This may be your last chance.

As GM's bow slips below the waterline - and the economy continues to flatline - the last thing you can expect to survive into 2010 is Hummer. GM will either find a buyer for the brand - or just write the whole thing off in bankruptcy court. Whatever happens, there won't be any more of these beasts after 2009.

So, now's your moment.

I guarantee you'll get a great deal.

WHAT IT IS

The H3T is a modified version of the standard Hummer H3, with a short open bed out back and a four-door crew cab for passengers. It is about two feet longer, overall, than the standard H3. Though it is the smallest Hummer model (after the huge, Chevy Suburban-based H2 and the absolutely monstrous H1) it is still a massive vehicle in its own right - weighing in at more than 5,000 lbs. and (in the case of the Alpha version) riding on balloon-like 33-inch off-road tires.

Prices start at $30,750 for the base version and top out at $36,015.

WHAT'S NEW

The H3T crew cab pick-up is a new model for 2009.

ENGINES & PERFORMANCE

Two engines (and two transmissions) are offered in the '09 H3T. Standard equipment is a 3.7 liter, in-line five-cylinder derived from the Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon pickup. This unusual engine (in-line fives are almost unheard of) is rated at 239 hp and can be paired with either a 5-speed manual transmission or (optionally) a 4-speed automatic.

The aptly named Alpha model comes with a 5.3 liter pushrod V-8 rated at 300 hp. It is teamed with a mandatory 4-speed automatic.

Both versions of the H3T feature a standard heavy-duty 4WD system with push-button selector and two-speed transfer case with 4WD Low range gearing. The H3T is capable of extreme off-roading and offers driver-selectable center and rear locking diffs, 9.5 inches of standard ground clearance, tow hooks, and generous suspension articulation built to tackle rough, uneven terrain.

Maximum trailoring capacity (with the V-8) is 5,900 lbs.

"Off the line" acceleration with the standard five-cylinder engine and 5-speed stick is surprisingly authoritative, given this vehicle's hulking 5,000 lb. bulk. However, aggressive gearing (stout first gear combined with a stump-pulling rear axle ratio) can only do so much - and the H3T begins to feel winded at speeds above 45 mph. More on this below....

Zero to 60 in the base five-cylinder version takes about 10-11 seconds.

The V-8 equipped Alpha cuts that down by a full two seconds (to about 8 flat) but at the price of dismal fuel economy that barely rises into double digits.

RIDE & HANDLING

Although the H3 is small by Hummer standards it is still a tank compared with virtually any other vehicle on the road. The extended wheelbase H3T feels even more so. And the bruiser H3T Alpha - riding on 33-inch off-road knobbies - even more so again.

The latter is borderline iffy for on-road use.

I live in a rural area, the natural home for 4x4s - but the H3 Alpha's a bit much even here. On narrow gravel roads, it is too wide, often edging precariously close to nonexistent soft-sand shoulders with no guardrails and a deep drop into the ravines below. On paved roads, you feel too close for comfort to other cars; you expect to "slap mirrors" every time another largish vehicle is coming the other way.

This is a leaf-sprung, live axle heavy-duty truck, so the ride is what you'd expect - firm bordering on rigid. On gravel road washboards, the solid axle rear end sometimes oscillates jarringly - but that solid axle/leaf-spring rear is also damn near unbreakable and exactly what you want if you plan to actually use this thing off-road or for any kind of serious work.

"Handling" is not the forte of any serious four-by-four, but believe it or not, the H3T has a surprising amount of lateral grip on dry, paved roads and in the hands of a bold driver who knows what he's doing, you can out-race many cars up a twisty mountain road.

I did it - so it can be done.

But you'll still a lot of room to make U-turns or get into (and out of) parking spots at the store.

STYLING & UTILITY

The H3T's militaristic and unique styling is one of its chief draws - or was, before owning a Hummer became the vehicular equivalent of wearing fur or being a member of the Aryan Nations. This is not a vehicle for the timid. Expect catcalls and flipped birdies.

That's unfortunate - but it's the reality.

So is the H3T's poor rearward and to the side visibility - due to its cool-looking but functionally not-so-great chopped roofline and chunky, sight line-osbcuring "B" pillars.

