MONTEREY, California — Now that the Hummer brand is more or less a memory, what’s a gal or fella in the market for a 4×4 that’s loud, excessively large, and in- your-face aggro supposed to do? Sure, there’re all manner of Jeeps and pickup trucks and Escalades, Suburbans, Navigators, and Expeditions out there and you can aftermarket the heck out of them for added attitude. But they’re a dime a dozen.
Sure, there’s the revamped Gelandewagen from Mercedes, which can now be ordered monster truck high from the factory. But, being European and still vaguely tasteful, G-Wagens are kind of inherently ponce-ified, no matter how jacked up you go. Ditto Range Rovers and Land Rovers, SUVs from Jaguar, Alfa and Maserati, or Bentley’s Bentayga and the new Rolls-Royce Cullinan, which isn’t so much the Rolls-Royce of SUVs as possibly the silliest Rolls-Royce in recorded history, not that this will hurt anyone’s bottom line any time soon.
But, the fact remains: all these things look like lighthearted garden follies set next to an H1 Hummer and all the malevolent anger it used to convey. As I was saying, what’s a bad mother to do?
Enter US Specialty Vehicles of Rancho Cucamonga, California, makers of the Rhino GX you see here: Ten thousand hulking pounds of custom SUV (13,500 lbs. when lightly armored), made in America from heavy rolled steel, and clearly offering no apologies for it. Or anything else for that matter, based as it is on a Ford F-450 Super Duty pickup chassis, which itself weighs 6,500 lbs. USSV tosses the bed and much of its bodywork, replacing these with an industrial-strength SUV body of formidable aggression, much metal and a few choice composites. Knobby tires thirty inches tall put one in mind of combat vehicles, as does a price tag—a Pentagon-cost-overrun-worthy $250,000, with an ability to be specced out to $400,000. Our test vehicle was appropriately finished Desert Sand, one of three factory colors, though the other two—Tactical Black and Military Green—also look and sound like they were ordered by a DoD procurement officer. You can also order any other color of your choosing so long as you’re willing to pay extra.
Like most military rigs, the Rhino GX is lucky to see the right side of 10 miles per gallon. And, as I’d suspected, it makes men, women, and children stand and salute.
Automobile Magazine‘s Jonathon Klein actually drove one of these things in 2016. But when USSV rang to invite me for a personal test drive of my own during the week of Pebble Beach festivities, I took a quick peek on the internet and found myself saluting, too. Would this scratch the itch, I wondered, that the departure of the H1, crude and overbearing behemoth that it was, left unsatisfied?
The Hummer question, I’d come to understand, was the right one to ask. Here’s why. USSV was the brainchild of Qingjie Tang, who also goes by the name Tim Tang. Born in China and a frequent return visitor to his now capitalist-friendly homeland, he’s a onetime GM mechanical engineer who moved from Michigan to southern California in the early 2000s to design, engineer, and fabricate limousine conversions. The firm’s most successful product was, in fact, the Hummer short stretch, but then the Great Recession came. The limo trade cratered and GM let Hummer go the way of Oldsmobile.
As Dani Tang, a company spokeswoman (no relation) allowed, it was time “to take a new direction.” The Hummer association informed the fresh thinking, and the result was the Hummer-adjacent Rhino GX, which first debuted in 2012 with a big order from China (where owing to taxes it costs almost twice as much).
The model we’re driving today is a second-generation version of the flagship. Launched in 2014, it’s still based on the F-450, with either Ford’s 6.7-liter Powerstroke V-8 diesel or its 6.9-liter V-10 gasoline powerplant. When the Rhino GX is sold abroad in countries with incompatible high-sulfur diesel—where, as it happens, most of its sales occur—it’s built on a gasoline-powered F-350 chassis and known as the G- (for General) Patton, under license from the legendary WWII military commander’s family foundation. Go figure. A new, smaller, cheaper model, the Rhino XT, is based on the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited chassis, and features two doors, an all-composite body, and a supercharged 360-horsepower V-6. More on that one day soon.
In a good year, spokeswoman Tang said, the company will sell thirty to forty trucks in the U.S. with another 120-150 abroad, China and the Middle East constituting—unsurprisingly, given their historic taste for the OTT—far and away the company’s biggest markets. Ms. Tang joined USSV’s dealer account manager, Alex Echevarria, and me as we took a test drive of the Rhino GV through the streets of Monterey and its neighboring environs early one weekend morning.
