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This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Tue, Jun 29, 2004

By: The LACar Editorial Staff


During the highly-publicized California gubernatorial campaign last year, an unexpected rivalry emerged between actor-turned-candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger and political commentator-turned candidate Arianna Huffington. The actor is well-known for his role as de facto spokesperson for Hummer vehicles. Folklore has it that he custom-ordered the first Hummer converted for civilian use. Almost as well known is Ms. Huffington's advocacy of hybrid vehicles. After learning of the actor's declared candidacy, Ms. Huffington observed, "It'll be the Hummer versus the hybrid." Of course, that initial match-up between "the Hummer and the hybrid" resulted in candidate Huffington getting her proverbial tail whooped. In all likelihood, any of the actor's real-life Hummers could have done the same to the commentator's tiny first-generation Prius. But, that was then, and this is now. For model year 2004, Toyota has a brand-new, much-improved hybrid vehicle - the second-generation Prius. Conversely, for the first time, the Hummer H2 has been getting a bit of a tail whooping on the showroom floors - a consequence of the escalating gas prices.

Moreover, the Hummer's been getting a thrashing by political commentators. In addition to Ms. Huffington, others, such as New York Times staff writer Keith Bradsher (and author of the book, "High and Mighty: SUVs, the World's Most Dangerous Vehicles and How They Got That Way") have singled-out the Hummer as an icon of excess. Supporters of sports utility vehicles have fired back, pointing to reports that hybrids don't have the real-life gas mileage to match the EPA ratings. The editors of LA CAR believe the time has come for a take-no-prisoners shoot-out between the two polar-opposite icon cars: The second-generation Toyota Prius - the most politically correct car sold in America, and the Hummer H2 - by some accounts, the most politically incorrect vehicle in the world.

The Playing Field As any constitutional law professor will say, how you frame the question ultimately determines who (or what) prevails. In the case of the Hummer and the hybrid, we chose to restrict the venue to on-road use. Before readers start crying foul, we defy anyone to convince us that Hummer owners really take their chrome-laden beauties off-road (outside of some true believers on the Elcova forum). The only off-road driving we did was on the driveway leading into the city street (and maybe for a photo op. or two). Six Degrees of Separation The vehicles are evaluated on six factors consumers most often use to determine their purchase: Status, styling, comfort and convenience, safety, projected reliability, and performance.

Status With all the negative publicity put upon SUVs in general and Hummers in particular, this seems to be no-brainer. Bradsher summed it up quite cordially wh tend to be people who are insecure and vain. They are frequently nervous about their marriages and uncomfortable about parenthood. They often lack confidence in their driving skills. Above all, they are apt to be self-centered and self-absorbed, with little interest in their neighbors or communities." If that's not enough, Hummer dealers are now finding themselves having to offer sales incentives for the first time. Conversely, there's a six-month waiting list for the new little Prius. Instead of discounts, some dealers are charging way over the manufacturer's suggest retail price for the green mobile. Last, but not least, there is the Hollywood factor. At this year's Academy Awards celebration at the Kodak Theater, the Prius was the most popular mode of arrival for the celebrities attending. And with actors such as Tom Hanks, Cameron Diaz, Leonardo DiCaprio, and others with own personal Prius vehicles, the new Prius has become as fashionable as wearing lapel ribbons in tinsel town. National Public Radio's Tommy and Ray Magliozzi, also known as Click and Clack of Car Talk, have the following observation on the new Prius: "Make no mistake - this car is a chick magnet car - for certain types of chicks. Notably, the types who can't stand being called chicks! If you're cruising for someone in Birkenstocks and a John Kerry bumper sticker, this car may fit right into your lifestyle." So, the perception is that the new Prius is the "it" car. On the streets, the car receives its share of compliments and comments from passers by. Our test Hummer, however, proved to be equally popular - albeit from a different crowd. Elementary school children, for instance, gawked at the H2 in delight (it does resemble a Tonka toy). Even the Fast and Furious generation likes the Hummer. Pick up a copy of Dub magazine, and you'll likely see at least one Hummer pimped out to the max. You'll be waiting a very long time before you ever see a Prius in Dub magazine. As for Hollywood, Arnold's not the only Hummer owner. Both James Cameron and Adrien Brody own one. H2s are also popular with rap artists and professional basketball players. In short, there's still a lot of new money action in Hummerville. The empirical evidence leads us to one conclusion on the issue of status: This is a draw. Status summary: Dead even

