You'd think driving a flaming-red Hummer on New York's Fire Island would be a hedonistic pleasure, but it wasn't as thrilling as the good ol' days. I was commander of a 2006 H3, a watered-down version of a watered-down version of the original beast. Manhandling the highways during the height of Clintonian excess, the Hummer was a big brash battle cry of "U.S.A.! U.S.A.!" And I hate the original Hummer. But I hate it like I hate Meat Lover's pizza and the Las Vegas strip, which is to say, I love its gaudy, in-your-face awfulness.

In contrast, the H3 has a Shrinky Dinks essence that mainly elicits shrugs. The H3 is nearly a foot and a half shorter than the H2 and weighs some 2,500 pounds less than the H1, so it truly is the baby in the family. Kudos for the restraint, I guess, but other than the ample interior space (55.7 cubic feet with the back seats folded down) and being able to look down on traffic from the stiff-backed leather seats, there isn't much to get excited about. And for Schwarzkopf's sake, what kind of Hummer would dare to get an EPA rating? I mean, 16/19 mpg? That is not the Hummer way. Granted, the H3 still has some of the let's-play-war appeal of the original, but lately, even that is a lot less appealing.

Price: $29,500 base price, $37,260 for the fully loaded model tested.

Vital stats: 3.5-liter 220-hp five-cylinder engine; 225 pounds of torque; 32-inch Goodyear tires; curb weight of 4,700 pounds.

Nice touches: The concealed second-row cupholders, the swing gate, and the push-button switch for off-roading modes. The H3 I piloted was equipped with XM radio and the joy that comes from following major league pennant races with the calls of local announcers and commercials.

Drawbacks: A lot of the militaristic notes, like the grille and the door handles, feel plasticky. The H3 is as close to "punching it" as Halo is to actual combat.

Second opinion: "The H3, like its predecessors, has more in common with bank vaults, major home appliances, and erector sets than it does with contemporary vehicle styling," says Gary Vasilash, editor in chief of Automotive Design & Production.