Hummer HX Concept: GM’s macho brand loses its top

Small. Nimble. Modular. These are adjectives that would never be used to describe Hummers, until now. GM’s tough, off-road brand is facing something of an identity crisis as the public’s love affair with jumbo-size SUVs wanes in the wake of rising gas prices. A production model based off of the HX Concept you see here could be key for GM if it wants to keep Hummer alive as a viable, volume brand.

At 171 inches long, the HX is shorter than the H3. Its 3.6-liter direct-injected V-6 (which is making the rounds in multiple GM vehicles) is tuned make 304 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque – more than the H3’s I-5 – and is E85 capable. The gearbox of choice is GM’s 6L50 six-speed automatic, and there’s a full-time 4WD system with a locking center differential. Stopping power comes courtesy of massive 15-inch Brembos on all four corners, with six-piston calipers in the front and four-piston ones in the rear. The binders are hidden behind 20-inch wheels wearing custom 35-inch Bridgestone Dueler tires.

The suspension is no slouch either. Fox Racing coilovers with 2-inch shocks and 2.5-inch springs support the independent front and rear suspensions — though the lack of solid axles is sure to make purists balk — and also provide plenty of wheel travel (9 inches in front, 11 at the rear) and ground clearance (13 inches). HX also has impressive approach (56 degrees) and departure angles (51 degrees). It can handle a 60 percent grade, 40 percent side slope, and ford two feet of water while seating four. To protect important bits underneath, the HX is fitted with a full underbody armor kit. Other heavy duty off-road equipment includes front and rear recovery hooks and a power winch on the front bumper.

GM points out that the HX was designed by a trio of young designers and it shows. While unmistakable for anything other than a Hummer, the HX looks like it belongs on the battlefield of a video game or a sci-fi flick with a laser turret in the back. There’s more to the HX than meets the eye, however. Its Hummvee-inspired slant-back rear roof can be removed, converting it into a Chevy Avalanche-esque SUT, or replaced with a traditional square wagon-like unit. The center roof is removable as well, as are the doors and fender flares, which has been a staple of the Jeep Wrangler since the dawn of time.

The inside is a minimalist take on a traditional Hummer interior. The seats are designed to be compact and lightweight, and all four are fitted with a four-point harness. Aluminum is used throughout the aircraft-inspired interior, with carpeted flooring making way for a rubber coated setup. There’s no stereo present, just speakers and a USB connector for MP3 players. The three-pod gauge cluster uses LCD screens that can display multiple layouts and has two modes – highway and off-road — with the main difference between them is that the center pod transforms from a speedo/tachometer into a wheel angle indicator. The cluster also serves as a navigation system and compass.

Does the HX foreshadow the long-talked-about H4? It’s likely. The H4 is not expected to arrive before 2010, giving GM ample time to come up with a conventional interior and a softer, more consumer-friendly suspension for those more interested in pounding pavement than dirt or gravel.