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First drive: The electrifying GMC Hummer EV

·13-min read

The $110,000 GMC Hummer EV is a wild mashup that can keep up with the best off-roader, has the comfort of a luxury sedan and has the speed of a sports car. And it has a truck bed. GM calls it a super truck, and I cannot disagree.

After driving the Hummer EV at General Motor's test track, a few things were immediately apparent. First, the large Hummer EV is a joy to drive thanks to plenty of power and excellent four-wheel steering. Second, the infotainment system and driver's gauge cluster are beautiful but overwhelmingly busy and occasionally slow. Lastly, the Hummer EV is a shining example of how General Motors' Ultium platform can lead to vehicles with unconventional capabilities and features.

GM spokespersons set strict expectations before letting me drive: GM only wanted to talk about how the Hummer EV drives and handles, and the company was not ready to answer questions concerning specific vehicle specifications, capabilities and availability. Cameras were not allowed; GM security taped my phone. I only spent 30 minutes driving the Hummer EV, and all the driving was done deep in General Motors' remote Milford, Michigan proving grounds.

It's important to note that I drove a pre-production vehicle. Allegedly, all the necessary bits were in place, but a few things were missing, like texture on some interior materials and the addition of some noise-dampening materials.

I drove the Hummer EV over a pile of rocks, sped around dirt roads and hit 95 mph on General Motors' high-speed test track. I learned a lot. The Hummer EV is a competent go-anywhere, do-anything vehicle able to go bouldering, swing into tight parking spaces and comfortably carry five adults and their luggage. It has a 0-60 time of 3.0 seconds, and it drives much smaller than it looks, thanks to four-wheel steering.

The GMC Hummer EV Saturday, September 25, 2021 at the General Motors Milford Proving Ground in Milford, Michigan. Image Credits: Steve Fecht for GMC.

Four-wheel steering for the win

The Hummer EV plays a fun trick. The large, wide vehicle lumbers over the road but does so in a brisk, fleeting manner. The electric motors and four-wheel steering make it lighter on its feet than a pickup and more responsive than a large crossover. As a result, the Hummer EV drives like a sturdy and wide sports car instead of a pickup truck.

The Hummers of yesteryear felt like durable trucks, dominant and all-powerful. The Hummer EV still feels unstoppable, but now, it also feels as comfortable on the highway as it does on backwood trails. Buyers are not conceding comfort for capabilities with the Hummer EV. Past Hummers (and current Jeep and 4Runners) sacrificed on-road ride quality for off-road capabilities; nothing is seemingly lost with the Hummer EV. Just hit a button and it will climb boulders. Hit a different button and it can outrun most sports cars.

Here's the formula: three electric motors + four-wheel steering. This isn't a secret formula per se; Tesla is equipping its Cybertruck with the same combination.

I cannot understate the impact of the Hummer EV's four-wheel steering. The rear wheels can turn up to 10 degrees, which comes standard on all models. In its most extreme use case, called CrabWalk, the four-wheel steering makes the vehicle move as if on ice, gliding left and right in a way that feels more like a rear-wheel-drive forklift than a five-passenger pickup.

Rear-wheel steering debuted in the 1980s and saw little adaptation outside of sports cars at the time. It attempted a comeback in the early 2000s, and General Motors even offered it on the Suburban and Silverado half-ton trucks from 2002 to 2005. Today, it's available on several sedans, with some models providing 2-3 degrees of turning, while ultra-luxury models offer up to 10 degrees. These systems are a costly option few buyers select, but it comes standard in the Hummer EV. This system is critical to the function and appeal of the Hummer EV.

The Hummer's four-wheel steering also allows it to drive much smaller than similar-sized vehicles. It turns quicker, backs up easier and makes the pickup handle more like a family sedan than a large SUV. The vehicle has a 37-foot turning circle closer to the compact Chevy Sonic than the Chevy Silverado -- a full-size pickup.

I only had a few minutes to test this system. The four-wheel steering doesn't have a learning curve, and I didn't have to adjust my driving technique to compensate for the tighter turning. It just worked and felt natural. I'm curious whether passengers in the rear seat would feel the difference.

