also initiates a change in the electronic throttle that provides better control during slow-speed rock-crawling. Last but not least, there's a two-level traction control system that will allow the H2 to continue even if only a single wheel has traction. The vehicle's tow rating is 7,000 pounds. It almost goes without saying, but the H2 borders on unstoppable offroad. Short front and rear overhangs give the hulking sport-ute steep approach and departure angles that make ascending and descending precarious hills and gullies seem almost too easy. Nearly 10 inches of ground clearance and ample wheel articulation allow the H2 to crawl its way over even the most imposing obstacles with precise control and few body scrapes. Sturdy frame-mounted rocker bars, combined with a comprehensive array of underbody skid shields, assure that even if you do manage to hang up your H2 on a nasty boulder, the important stuff will remain unscathed. Visibility is probably the H2's biggest drawback, as the short windows and wide body make perfect placement a tough proposition without a spotter. After spending the better part of an afternoon unsuccessfully trying to find something the H2 couldn't scale, we headed back to civilization on a considerably less treacherous route of Indiana highways and surface streets. Despite its penchant for mud bogs and boulder trails, the H2 still maintains a commendable demeanor on the open road. It feels massive, but once you get used to the imposing size, the H2 is relatively easy to maneuver. The big V8 under the hood provides plenty of pickup in most situations, but the combination of 3 tons of weight and a near total lack of aerodynamics renders the H2 sluggish at highway speeds. Unlike the H1, the H2 has a thoroughly modern cabin complete with dual-zone climate control, OnStar telematics service and a choice of Bose audio systems. If you've spent time in any of GM's trucks or SUVs, you'll recognize many of the interior systems and switchgear. Everything is logically arranged and easy to see, and finding a comfortable seating position is easy thanks to the standard eight-way power-adjustable seats for the driver and front passenger. Cloth upholstery is standard-issue, but leather is a stand-alone option that also includes seat heaters front and rear. The three-passenger bench rear seat is comfortable for two average adults, but the contoured shape of the middle seat may make three-abreast seating uncomfortable. The short windows give the rear quarters a claustrophobic feel, but they do go down all the way if you get the urge to get a little wind in your face. A fullsize spare takes up a large chunk of the rear cargo area, leaving only enough room for a single seat in the third row. There is 86.6 cubic feet available with the second row folded and the third-row seat completely removed. Although we found the H2's cabin comfortable throughout the duration of our test drive, we couldn't help but feel that for nearly $50,000, the H2's material and build quality are below par. Low-quality gray plastic abounds, the door panels flex and a rap on the dashboard sounds about the same as knocking on an empty box of Corn Flakes. The console-mounted shift lever is made to look like those found in multi-million dollar corporate jets, but grab a hold of it and you'll find that, despite its metal color, it's plastic just like the dash. Not only that, it can be moved about in its moorings even while in Park — not exactly the rock solid, industrial feel its appearance suggests. But minor quibbles like this aren't likely to matter much to the average H2 buyer. This is an image vehicle, pure and simple. For the 5 percent of owners who actually venture offroad, the H2's abilities will rarely cease to amaze. From the powerful drivetrain and rugged suspension to the sophisticated traction control system, the H2 has few, if any, peers in the off-highway arena. For everyone else, the H2 represents one of the most "gotta have it" vehicles of the year. Its head-turning sheetmetal and imposing girth promise attention at every turn, while the modern mechanicals and numerous amenities assure that you won't be giving up comfort and convenience in the process. If it's true that he who has the most toys wins, the H2 should probably be counted twice.