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The 2016 USSV Rhino GX is for the Dictator in All of Us

A Ford-Based Luxury Armored Tank

Jonathon Kleinwriter, photographer

Shortly after the Humvee's world debut during Operation Desert Storm, AM General launched a civilian version dubbed the H1. Between the successful military campaign and support from Arnold Schwarzenegger, the H1 developed a cult-like following. General Motors bought the brand in 1999 and launched the Hummer H2 three years later. Production of the H1 ended in 2006, when the smaller H3 joined the lineup. Changing market trends and an economic recession forced the General to shutter the brand in 2010, but one market didn't get the memo: China where demand for Hummers never ceased

Enter US Specialty Vehicles (USSV) and the Rhino GX, which the company designed to meet that demand. The Rhino GX is one seriously imposing vehicle. It measures a staggering eight feet from the left wheel to the right. In height, it stands almost seven-and-a half-feet tall. According to its builder, the Rhino GX weighs nearly 10,000 pounds. That's around the size of a full-grown African Elephant, except the Rhino GX drives alongside you on the way to the grocery store.

Under the brawny skin is a 2016 Ford F-450 Super Duty. USSV strips the truck of its body, cuts off the rear part of the cab, and grafts on the bodywork that turns it into the seven-person SUV you see here. Except for the composite hood and fender flares, the body of the unarmored version is made out of twin 20-gauge steel panels, enough to safely deflect a round fired from a .45-caliber gun. An armored version capable of withstanding anything a small coup d'état can muster is available, but customers will have to shell out an extra $80,000 for the additional protection.

Ford's 6.7-liter Power Stroke diesel engine, which starts out making 440 hp and 860-lb-ft of torque, has been modified to produce more than 500 hp and 900 lb-ft of torque versus the stock up from 440 horsepower and 860 lb-ft, giving the Rhino GX enough go to easily push its way out of almost any situation. Due to its high curb weight, however, towing ability has been reduced to "just" 13,000 pounds. The exterior also has full 360-degree HID flood lights to illuminate the night or situations where tear gas, dust, or whatever else obstructs the driver's view. And there are exterior grab handles and running boards for those occasions when the owner employs additional security forces for an escort through the hostile neighborhoods of Brentwood or Malibu.

Given the Rhino GX's absurd curb weight and that it runs on knobby all-terrain Toyo tires, you'd think the suspension and tires are unable to cope. However, with an upgraded hydraulic suspension system in the rear and Super Duty springs up front, the Rhino feels like an old Cadillac outfitted with swamper tires. You still feel bumps when riding in the cabin, and you can definitely feel the truck's weight, but it feels far less substantial than we expected.

USSV builds the Rhino's seats in-house. Their plush leather and soft inserts do a fair amount to smooth out the remaining imperfections in the Rhino GX's ride quality. Where the Rhino GX fails somewhat in its opulent Russian oligarch nature, however, is in how much road noise the tires transmit into the cabin. We're not saying the cabin sounds like you're standing next to a speaker at a GWAR concert, but maybe a few rows back. We're sure this characteristic would change if you upgraded to the armored Rhino and its thick, bullet-proof windows.

To help alleviate road noise, USSV installs a full Alpine stereo system with DVD and gaming hookups complete with headphones.

Is the Rhino GX the most "look at me" vehicle you can buy? With an appearance resembling something the U.S. Army would send to Afghanistan, you bet. But there's a twist.

In the U.S., the Rhino GX starts at $195,000; in China, where demand is greatest, it costs almost three times that amount due to import taxation. That makes this a half-a-million dollar rig based on a workhorse truck that starts at just $51,255. And for the person who would put down that $500,000,attracting attention is likely all they care about. Just try not to feel too much like a tin-pot dictator while driving it.

2016 US Specialty Vehicles Rhino GX Specifications

On Sale: Now
Price: $195,000 (base)
Engine: 6.7L DOHC 32-valve Turbocharged V-8/500 hp, 900 lb-ft
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Layout: 4-door, 7-passenger, front-engine, AWD SUV
EPA Mileage: 10 mpg (est highway)
L x W x H: 225 in x 96 in x 88 in
Wheelbase: 140.8 in
Weight: 9,800 lbs (without armor)
0-60 MPH: NA
Top Speed: NA