The four-wheel steering is active by default, though it can be turned off. I'm told it even improves towing, as when the Hummer EV is at highway speeds, the wheels on the two axles move in phase, eliminating trailer sway (I would like to verify this claim).

This four-wheel steering feature allows the Hummer to drive diagonally. CrabWalk requires the driver to stop the vehicle and click through several menu buttons to activate. Once engaged, the front and rear axles move in tandem and allow the truck to glide in unexpected ways. Turn the wheel left, and the vehicle glides diagonally left. The front end doesn't turn left; the whole vehicle drifts left. This isn't a system designed for use at speed, but rather when parking, overlanding and impressing onlookers. I've never felt anything like it.

Watch this video from Detroit's 2021 Woodward Dream Cruise where GM employees were eager to demonstrate the ability.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZvO3wTsAqvw?version=3&rel=1&showsearch=0&showinfo=1&iv_load_policy=1&fs=1&hl=en-US&autohide=2&wmode=transparent&w=640&h=360]

Watts to Freedom = WTF mode

The Hummer EV is blistering fast -- if you want it to be. A launch mode, called Watts to Freedom (WTF mode), is impressive, allowing drivers to hit 60 mph in 3 seconds. That's fast fast. Under normal conditions and in standard vehicle modes, the Hummer EV still scoots, but it won't pin riders to their seats as it does in WTF mode.

Hitting that velocity is incredible in any vehicle; doing so in a five-passenger pickup is even more memorable. The all-wheel-drive pickup effortlessly finds enough traction to shoot forward with the force of a rocket. It's similar to the launch sensation found in other electric vehicles like the Tesla Model X.

In its normal driving modes, the Hummer EV's torque is on a short leash. It's more tame but still fast enough to race anyone at a stoplight. The acceleration is controlled and measured, and I appreciate the finesse that went into the tuning.

The Hummer EV's wide stance makes for a stable ride. I raced the Hummer EV around the proving ground's back roads, fishtailing the SUV on the gravel. The pickup held firm and felt flat even during the most aggressive turns. On the banked test track, the Hummer EV felt as solid and sturdy as any vehicle. The batteries packed on the bottom of the truck force the gravity to the floor; the Hummer never felt top-heavy like its gas-powered ancestors.

On the high-speed loop, the Hummer hit 90 mph without trying. The vehicle didn't feel strained or overworked. Hit the accelerator and it gets to speed in a heartbeat. The Hummer EV cruises with the best, sailing across the road on massive 35-inch Wrangler tires -- and I don't recall an obnoxious amount of tire noise either.

The Hummer EV isn't silent. Hit the accelerator and you'll hear two things: The whine of the three electric motors and an artificial revving sound that sounds like a more beefy electrical noise. In an off-road driving mode, the artificial tone is louder to drown out the increased road noise. In the end, I found it inoffensive. The sound is not heavy and is always in the background. A General Motors engineer explained that the company feels the driver needs and unknowingly expects audible feedback.

I took the Hummer EV bouldering in as much as driving over two dozen large rocks. Did it drive over? Sure. Was it graceful? Not really. The Hummer EV slid around the rocks, and I had trouble holding traction. To be clear, for this drive, GM dumped a pile of beach-ball-sized rocks in a field, allowing us to drive over a 10-foot section one time. I'm not comfortable drawing conclusions about the Hummer EV's off-roading capabilities from this experience.

An industrial user experience

I wasn't given a chance to dig deep into the infotainment system. From my little experience, I discovered a couple of things. One, the system is beautiful thanks to Epic's Unreal graphical engine. The Hummer EV is the first to use this particular build of the Unreal engine generally reserved for video games. The system looks lovely, but in my pre-production test vehicle, it was laggy. It constantly took several moments to respond to input. It didn't matter if I selected an option on the screen or used a hardware controller (like the terrain select dial).

What's more, while lovely to look at, the infotainment's design is overly complex, busy and styled with a faux industrial look. GM's engineers were evidently trying to show off the graphical ability of the screen and implemented an interface that uses widely overstyled icons and menus. Every graphical element seems designed to look pretty rather than being easier to use.

General Motors was keen on demonstrating the capabilities of the Hummer EV's cameras. There are 18 scattered around the vehicle, including several mounted under the truck, to assist the driver when traversing sketchy terrain or parking at Trader Joe's. These cameras work as advertised, and some have built-in cleaners to remove debris.