Despite an imposing distance between roof and tarmac of almost eight feet, lofting oneself up into the cabin proves not particularly difficult, even for those of less than NBA superstar height and athleticism. Once on board, the civilized tone of the inside of this extrovert machine similarly disarms. While the mechanicals are brawny and gruff, with a sophisticated hydraulic suspension at the rear upgrading the F-450 chassis’ spec, the Rhino GV more than splits the difference between an H1 Hummer and something more civilized, which is to say everything.
Ford switchgear abounds, which is itself an improvement over the H1, while generously restuffed Ford seats are comfy as you please. All surfaces are covered in leather, combining with an Alcantara headliner for an ambiance that is at once kind of elegant and heavy duty rugged, with noise levels while running that are reasonably subdued and highway-acceptable. Seating for up to seven patriots is provided, depending on whether or not one plumps for the more expensive, four-seat Executive version. In short, very little feels cheap, tacky, or appallingly underdeveloped. But then again, with prices starting at $275,000, nothing should. Actually driving the Rhino GX is simplicity itself for those familiar with larger, motorized land craft. With power everything, almost anyone could drive it if they had to.
Yet despite the practicality and comfort, Echevarria dismisses Range Rovers, Land Cruisers, Suburbans, and their ilk. In his experience, the Rhino GX’s real competition comes from expensive, obscurist offerings in the Judge Dredd class like the Terradyne Gurkha and Conquest Knight, with which the Rhino GX bears some outward similarity. “Those are similar vehicles,” he concedes, “but they are up armored to a B7 spec, military vehicles converted to civilian use. Our vehicle is aimed from the ground up to be a civilian car that you can drive every day.” That said, for an additional $100,000 a third party company will give your Rhino B6 level armor capability, “which is most rifle rounds, all handgun rounds. It protects against pretty much any kind of threat you might ever come across. Yeah, not so good for bombs. But if you’re dealing with bombs then it’s safe to say you’ve got bigger problems.”
USSV prides itself on customer service; its small American dealership network (three in California and one each in Nevada, Tennessee, Colorado, and Florida) addressed somewhat by the readily serviced Ford mechanicals. And with a small customer base, the company can afford to travel, Echevarria says, to address any customer needs. More than 25 dealers serve the big Chinese market, however. Why are we not surprised that Chinese mega-moguls gravitate more toward these land monsters than anyone?
Typical Rhino intenders, Ecchevaria explained, are “high net worth individuals. Lots of athletes. The Cleveland Indian Edwin Encarnacion took his Rhino to the Dominican Republic for his wedding. We have a selection of rappers.” (Tauheed Epps aka 2 Chainz, Florida rapper XXXTentacion, and Philadelphia’s Lil Uzi Vert.)
“But recently I’ve noticed that it’s a lot of everyday people that just want something very unique,” Ecchevaria continues. “Most of our clients have quite a collection of cars. So this is just adding to their collection. Most of our clients want something that’s not like a Range Rover that you see everywhere. They want something unique. They’re mostly male—99.999% male, in fact. I have one client in Colorado [whose] wife drives it. She saw the vehicle on the news during the Denver auto show and they drove down to view the car and she fell in love with it and she wanted it, so they bought it. So it’s actually her primary car. And most of our clients’ wives generally like to drive the car because they feel safe with it. When you’re driving something that’s 20 feet long, eight feet wide and eight feet tall, it’s got that presence. People get out of your way. And it weighs 10,000 pounds. You feel rather safe in it.”
And unlike that time a long time ago when I drove a civilian Hummer H1 on a highway trip of some distance, you at won’t find yourself looking for land mines to drive over just to put yourself out of your misery. For a certain kind of macho multi millionaire extrovert and his wife, the Rhino GX might be worth a second look.
2018 US Specialty Vehicles Rhino GX Specifications
|ENGINE||6.7L turbocharged OHV 32-valve V-8 diesel/450 hp @ 2,800 rpm, 935 lb-ft @ 1,800 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 4-7-passenger, front-engine, 4WD SUV|
|EPA MILEAGE||10 mpg (est combined)|
|L x W x H||225 x 96 x 88 in|
|WEIGHT||10,000 lb (est)|