The hungry Hummer


The 2003 J.D. Power owner satisfaction survey is out, revealing that the vehicle American buyers are least happy with is the General Motors Hummer H2. And what is it about the Hummer that lets them down? The cupholders? The fact that, with the utility of a Kia Rio, you need a football field to park it?

Not at all. It’s the fuel economy.

Say what? They’re paying $50,000 for Hummers and then worrying about the excessive fuel consumption! "With the H2, it leaves you scratching your head," John Tews of J.D. Power told the New York Times. "What were they expecting?"

Could it be that would-be owners are so overtaken by the macho appeal of these Schwarzenegger-style "shock-and-awe" mobiles that they don’t even bother to inquire about the 11-miles-per-gallon thirst?

Hummer H2s had an incredible 225 problems per vehicle. People also complained about the "lack of power" (compared to what, a tank?), unusual suspension noises (it ain’t a Lexus, folks) and an "overactive" automatic shifter. It all adds up to unrealistic expectations. Lulled by bravura advertising, buyers think these thinly disguised military vehicles will deliver stellar off-road performance and the performance they’re used to from cars.

Speaking of SUVs, there’s a hilarious parody of the logical next step at poseur.4× Ready for the Peterbuilt Crusader All-Sport Denali Outback Eddie Bauer 5.9 Limited? It’s built on a semi-chassis, and dwarfs the puny H2 or Ford Excursion. Own the first SUV to be rated in gallons per mile by the EPA! Drive the Grand Dominator model, with 10-wheel-drive and 8 tons of road-hugging, occupant-protecting mass! You’ll own the road.

I must admit to engaging in a sharp conversation with an H2 owner who was blocking my way into the local shopping center. I politely informed him that his H2 formed a poor advertisement for the underground lawn sprinkler business stenciled on its side. He disagreed.

I should talk anyway, because this week I’m the one driving an SUV, an all-new Mitsubishi Endeavor, to be exact. It’s part of a deplorable trend by Japanese manufacturers to produce ever-bigger off-roaders. This development will probably cut into the enviable profit margins for Ford’s Expedition and Chevy’s Suburban, which heretofore had the market to themselves.

New for 2004, the U.S.-designed-and-built Endeavor goes for that "brutal" look pioneered by the Dodge Durango. Its angular, shark-like demeanor puts an aggressive face on the road. Did it "fail anger management class," as Anita Lienert suggested in the Detroit News? Inside, well, it’s another Mitsubishi SUV, fitting into a slot between the Montero Sport and the Outlander. The Endeavor is priced between $25,000 and $33,000, with a single 3.8-liter, 215 horsepower V-8 under the hood. It seems like a lot of money for an SUV with no third-seat option.

My friendly neighborhood dentist, who took a ride with me in the Endeavor, pointed out that the CD changer resembled an inexpensive Sony boom box. The polished faux metallic look is very Matrix, but it wears thin fast. At least there’s very good leg and head room in the back, plus a large rear storage space.

Mitsubishi says its target buyer for the Endeavor is a 37-year-old married man with $80,000 in household income. Sounds like an H2 candidate to me. Does 17 mpg on the highway, 21 on the freeway and a half-price bottom line give the Japanese iron an edge?