The crew cab interior is plenty comfortable for four - and though the abbreviated (slightly less than 5-foot) bed isn't long enough to handle a load of 4x8 sheetrock, it has high walls (lined with a tough plastic composite material) and built-in storage cubbies for various items - plus an adjustable tie-down system.

It's not a Contractor Special, but it's definitely useful - especially if you do off-roading, rock-climb or even camp. I'd buy the H3T over the standard H3 to get the bed - because it adds greatly to the vehicle's versatility without much affecting its people-carrying ability.

The H3T's towing/pulling stats (with the V-8) are also among the best for vehicles in this size range.

QUALITY & SAFETY

It's ironic (and sad) that the quality of GM vehicles has never been better - yet sales performance has never been bleaker.

There's no reason not to buy a Hummer - if the issue is the truck itself, or its quality or durability. Resale value may be problematic, but that's not due to any design weakness or flaw. It's just that the market for Hummers has pancaked like the twin towers on 9/11.

And that's not GM's fault.

The sheer bulk of the H3T is a safety bennie all by itself. Anything that hits this thing - short of another (and bigger) Hummer - is going to lose. But just in case, the H3T comes standard with dual front air bags, full-length curtain air bags, ABS and traction/stability control.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

The H3T is a well-put-together vehicle with stout, proven engines, near-bulletproof transmissions and a chassis/suspension that is fully capable of doing what you see in the commercials - and then some. The interior is a bit on the bland side but well-fitted-out, with simple, easy to use controls - including over-sized rotary knobs and big switches you can manipulate comfortably even while wearing heavy gloves. The materials used look tough and easy to wipe clean, too.

This is not a poseur-mobile. It's the real deal.

The base five-cylinder engine works much better with the 5-speed manual transmission. The gearing advantage alone (five forward speeds instead of four, with more effective ratios and less "drop" between gears) is worth sticking with the stick - but it also adds a level of fun the automatic can't provide. If you're serious about off-roading, though, you may prefer the automatic - which provides more control/consistency during low speed take-offs and climbing, etc.

There is ample power with the V-8, but it guzzles so much fuel you'd swear someone punched a hole in the tank. Average city/highway fuel figs. are a dismal 14 MPG - and that's with a light foot.

The five-cylinder's a little better, economy-wise, but not by all that much - again, because of the massive weight it is tasked with lugging around. It can manage 14 in city-type driving and 18 on the highway - so about 16 mpg, average. It also runs out of beans above 50 or 60 mph. Drop from fifth to 4th gear at 60 mph - as if to pass someone ahead - and the speedo hardly moves at all. Go for third at 60 and it will edge up, gradually - with the engine givin' 'er all she's got, cap'n! - and letting you know it.

GM coulda shoulda done itself a world of good by offering a turbodiesel in this thing. Say 450 lbs.-ft. of torque and 20 mpg, too. It might have made this Hummer viable, even in today's sad-sack economy.

But no such luck.

Aside from its image issues (and attendant cabbage throwing and birdie-flipping) and consumption of mass quantities of petroleum, the H3T's biggest functional handicap is accessing the bed. I'm 6 ft 3 and and it's tall for me. My Labrador Retriever needed help getting in, too.

I also discovered a problem with the closed-circuit back-up camera - the display part of which is cleverly (or so I thought) built into the left-hand side of the rearview mirror. It comes on automatically when the transmission is put into reverse - and works great in the daylight, or when you're backing up in a well-lit suburban driveway or parking lot.

But I discovered it's not so great when backing up on a lonely - and very narrow - gravel road with no shoulders and steep drops on either side out in the middle of nowhere on a very dark winter night. The glare makes it virtually impossible to see what's behind you - using your own eyes, not the camera's. And you need to use your own eyes in cases like this because the camera doesn't provide fine enough detail or give a sense of when you're straying too close to that sheer drop you're about to go over.

I had to open the door and crane myself around to see - while attempting to successfully execute said backing-up maneuver.

I did it, eventually - but it was no easy thing.

I'd rather have better rearward visibility - and nix the camera entirely.

THE BOTTOM LINE

The H3T - like the other Hummers - is a unique vehicle with no direct competitors. It may not be your cup of tea - and it is certainly fighting an uphill struggle to survive in times as unsuited for vehicles of its kind as the post-asteroid era was for T. Rex some 65 million years ago. But it is what it it - and isn't ashamed of it.

If you're not, either - and need something like it - there really is no substitute.