The people at Hummer continue to expand the H3 SUV franchise of rugged, durable, extreme machines with the debut of the H3 Alpha. Joining the midsize H3 and the urban-inspired H3x that was introduced last year, the H3 Alpha is the newest model in the performance-bred Alpha series. The Alpha version, a can-do Hummer on steroids, is outfitted with a new 5.3L V-8 engine and bolted to a Hydra-Matic 4L60 electronically controlled four-speed automatic transmission.

A Vortec 3.7L in-line five-cylinder engine with dual overhead cams and variable valve timing provides base power for the H3. This engine is connnected to the standard five-speed manual gearbox or optional Hydra-Matic 4L60-E four-speed automatic. The H3 is equipped with a two-speed, electronically controlled, full-time 4WD system. A fully locking electronic rear differential is available in the optional Off-Road Adventure package.

Smaller does not mean weaker when referring to the H3. This is the only SUV in the midsize segment that can climb a 16-inch vertical wall, scale a 60 percent grade, transverse a 40 percent side slope and operate in 24 inches of water and do it fully loaded at its maximum cargo capacity.

 The H3 shares much of its underpinnings with General Motors' Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon midsize pickup trucks.

Inside, the airy cabin is ruggedly tasteful - a clean, honest presentation of displays, controls and switchgear. The cloth seats are both comfortable and supportive. Two power points are located at the bottom of the center stack.

The rear seat is comfortable and versatile. In addition, the 60/40 split fold-down seats add cargo hauling capabilities to the H3 although they do not fold flat with the cargo floor.

EPA fuel economy:

3.7L five-cylinder -

13 city/18 hwy., (manual);

14 city/

18 hwy., (automatic); 5.3L V-8

- 13 city/16 hwy.

Payload capacity: 1,150 lbs.

Towing capacity: 6,000 lbs.

MSRP Base: $30,160