When I was a kid, Tonka toys were king. With a shelf life that could seemingly be measured in decades, the chunky, well-made creations would soldier on taking years of abuse - crashing down the stairs, launching over makeshift ramps, being left out in the garden for weeks - and shrug it all off.
From the Hummer H2 parked in front of me, I’m getting similar vibes. It’s just a big box on wheels, littered with functional parts that care not for styling. Clambering aboard is easier said than done, with the cabin sitting a long way off the ground. Those A-pillar mounted grab handles are certainly handy.
Inside, I’m greeted by a sea of hard plastics and some hilariously cheap-feeling door cards. It all feels reasonably conventional, though, because this is a very different animal to the Hummer H1. While that beast was merely a lightly watered-down version of the Humvee military vehicle, its H2 successor used more familiar underpinnings, albeit with some twists.
The front and rear sections of the frame are derived from General Motors’ T800 truck platform, but the middle bit is bespoke. The result? A three-tonne Goliath amongst the hatchback and compact crossover Davids populating the roads of our short test loop.
That hefty weight figure blunts the effectiveness of what’s under the bonnet, a Vortec 6000 6.0-litre V8 producing 325bhp at 5200rpm. The 0-60mph time is a leisurely 10.7 seconds, although it doesn’t feel quite as sluggish on the move as you might think. It certainly helps that the four-speed gearbox shifts cogs with surprising effectiveness.
Anyone wanting a rumbly V8 soundtrack is going to be disappointed, though. The noise of the engine itself is all but drowned out by a loud whirring - the combination, I’m assuming, of the torque converter, the engine fan and other elements. Under full load, the H2 sounds like a bus.
Negotiating corners results in plenty of comedy value lean, and a lot of steering lock is necessary. The dead spot in the middle of the steering is huge, and to keep the car in a straight line, the wheel is noticeably off-centre.
For a car that’s so softly sprung and with such lengthy suspension travel, the H2 isn’t as smooth-riding as it perhaps should be. The squishy, quilted black and leather seats - which look like they’re from a tacky nightclub - are at least pretty comfortable. With a similar footprint to a current-gen Range Rover meanwhile, the H2 doesn’t feel too excessive of narrow UK roads.
Upon returning the H2, I park up and select ‘P’ with the flimsy, aircraft throttle-style gear selector, but there’s a problem - the car still thinks it’s in drive. It turns out a cable has been dislodged (which is easily reattached later on), somewhat spoiling my indestructible Tonka toy allusions.
Thankfully, the vehicle has come to rest at a decent enough photo point. While snapping away, I notice how laughably small the load bed is on the H2’s pick-up body (an SUV was also available). It raises the question - what’s this car actually for? The H2 isn’t especially practical, is not that nice to drive on road, and thanks to those low-lying steps at the side, it won’t be the last word in off-road ability either. Plus, clocking any serious mileage in the H2 will be an expensive business in a country where petrol costs around £1.30 a litre, more than double what you pay in the Hummer’s native US.
You can’t help but be drawn to it, however. The H2 is a window into a time when American vehicular excess was arguably at its peak. It couldn’t last, of course. Amidst rocketing fuel prices, GM ditched the H2 and introduced the smaller, considerably lighter H3, which was based on a modified mid-size pickup platform borrowed from the Chevrolet Silverado. Yes, there was still a V8, but you could also have an inline-five.
Regardless, Hummer remained synonymous with gas-guzzling wastefulness, so once the H3 bowed out in 2010, the brand was mothballed. The fact that it’s been resurrected for the GMC Hummer EV isn’t as ironic as you’d think, given the questionable environmental credentials of a ~1000bhp plug-in car that weighs four tonnes. At least the H2 is honest about what it is.
In the end, someone was tempted to part with just under £18,000 when this particular H2 went under the Hammer at Historics’ recent Windosview Lakes auction, from which also sample a curiously modified Datsun 240Z. I can think of plenty of other cars I’d rather spend that kind of money on, but I get it - you’d struggle to get something as quirky and attention-grabbing for the cash.
That’s what makes the H2 such a fun thing to experience. The knowledge of the spectacle you’re creating while lolloping around in a Hummer makes you smile, even if the way it feels to drive might not. It’s not a car I’m itching to drive again, but it’s certainly a box I’m happy to have ticked.