Payne: To the moon in the GMC Hummer EV supertruck

Posted by Talbot Payne on April 8, 2022

Phoenix — Enter the Chandler Fashion Mall southeast of Phoenix and a big, vertical advertisement stops you in your tracks with three white letters highlighted against a black background: WTF.

Step close and faint gray letters explain the acronym: WATTS TO FREEDOM.

The GMC Hummer EV supertruck has landed. Imagine 205-kilowatt-hour battery, 1,000 horsepower, 9,000 pounds, 35-inch all-terrain tires. Three electric motors. All-wheel steering. Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. WTF, indeed.

Strapped into my Hummer tester outside Phoenix, I tug the TRACTION CONTROL button on the dash twice and supertruck enters WATTS TO FREEDOM mode. My seat rumbles, the chassis crouches, the digital screen flashes ARMED. Launch control ready.

Flatten the brake pedal.

Flatten the accelerator pedal.

Release the brake.

The truck explodes forward like a rocket, crushing my body into the seatback. The horizon blurs. Three electric motors shriek. Four Goodyear Wrangler tires squawk in pain as they transfer instant, 1,200 pound-feet of torque into the pavement. I blow past 60 mph in just over 3 seconds on my way to the moon.

GM calls Hummer its moonshot — a warp-speed, 18-month development program to explore the electric performance frontier. Here on Earth, Arizona is a perfect market for Hummer, because like Superman, the electric supertruck needs lots of space to show off its other-worldly capabilities. Straight highways, off-road trails, beautiful vistas. Michigan fits the bill, too.

The 2022 GMC Hummer EV First Edition is built on GM's Ultium battery platform. The First Edition has three electric motors - two in the rear - and a steering rack at both ends for all-wheel-steer.

As I tell my friends with Corvette C8/Porsche 911/Ferrari 456 supercars, you can’t understand their incredible capabilities until you take them on track. The same is true of the growing class of supertrucks: Hummer, Rivian R1T, Ford F-150 Raptor, Ford Bronco Raptor, Ram TRX.

You can’t truly appreciate the Hummer EV until you take it off-pavement.

An hour north of Phoenix is Boulders ORV (Off-Road Vehicle) Park, similar to Holly Oaks ORV Park an hour up I-75 from Detroit. If you’re one of the 65,000 reservation holders for a Hummer, go straight to an ORV park after you pick it up from the dealer. And bring three friends. The Hummer experience begs to be shared.

The 2022 GMC Hummer EV supertruck goes topless in the desert.

As a rule of thumb, off-road trails are not friendly places for full-size pickups. Their tight confines, narrow trails, steep hills and sharp crowns make big trucks uncomfortable with their poor breakover angles and solid rear axles. Other supertrucks like the Ram TRX and F-150 Ratpor are built for high speed, wide-open spaces where their throaty engines and sensational sport shocks can really stretch their legs.

Consistent with its limited 329-mile range (I burned 178 miles of battery range on a 112-mile trip), Hummer is a hoot on nearby off-road parks.

Sure, its 80-plus inch width requires three amber lights by law (as do Raptors and TRX), but that width brings balance that complements its inherent EV athleticism. That 205 kWh of battery is a lot (is Hummer the only full-size pickup that weighs more than it tows?), but it’s below decks for a low center of gravity. Its electric drivetrain means no vulnerable gas tanks, mufflers or pigs (rear differential) protruding from its belly.

SMACK! I misjudge a ridge and bottom out. No worries, the armored beast shrugged it off. Starting with 10 inches of ground clearance, Hummer sports 9.5 inches of suspension travel in top trims, thanks to air suspension. Like something out of a Dr. Seuss book, the GMC’s EXTRACT MODE can ratchet itself 16 inches off the ground to clear obstacles. Or crouch to 6.5 inches for WTF sprints. Like a supercar, there are multiple performance modes to explore — and 18 camera angles for what you can’t see.

The 2022 GMC Hummer EV can "crab walk" with all four wheels turned in the same direction.

But my favorite tool is all-wheel steer — a feature previously found on supercars like the Porsche 911 for quicker track turn-in. Available beginning with the $89,995 2x trim, 4WS enables Hummer’s CRAB WALK mode. It’s a cool party trick, but 4WS’s more practical application is in navigating, say, tight turns through Boulders. I can’t wait to use it in the twisted canyons of Holly Oaks.

On-road, 4WS enables 37-degree, Chevy Spark-like turning circle for easy mobility around parking lots — another nemesis of full-sized trucks.

Such toys make Hummer nearly as much fun getting to an ORV park as playing there.

Where supercars must be mindful of weight lest they be slow on track, supertrucks suffer no such modesty. The GMC is loaded with gadgets that would make a supercar blush.

The Unreal game engine provides unreal graphics for the 2022 GMC Hummer EV supertruck.

I self-drove to Boulders using Super Cruise. Look ma, no hands! GMC has hung huge screens across the dash like paintings in a boardroom. They are gorgeous and Hummer contracted with the Unreal game engine for state-of-the-art graphics and Google for navigation as easy as your smartphone.

Interior room is palatial, and you can go topless — just like a Wrangler or Bronco — by unlatching roof panels and stowing them in the frunk. Oh, your three friends are gonna’ love it. There are moonshot homages everywhere from Sea of Tranquility maps on the floormats to astronaut footprints on the dash.

The pickup bed out back is five feet long and punctuated by GMC’s signature six-way Multi-Pro tailgate so you can easily extract motor bikes — or just hang out with a cooler and drinks.

There are hiccups, to be sure.

The upright windshield means no head-up display option and lots of A-pillar wind noise when you hit 70 mph on the interstate. Long-distance trips might be daunting due to GM’s oversight in not incorporating Tesla-like navigation between third-party superchargers. I asked my Hummer to navigate to Seattle and it just plotted the route without detailed charging stops — something that has eliminated range anxiety for Teslarati.

The 2022 GMC Hummer EV supertruck features a removable roof to get close to nature.

Yeah, yeah, the Hummer EV smacks of GM groveling to atone for its sins. Hummer was pilloried at the turn of the century for its cigar-chewing, Arnold Schwarzenegger celebrity and Gulf War gas-swilling. “What would Jesus drive?” shouted the prudes. It’s no less decadent now with D.C. pols imploring us commoners to be more like Hollywood swells and buy an EV to avoid $5 a gallon gas. Let them eat Hummers!

But like Tesla’s Made-in-America Model S, Hummer EV is much more than another meme in the culture wars. It’s a serious leap in showing off EV performance. Take it to an off-road park and enjoy it for what is: an ambitious achievement accomplished in an impossibly short time to explore the tech frontier.

An achievement only an American truck brand could pull off. Moon shot landed.

2022 GMC Hummer EV

Vehicle type: Battery-powered, all-wheel-drive, four-door pickup

Price: $79,995, including $1,595 destination charge ($112,595 First Edition as tested)

Powerplant: 205-kWh lithium-ion battery driving two or three electric motors

Power: 1,000 horsepower, 1,200 pound-feet of torque (First Edition)

Transmission: Single-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 3.0 seconds (mfr.); towing capacity, 7, 500 pounds

Weight: 9,000 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA est. range, 329 miles

Report card

Highs: All-wheel steer; unique design inside/out

Lows: A-pillar wind noise; no head-up display

Overall: 4 stars

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

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