by Clint Burgess & r & There are sport utility vehicles, there are large sport utility vehicles and then there is an SUV in a class all its own. The Hummer has become the superstar of this class of urban assault vehicles and there is nothing that even comes close to it. This monster can haul just about anything and even offers a comfortable ride in style while out on shopping excursions or hunting down that elusive triple latte. The new Hummer H3 promises to be everything its predecessors was and more.

The H3 is the newest breed of the line of Hummers that has become so popular among the elite. There is no question about it, the thing is a status symbol and rightfully so. It is made to turn heads, but don't let all the hype fool you into thinking there is nothing more here than an oversized reputation. There are a number of striking features that have been integrated into the H3. For starters, the price will catch buyers off guard. It is not uncommon to drop at least $50,000 on a Hummer, and the H1 is actually over $120,000. To bring things back into perspective, however, the 2006 H3 starts at a mere $30,000. This is the model that will make Hummer a neighborhood fixture and bring suburbanites streaming to the dealership to get into this pulverizing pathfinder with panache.

It is easy to understand the appeal of the Hummer H3. The Hummer name assures piqued interests at parties, raised eyebrows at the office and whiplash double-takes when out pleasure-cruising. Besides the obvious, this new model is ready-made for those who don't have an offshore bank account, and it fits nicely in the garage. This fine-tuned machine looks a bit like a Jeep Cherokee on a weight training regimen, and it can handle anything thrown its way. Standard four-wheel drive is a plus when using this Hummer for what it is built for: tearing up back roads and hauling pretty much anything you can think of. The five-speed manual transmission is useful for bearing down on tough driving conditions and serves as a must-have on a big rig like this.

The standard extras are what set this SUV apart from the competition. Hummer left few, if any, holes in the design and functionality of the H3. A full-size spare will keep you right in the action when a flat tire just won't do, and the signature hinged rear door is perfect for packing in all the supplies for the holiday weekend at the cabin. While it may be slightly contradictory in nature, this Hummer has the rugged charm of a backroads explorer combined with the sharp intuitiveness of a luxury sedan.

To further illustrate how the H3 has the complete package, it includes a remote anti-theft system, a six-speaker deluxe stereo and dual-zone climate control for its cavernous interior. It goes without saying that a vehicle this substantial is pretty safe to drive. Four-wheel advanced braking systems combined with three-point safety harnesses and height-adjustable head rests make the H3 as safe as a tank.

There is a certain pretense that accompanies owning a Hummer. For better and not worse, most of that pretense was left out with the design of the H3. Sure, it's still a Hummer, but it gets decent gas mileage for its size, comes under $50,000 (even nicely equipped), and it doesn't require a ladder to get into it. All of these options, combined with the Hummer mystique, make the H3 a smart if self-indulgent buy.

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