Review: 2008 Chevrolet HHR
This 2008 review is representative of model years 2006 to 2011.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
Sales of retro-styled cars are waning, with many sales declines in the double digits.
But even dissipating interest in retro cars won't stop the Chevrolet HHR, which looks like a downsized 1949 Chevy Suburban, from recording its second-best sales year.
In fact, the HHR has been easily outselling the Volkswagen New Beetle and MINI Cooper retro models. Late in calendar 2007, the HHR was even vying to beat the Chrysler PT Cruiser in annual sales for the first time.
This is despite the fact that competitors offer convertible versions. The HHR is only a wagon — a regular wagon or a panel wagon that's devoid of second-row seats and second-row windows.
Commendable fuel economy, safety ratings
But it's likely the government highway fuel economy rating of 30 miles per gallon for the 2008 HHR with base, 2.2-liter 4-cylinder engine and automatic transmission that's attracting attention these days.
Neither the PT Cruiser nor the gasoline-powered New Beetle has this highway mileage rating, and neither has the HHR's 22-mpg city rating, either.
A "recommended buy" listing by Consumer Reports magazine in spring 2007 and across-the-board, five-out-of-five-stars ratings in federal government crash tests help make the HHR stand out, too.
This compares with the $15,000 or so starting retail price for a 2008 Chrysler PT Cruiser wagon with 150-horsepower 4-cylinder engine and manual transmission and the just over $17,000 starting price for a 2008 VW New Beetle hatchback with 150-horsepower 5-cylinder engine and manual transmission.
Not as big in real life as it looks in pictures
While it's true the HHR is nearly 14.7 feet long, or some 7 inches longer than the PT Cruiser, it's quite compact and is basically the same length as a 2008 Honda Civic sedan.
The HHR uses the same front-wheel-drive platform and many components, including engines and transmissions, that are in Chevy's compact sedan and coupe, the Cobalt.
But the packaging genius of the HHR — for both passengers and cargo — comes from the vehicle's tall roof.
The HHR is 5 feet, 8 inches tall, so passengers have a more upright seating position than they do in regular cars and sit up some above the pavement.
The upright seating helps provide surprisingly generous legroom of more than 40 inches in the front seats and nearly 40 inches for back-seat occupants. This is akin to what passengers get in some larger sport-utility vehicles.
Headroom of 39.6 inches for the HHR back seats is laudable, too. It's what you find in the back seat of Chevy's midsize SUV, the TrailBlazer, for example.
And the HHR offers an SUV-like 63.1 cubic feet of cargo space, maximum, when rear seats are removed. Rear seats also fold down flat, along with the seatback of the front passenger seat, for flexible cargo storage.
Note that the HHR Panel model doesn't include rear seats — just an open cargo area.
Practicality comes through
The HHR isn't a plush or luxurious vehicle, though buyers can option up to leather-trimmed, heated front seats and premium sound system with Pioneer speakers.
With hard plastic trim on the interior sides of the doors, the dashboard and the cargo floor, the HHR comes across as strictly functional. For example, watch as you put items in and take them out from the back. The hard plastic cargo floor can scratch and be gouged.
And while air vents on the dashboard are attractive circles and instrument cluster gauges are surrounded by shiny silver-colored trim for a pleasant look, there's nary any retro feel to the inside of the HHR.
For example, the HHR radio faceplate and controls are a modern, clean design now included in virtually all vehicles made by Chevy's parent company, General Motors Corp.
I just wish that fewer road bumps would have come through to passengers in the test HHR with uplevel, 17-inch tires and that there hadn't been an intermittent rattle coming from the dashboard.
Regular gasoline, please
The base, 2.2-liter powerplant delivers 149 horses and 152 lb-ft of torque at 4200 rpm, while the uplevel engine has a larger, 2.4-liter displacement and generates a more competitive 172 horses and 167 lb-ft of torque at 4500 rpm.
Both engines, however, can operate with a lot of noisy bluster when pressed to accelerate quickly and when on long, uphill, highway pavement. They feel anemic in high altitude conditions, too.
I'd lean toward buying the larger displacement, 2.4-liter unit, because of its better get up and go for merging into traffic, and because the fuel economy rating difference vis-à-vis the base engine is small.
Basically, the bigger engine is rated at the same 22-mpg city mileage and loses only 2 mpg in the highway rating when compared with the smaller, 2.2-liter engine.
But be aware that these government mileage numbers aren't guaranteed. In my test car, I never got anywhere near the posted fuel economy ratings, though I admit I didn't try to drive for fuel milaege.
In fact, with 60 percent of my driving on the highway, I wound up with a combined city/highway rating of just 22.6 mpg with the 2.4-liter engine and automatic transmission.
Top safety ratings
Anti-lock brakes were an option on the test HHR. Side-curtain airbags were another option. Both of these safety items, plus others, are standard on some competing vehicles, including the Scion xB small wagon.
Despite this, the 2008 HHR performed admirably in the government crash tests, garnering across-the-board five-out-of-five-stars ratings.