19 December 1997

UNAFFORDABLE.

UNSTOPPABLE. UNREAL!

Andrew Pearce drives a Hummer, the ultimate import

4×4 doublecab, and he and Geoff Ashcroft pitch leisure

4wds head to head. Plus David Cousins tries a 306 estate

SUPPOSE a friend bounced up and said hed just bought a doublecab pickup almost as wide as a London bus. "Very good," you might mutter, thinking enviously of all the staff and stuff he could cart about.

Suppose he went on to say that it only had four seats, weighed more than one-and a-half Range Rovers and looked as though Arnold Schwarzenegger had sat on it. At this point youd conclude one of two things: either he was bonkers or hed just bought a Hummer.

People do, you know. And after driving one over some soggy bits of Hampshire its possible to see why, though suspending reality for the duration does help.

What we have here is essentially the US militarys HumVee – one of those mean-looking, sand-coloured things that TV showed barrelling around the Gulf War.

After that plenty of Americans wanted one (though its best not to dwell on why), so the makers cheered up the interior and hung a £70,000 price tag from the mirror. Yes, thats right; 70 grand. For apart from the civilian veneer, this baby is just what the regular issue GI drives. So its built to take the consequences.

The car were featuring is not your ordinary Hummer. Retailed by security firm Spymaster (0171-486 3885), its wearing full armour protection and bulletproof glass. So theres no need to fret about anti-hunt protesters or anti-farming lobbyists on the way to the village. In fact short of a direct hit by a cruise missile, theres no need to fret about anything at all.

&#42 Into battle

Propelling you towards the enemy or the pub is a 6.5-litre supercharged V8 diesel, devouring fuel at a wallet-wasting 11miles/gal. Normally the motor carries a turbo, but the test cars 500kg armour needed the extra shove.

And what happens when 430lbf torque and 195hp meets 3.5t? Not much. In fact its tempting to put up a stick to see if youre accelerating at all, though there is evidence in the way oncoming cars cringe and cower. Even when hard at work that mighty engine doesnt vibrate or growl; instead it roars like a muffled waterfall trapped on the other side of the bulkhead. And theres no gears to shift; a four-speed auto takes care of all that.

Mind you, once a Hummer is rolling it fairly whacks along. The steering, worked through a dinky wheel, is light and surprisingly direct. The ride is pretty good if a tad crashy. The whole thing sits pretty flat through corners and elephant-sized tyres glue it to the ground.

There is one small fly in a buyers potential ointment. Spymasters imports are all left hand drive. This just adds to the entertainment. Someone said you always know where a Hummers offside corner is by the clicks it makes demolishing parked cars mirrors. Given that the far side generally overhangs a B-road centreline by a couple of feet, you soon see what he was getting at.

&#42 Accommodation?

Open a heavy door, hop over a sill and fall into a little cubicle. The Hummer might be huge but its prodigiously, amazingly wasteful of interior space.

To achieve an astonishing 16in ground clearance, all the guts are tucked up between two monumental chassis rails, consigning humans to four little pods outboard of a centre console wide enough to shake hands across. This layout is brilliant if youre a soldier – plenty of space for radios, kit and a central machine gun platform – but it does rather hamper civilian use. Unless, of course, youre deeply into night rabbiting.

Hummers come as full pickups, doublecabs or hardtops. The doublecabs short load bay cant take much; eight to twelve bales at a guess, loaded high through a drop tailgate. But as Uncle Sam has serendipitously fixed the track at 72in, the whole thing sits very comfortably in tramlines. Anyone for slug pelleting?

&#42 When the hype stops

Once the Hummer leaves tarmac things start to make more sense. Its built to carry men and supplies fast over broken country, and that it will do: no messing, no arguments.

All-wheel drive is permanent, the centre diff can be switched out and both axles carry Torsen self-locking diffs. The centre of gravity is fairly low and the track ridiculously wide, so turning it over is unlikely. Not only that, but an optional central tyre inflation (CTI) system lets you turn the rubberwear into to bog-beating balloons.

Portal final drives deliver stump-hopping ground clearance. The suspension (coils over mighty dampers) thumps about but keeps the ride supple and the tyres biting. Overhangs are very short at both ends, so the Hummer can be nosed up to steep steps or pushed through a tight hollow without grounding. Low range gearing lets the motor boss all that weight around, while the transmissions torque converter keeps power-flow smooth at creeping speeds.

Youre always conscious of the cars bulk and mass. Sometimes this works positively, boosting a maddened-elephant downhill charge towards a muddy climb. Other times it works the other way – like when you run out of momentum just before cresting a big bank, or slither helpless and sideways across a camber.

But the overriding off-road feeling is of immense strength, of implacable, unstoppable purpose. In all our wallowing around, the Hummer never looked like getting stuck – which, on reflection, is just as well. Itd take more than a small tractor to pull it out.


Above: Stand well back. Something wicked this way comes…

Left: Yes, it is rather wide…Hummer shows its bulk alongside a Defender.

Above: Stand well back. Something wicked this way comes…

Left: Yes, it is rather wide…Hummer shows its bulk alongside a Defender.

Thick bulletproof windows drop down pretty smartly, but winding them up makes the motor sweat.

Small wheel, strong power steering and an autobox make the Hummer easy to drive. Coloured panel (right) looks after heating and air con. Table-width centre console extends to cab rear, providing useful machine gun mount .

Left: What hump? Short overhangs and plenty of suspension travel offset the Hummers length. Check front tyre deflection.

Optional central tyre inflation lets pressures be adjusted on the move.

Above: Whod be a US Army mechanic? Supercharged 195hp 6.5 litre V8 diesel sits so far back that it clatters your knees.