Styling By most accounts, the design of the second-generation Prius is a vast improvement over the original. The styling inspiration comes from the second-generation Honda CRX and a number of the smaller European cars not sold in this country. Toyota did a wonderful job of making the design work with four doors. On the debit side, the car does look a bit like a guppy from certain angles, and the small wheels give it a slight minivan-like character. As good as the Prius design is, the Hummer H2 will likely prove to be even more ground-breaking. When the Hummer H2 concept vehicle was introduced, its knife-edge slab styling ran diametrically counter to the aero-look of its SUV colleagues. On the road, its para-military styling and wheel stance are striking and mistaken for no other vehicle. Recent focus group activity indicates that other manufacturers are being heavily influenced by the H2 design. Styling summary: Advantage Hummer H2

Comfort and Convenience This is another highly subjective category. If parking convenience is entered into the equation, the H2 gets a failing grade. Not only is it extremely difficult to fit into a normal parking space, we had some problems fitting it into a garage (you better check yours before buying one). On the other hand, the ride quality in the H2 is a notch above the Prius. Its 6,400 pounds of body-on-frame design allow it to soak up bumps better than the little hybrid. Although the new Prius is touted to have passenger space virtually equal to the Camry, the Hummer H2 has quite a bit more elbow room in the cabin. The H2 also has a much better sound system (we're working on a fix for the Prius - stay tuned). Neither vehicle has great visibility from the inside-looking-out, but the Hummer is especially bad. A giant spare tire literally blocks one-third of your rearward view. We recommend opening the windows when backing out to mitigate the hazard of running over people. Both vehicles prove to be quite comfortable on the highway. In stop and go traffic, the Prius automatically shuts off its internal combustion engine, which lends a remarkable sense of calm to the drive. Also remarkable is how easy it is to drive the Prius. With its by-wire operation, low-effort controls, and continuously variable transmission, it is one of easiest cars to drive. On the other hand, the Hummer's high seating position provides the visibility advantage desired by SUV buyers on freeways. Just don't make any lane changes. Comfort and Convenience summary: Advantage Hummer H2 (by a hair)

Kids, don't try this with your Prius Safety Crash a Toyota Prius head on to an oncoming Hummer H2 traveling at the same speed, and we're pretty sure that the Hummer will annihilate the little hybrid. Crash both into the side of a bridge, and we're not so sure the Hummer will do as well. That's because the Hummer doesn't have to meet the same crumple zone standards required of cars. The Hummer is built on a very rigid body and frame design, which usually means that passengers end up absorbing more of the shock during such crashes. The H2 has not been crash-tested by the government yet, so the data is inconclusive at the moment. The government did crash-test the new Prius (without the optional side air bags), and the vehicle fared quite well. Our long-term test Prius is equipped with the side air bags. Euro NCAP - the European equivalent of our National Highway Traffic & Safety Administration - recently tested the vehicle with the side airbags and concluded, "The Prius's points score for overall passenger protection equals the best ever recorded in the class, and its child protection score tops the whole Euro NCAP points table." Resistance to roll-over is another area of safety concern. The Hummer's relatively high center of gravity makes it vulnerable to the roll-over concerns addressed in our article, Chickens Come Home To Roost. Our test Prius is fitted with a highly complex vehicle stability control system that is said to be able to detect when the driver is over-steering the car. The system then overrides the Prius' electronic steering to minimize the possibility of losing control of the car (and, hence, flipping it). Since we like our Prius, we elected not to test the limits of this system. Advantage: Inconclusive, since the National Highway Traffic & Safety Administration has yet to crash test the Hummer H2 (our money, however, is on the Prius for its crash test results and roll-over resistance).

