From Bagdad to Las Vegas in the new four-tonne electric Hummer
Hummer is back, only now it’s powered by batteries. Is it still military tough? Off to Bagdad we go
The Hummer EV is a ridiculous motor vehicle. It weighs 4,110kg, which is the same as nine Caterham 170Rs and means, if you could buy one in the UK, you’d need an HGV licence to drive it. This $110k Edition 1 model has three motors – two at the back, one at the front – producing a total of 986bhp and 1,200lb ft of torque, enough for a 0–62mph sprint in three seconds flat. That’s basically as quick as a Ferrari 296 GTB, despite having the aerodynamics of a shopping centre. It has a claimed range of 329 miles, which is impressive, but only because it has a 205kWh battery – the same as six Honda es. It drains the planet’s resources like a sugar-crazed toddler slurping on a milkshake, and in the process upends the electric car’s core justification – being in some way beneficial to the environment.
As I approach it for the first time, it’s crammed into an underground car park like an elephant in a bungalow and my hatchet is sharpened and ready. This is a grotesque mutilation of functionality, I tell myself, a modern caricature of a defunct military vehicle that was designed to patrol war zones, not chichi boulevards and Instagram profiles. The original Humvee’s freakish 71.6-inch track width was so it could follow comfortably in the footprints of a tank, the Hummer EV’s track width is two inches wider still... for no discernible reason. This is lunacy.
But, innocent until proven guilty and all that, so we’re giving the Hummer a shot. A chance to prove it can off-road as well as roadtrip, that there’s something likeable beyond the gimmicks, that it deserves to dine out on its military heritage. We’re taking the Hummer to Bagdad. No, not that one, this is a small company town, built around a giant open copper mine in the middle of the Arizona desert, about 250 miles away from where we are now. We’ll also stop in on the pulsating neon of Las Vegas on the way home, but first, to understand why we want to visit a one-horse town that almost shares a name with the Iraq capital... you need to know a little about the history of the Humvee.
Photography: Rowan Horncastle
The story began in 1983 with AM General winning a $1bn contract from the Pentagon to produce 55,000 of its High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWV) for the US military – and the Humvee, re-nicknamed Hummer, was born. By 1991 72,000 had been produced and put to use in various conflicts, including two Gulf wars, carrying troops, cargo and guns over inhospitable desert terrain. In 1992, sales of a road-going Hummer H1 began, thanks largely to the pestering of actor and protein shake enthusiast Arnold Schwarzenegger.
It was a success of sorts, but Arnie’s appetite for H1s couldn’t sustain a company alone – it only sold in big numbers when GM bought Hummer in 1999 and rolled out smaller and more affordable H2 and H3 models – peaking with over 70,000 shifted in 2006. But by 2010 sales were stalling, so GM cut its losses, and then in 2012 the military Hummer was deemed “no longer feasible for combat”. Hummer was lost beneath the waves... until electrification lobbed in a life ring.
Tenuous links to the Hummer’s history aren’t the only reason we’re on our way to Bagdad. In an absolutely no-way-was-it-a- blind-piece-of-luck-while-researching-this-feature kinda way, copper – Bagdad, AZ’s prime export – plays a crucial role in the manufacturing, and therefore the profitability and lead times, of new EVs. There can be as much as 120kg of copper in the high voltage battery, motor and wires in a big EV like this one, compared with 20–30kg in a petrol or diesel car... so as EV sales boom, copper demand is going through the roof. Bagdad’s best days could be ahead of it.
First, getting there, and we begin at the deep end, on a twisting canyon road just outside Palm Springs. Initial thoughts: not as terrifying as I’d expected. Sure, it’s on the chunky side – you sit very high and several miles away from the passenger next to you, across a huge swathe of centre console and dashboard clearly inspired by Yorkie bars – and at no time am I not aware of my immense bulk and ability to liquidise pedestrians and other traffic in a blink.
Initial thoughts: not as terrifying as I'd expected
But the steering is light and accurate, the four-wheel-steer system is pure witchcraft in its ability to shrink the turning circle down to 10.9m, the same as a Tesla Model 3. Air suspension can jack it right up for off-road shenanigans, and lower it down for marginally less terrible drag on the motorway and it’s impossible to get caught in the wrong gear on an uphill hairpin... because there’s only one, and all that instant torque simply eradicates mass. In a straight line, at least. In corners, it’s not a superfan of changing direction. Thanks to squidgy off-road tyres and several tonnes of metal and lithium that are intent on going straight on, turns begin with an unnerving nibble of understeer, before grip is located and, to be fair, the body remains fairly flat. But here’s the thing... it’s engaging, I’m having a conversation with the car, managing its foibles and marvelling at its superpowers. It’s got all of my attention, and you can’t say that for all EVs.
First of many charging stops just off the I-10 East. Thanks to an 800V electrical architecture the Hummer can charge at up to 350kW, which is blazing fast, and entirely necessary with such an immense battery. Theoretically, we can hose in 100 miles of range in just 12mins, but seeing as Bagdad, and 100 miles in all directions, appears to be a rapid charger blackout zone, we’re taking our chances when we get them and topping the battery all the way up. That 329-mile claimed range, by the way, isn’t total make-believe. We’re getting a comfortable 280 miles between stops but could push it to 300 with a bit of care and attention. And yeah, that does mean efficiency is around 1.5mpkWh. It’s a bizarre game of trust, given you can both feel and hear the air being pummelled by the Hummer’s barn door frontal area, but with all those kWs underneath you, inefficiency has been taken into account and the predicted range is remarkably honest.
