I have a secret shame. No, not that 1980s hair band music thing - everyone already knows about my musical tastes. No, my secret shame - which, I guess, will not be a secret anymore - is that I drove the Hummer H2, and I liked it. These days, it's not very politically correct to say such a thing. Well, in certain testosterone-fuelled circles it may be, and in fact the entire Gulf as well, but in most of the world, big, brutish SUVs are going the way of the dodo.
With the rise of petrol prices around the world in the last few years, and with the environment being on everyone's mind these days, the rise of people's scorn towards these greenhouse gas-belching behemoths is matched only by the SUV market's decline in sales. In fact, even I wonder how a person could responsibly own an H2, knowing it coughs up three times the emissions of a smaller saloon. But here in the UAE, sales of Hummers could not be better. We are the second largest market of these trucks outside of the US, and, according to General Motors, sales here of the Hummer brand have increased by 15 per cent from last year. With such a high popularity, I wanted to see what makes this vehicle so polarising.
And GM Middle East did not disappoint. Not only was a very, very large Hummer H2 delivered to me, but it was in an orange colour that resembled that of a traffic cone - if you missed seeing this vehicle on the road, you should not be driving. Even being six feet tall, I still had to climb up on the step and grab the steering wheel to pull myself into the cab. And that's when I hit my knee on the dashboard. For such a big vehicle, it was a tight squeeze to get into.
But, once inside, there's not another worry about space. I sometimes had to yell at my passengers for them to hear me, and when I did, I swear I heard an echo. The seats can swallow up a smaller person, while the boxy body allows for plenty of shoulder room for everyone. Wide, squat windows make it feel like you're driving a bank vault - it's easy to feel secure inside the cabin. Plus, it's harder for people to see who is driving such an offensive vehicle. Phew!
Surprisingly, the big truck actually has a smaller load space compared with its competition, though there should be no worries for your average grocery run. Everything else inside the cabin is up to par - GM did a revamp of the interior this year to quell complaints of chintzy materials. And the aircraft throttle-style gearshift definitely adds to the industrial powerhouse feel. Power is up this year, too, with a new 6.2-litre, 393-horsepower V8 mated to a brand new six-speed automatic transmission.
This car's acceleration will not raise any hairs on the back of your neck, but the power is more than sufficient for pulling something really big (up to 3,727 kilograms). And for a company with a bad reputation for its automatic gearboxes, this six-speed was very smooth. Lets hope GM's antiquated four-speed autoboxes will be relegated to the dustbin. The company lists a myriad of technological innovations, such as an aluminium block and variable valve timing, as helping to make the engine more efficient. That may be, but you are not going to win any fuel consumption marathons with this beast, especially with a kerb weight of almost 3,000 kg.
The H2's computer was listing its fuel consumption at 24 litres per 100 kilometres, making a driver very thankful for the UAE's low petrol prices. But driving it is where you really see why people like the Hummer. It's been said before, and it sounds like a well-worn stereotype, but you really feel special towering over everyone else on the road. People may not like you in a Hummer, but they really respect the fact that you could drive right over them if you wanted.
To top it off, it actually handled far better on the road than I imagined a big rig like this would - better than comparable SUVs, taking curves with surprising agility and steadiness. And the brakes were fantastic, with a firm pedal that was very easy to modulate. Sadly, I didn't have a chance to take this to its natural habitat - off road. Which is too bad for me, because I've heard all about its rugged suspension, its ground clearance and general sure-footedness off the beaten path. But let's face it - it is the city jungle that the H2 will have to deal with the most. And while its big, seven-slat grille can clear a path on Airport Road easily enough, finding parking downtown will be a nearly impossible chore. Not to mention the fact that a driver will need a map of all the petrol stations in the UAE just to keep the H2 on the road.
But most owners of Hummers happily put up with these hardships and turn the other cheek to the derision of other drivers, often congregating in groups of fellow Hummer lovers on and off the road. And now I can see why - just don't tell anyone. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org