I'm thrilled to report GM retained physical buttons for climate control instead of burying them in a touchscreen menu. Other EV makers like Tesla and Rivian have relegated to the touchscreen temperature dials, heated seat controls and even vent direction. In the Hummer EV, there's a row of rocker switches for such controls.

The driver has a commanding position. There's great visibility from the driver's seat. The front occupants have plenty of space with lots of headroom and legroom. The backseats have less space for legs, but there's still lots of room thanks to the wide body. Think full-size SUV — roomy in the front, tighter in the back.

The new electric powertrain

General Motors revealed a few details about the Hummer EV's powertrain. The first edition of the Hummer EV comes with a 24-module battery system packed within the vehicle's unibody frame. It's General Motors' first use of its Ultium platform, which the car company debuted in March 2020.

The three-motor arrangement offers several advantages. The electric motors allow GM to equip the Hummer with electronic differentials on both axles -- handy for low-traction situations. On the rear wheels, an e-locker enables the pickup to control traction at all four corners with torque vectoring; the two motors are not physically connected but equipped with software to virtually lock them together. This allows the wheels to start or stop in milliseconds.

I asked if the battery packs were similar to those used in the Chevy Bolt, which has had two recalls because of its battery. A GM spokesperson responded, saying GM is working with LG on the cells, but GM builds the Hummer EV's packs at its Detroit, Michigan Brownstown factory, and the batteries feature new cell chemistry over those used in the Bolt. Eventually, GM will build Ultium batteries at a facility built with LG in Lordstown, Ohio.

Questions remain

The Hummer EV is packed full of features I was unable to test or experience. It comes equipped with GM's latest version of its self-driving mode, SuperCruise, which now features highway lane changes. The pickup also has automated tire deflation, is supposedly able to ford 26 inches of water and can recharge 100 miles of travel in 10 minutes. Unfortunately, I could not remove the roof panels or see them stored in the so-called frunk. I would also love some time to dig into the infotainment system -- it looks immersive but complex.

General Motors has been quiet on several aspects of the Hummer EV, and the company revealed little extra during this test. Exact pricing and availability are unknown. The official EPA range rating is unannounced. The towing and hauling capabilities are also still unknown.

As someone who regularly tows a large trailer, the Hummer EV doesn't feel like it was built to haul or tow. The power is there, but the unibody frame and air suspension speak to a lower tow rating than a Chevy Silverado 1500 or Ford F-150. I expect the Hummer EV to have a rating closer to a full-size SUV (6,000-8,000 lbs.) than a half-ton pickup (8,000-12,000 lbs.). This means the Hummer EV could tow a trailer of ATVs, a small boat or a cargo trailer, if I'm correct. With that rating, it would be unable to pull most travel trailers outside of small, ultra-light options. And how will hauling a load affect the battery range? That's unknown, too.

An electric revolution

Here's the scene. General Motors is nervous. The Hummer EV was announced in October 2020 and was supposed to hit dealers in Fall 2021. Now, in October 2021, there's a global supply chain crisis affecting automotive manufacturers, and the company is having to focus unexpectedly on battery recalls on its other EV, the Chevy Bolt. Insiders tell me General Motors is nervous about consumer confidence after sending Chevy Bolt owners two battery recalls.

The star of the Hummer EV show is GM's Ultium platform. When GM announced its EV blueprint in 2020, the company said it allowed the automaker to build vehicles in 19 different battery and drive unit configurations, including rear-wheel, front-wheel and all-wheel-drive configurations. It also provides for 400-volt and 800-volt packs, meaning this design gives America's largest carmaker many options. The Hummer EV is a rolling proof of concept of the Ultium platform's capability. If it can make a Hummer ultra-fast and ultra-maneuverable, what can it offer a roadster, crossover or seven-passenger family mover?

The Hummer EV succeeds in being General Motors' ostentatious, attention-seeking super electric vehicle. The latest Hummer is outrageous and excessive just like it's always been. It's clear after just a few minutes that General Motors built something special in the electric pickup. It's big, heavy and electric, and it has everything from insane speed to serious off-roading chops and substantial cargo capacity. The Hummer EV has everything.

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