Time to kill while charging then, ideal for having a poke around the features and Easter eggs the engineers found time to squirrel away. Like the LED headlights that morph into an animated battery indicator – useful for keeping tabs on state of charge while we polish off another tasty burger. Like the Ford F-150 Lightning there’s a powered frunk – perfect for storing the removable roof panels, or your shopping, or rope and shovel and several bags of lime. Note three windscreen wipers, for squeegeeing the comically wide but shallow screen, and a rear window that can be dropped electrically for... well, with no burbly exhaust to listen to, I’m not entirely sure. All Edition 1s have the extreme off-road package as standard, which adds skidplates to the underbody and 35-inch mud tyres. The air suspension can rise to over 400mm ground clearance, or lower to 200mm in the ambitiously named Aero mode. Wading depth is over 800mm, not sure we’ll need that out here. Round the back (this is the pickup version, a closed-back SUV has just arrived) steps fold out of the tailgate, which also offers proper plugs and a built-in Bluetooth speaker, which I find more exciting than I probably should.
With the F-150 Lightning and the Rivian R1 already out there mopping up EV truck early adopters, GM turned on the afterburners during the Hummer’s development and went from conception to production in a little over two years – a company record – which is why the design and engineering team used the Apollo 11 moonshot programme as its inspiration. As a result, if you’re a moon geek, this is the interior for you. There are tranquillity grilles on the door speakers, lunar surface patterns on the floor mats and the black, grey and gold interior colour scheme is inspired by the Apollo lunar roving vehicle (which GM supplied wheels, suspension and motors for, fact fans). Even the driving mode graphics on the central 13.4-inch screen show the car barrelling across the surface of the moon.
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Speaking of which, with a full battery and a wide variety of deserted roads off the main interstate, it was time to engage “Watts to Freedom!” – the bizarrely named launch control. BAM! It’s the familiar blood to the back of the body tinged with mild nausea feeling that anyone who’s been in a quick EV will be acquainted with, but it’s weirder. Weirder because you’re accelerating Ferrari hard in a medium-sized bungalow, and the momentum you can gather in no time at all is astronomical. Please, Hummer owners, don’t do this when there are other cars around because the brakes are OK, not miracle workers.
Back to the business of not cocking around and getting to Bagdad, today... via a rocket with Snoopy sat on top, naturally. And before we know it we’re peeling off the main road and riding the humps and hollows of the 97 into the middle of God knows where, surrounded by nothing but sand, cacti and sky. We roll our Hummer into the middle of Bagdad expecting... something – a 21-gun salute, some light fanfare perhaps – but discover not a lot. It’s a sleepy town full of seemingly well-paid residents, every house displaying an assortment of ATVs and dirt bikes for filling that mining downtime. There’s a copper museum, but that’s shut, the Copper Bar and Grill, a giant copper ore dump truck... a lot of copper, chiefly.
Now, I know what you’re thinking, because we thought the same thing. Hooning a 1,000bhp Hummer around an open mine is absolutely something we should be doing. Well, we asked the company that owns it several times if we could come in for a play and were told to scram. The thing is, when you’ve got a Hummer you don’t have to stick to the beaten path. I scout the map and it appears, totally legally, we can take a back road across the desert and get close enough to the pit to send the drone up to at least have a look.
This, I realise, is the perfect opportunity to demonstrate one of the Hummer’s most hyped features – Crab Walk. Press and hold a button, wait for the crustacean to appear, and now the rear wheels turn in sync with the fronts up to 10° so you can zigzag your way diagonally down the road. We capture this phenomenon from every angle, degenerate into fits of giggles when I try and fail to crab in reverse and end up parked on a sand bank... and still can’t for the life of us figure out what it’s for. Drone shot in the bag, our work here was done, time to head to our hotel for the night, in a place where morals come to die and craps, not crabs, are king.
So, why Vegas for our finish line, besides a backdrop of hotels with fire-spitting volcanoes? Because the Hummer EV is a caricature of the old one, designed for rich people’s amusement, not as an actual workhorse. It’s the Las Vegas of the electric car world: brash, glitzy, total overkill... and I’m torn. Torn because I started this trip in opposition to everything it stood for, and ended it wooed by its abilities and general outlook on life.
Here at Top Gear we spend our lives championing cars that have character, that do things differently, that see beyond a four-wheeled device for getting from A to B. The Hummer EV embodies all that, perhaps more than any other car on sale. It’s an oversized, overpowered, bundle of free-wheeling fun and that’s the stuff that cuts through – GM had to shut the order books at 90,000 to prevent the waiting list getting out of hand. It’s bonkers but brilliant, and that’s why it’s TG’s Best Excess All Areas EV for 2023.
GMC HUMMER EV PICKUP EDITION 1
Powertrain: three e-motors, 986bhp, 1,200lb ft
Transmission: single-speed, AWD
Performance: 0–62mph in 3.0secs, 106mph
Battery/range: 205kWh/339 miles