Toyota Prius Projected Reliability J.D. Power and Associates just released their 2004 Vehicle Dependability Study, and Toyota captured the top corporate ranking. However, General Motors (makers of the Hummer) did not fare badly - ranking just above the industry average. On the other hand, in Power's 2004 Initial Quality Study, Hummer ranks dead last. Consumer Reports, in its own independent survey of vehicles, rates the Toyota Prius much better than average in reliability, whereas the Hummer H2 is ranked much worse than average. Curiously, both vehicles received high marks on customer satisfaction - an indication that satisfaction is based on many intangible factors beyond reliability. Reliability summary: Advantage Toyota Prius (by a landslide)

Performance Unlike the other categories, performance comes down to numbers. The Hummer H2 carries some pretty impressive numbers under the hood: Its 6.0-liter power plant puts out 316 horsepower, with 360 pounds feet of torque (the latter at 4,000 rpm). Contrast that with the 1.5-liter internal combustion engine in the Prius cranking out a mere 76 horses and 82 pounds feet of torque. As a hybrid, however, the Prius also comes with a pair of electric motors, cranking out 67 horses and an eye-opening 295 pounds feet of torque - the latter on tap at zero rpm (this is not a typo!). Even with the electric motors, don't expect asphalt-ripping acceleration, however. The electric power supply in the Prius limits its ability to supply jack rabbit acceleration. Curiously, how much the Prius is charged has a significant effect on its acceleration. Fully-charged, the car is capable of running 0-60 miles per hour in 9.8 seconds. Without the full charge, that figure can drop to 11.6 seconds (Toyota advertises its 0-60 as 10.1). It turns out the Hummer does the 0-60 run in about the same amount of time: 10.2 seconds. Its mighty motor is obviously hampered by the SUV's 6,400 pound curb weight. Quarter-mile runs: 17.3 second at a trap speed of 80 mph for the H2. A fully-charged Prius does it in 17.1 seconds and 80.1 mph. Without the full charge, the Prius can take as long as 18.4 seconds, with a trap speed of 77.8 mph. We deem the acceleration derby a wash. In 60-0 mph braking tests, the Hummer stops in 151 feet. The lighter Prius stops in 125 feet. That can mean the difference between stopping in time or plowing through the car in front of you. When it comes to stopping, the lighter (2,890 pound) Prius has the advantage. Neither vehicle is a sports car, but the Prius runs through a slalom at a significantly higher speed than the H2 (Motor Trend records 58.6 mph for the Prius versus 52.2 mph for the H2 on their slalom). Thus, for on-road maneuverability, the nod goes to the Prius. In gas mileage comparisons, you already know which vehicle wins. Suffice it to say that the real-world mileage of the Prius hovers around 44 miles per gallon - a bit short of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) combined figure of 55 mpg. On slow-moving highway commutes, however, that figure easily jumps into the 50 mpg range. As it turns out, the Hummer also didn't meet its 11 mpg combined EPA rating. We recorded 8-9 mpg during our seven-day test. Performance summary: Advantage Prius.

Which Machine Reigns Supreme? In the six categories chosen for evaluation, the Hummer H2 takes two categories and the Toyota Prius takes another two. The vehicles are dead even in the fifth category, and the sixth is inconclusive. Thus, it's a categorical draw! Now, if these pieces of Detroit and Toyota iron were on the "Iron Chef" show, we'd go to the points. In viewing the points, we see that one of the wins by the Hummer is by a hair, whereas the Toyota wins big in the reliability category. Accordingly, the Toyota edges out on points. In conclusion, this match between the Hummer and the hybrid finds the hybrid on top, but it's a much closer call than anyone anticipated.

The winning Prius beams with emotion.

For more information on Hummer products, go to For more information on Toyota products, go to See also Harvey Schwartz's reviews on the Hummer and the Prius. And David Gardner's comparison review on Goldie and the Three SUVs.

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