2011 Chevrolet HHR

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2006 Chevrolet HHR

This 2006 review is representative of model years 2006 to 2011.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
Rating: 8

Bottom Line:

Good blend of style and utility at affordable prices, but some will want more power.
Pros:
  • Car-like
  • Roomy
  • Nice retro styling
Cons:
  • Average Acceleration
  • Awkward power window controls location
  • Small gauge numbers

The chunky, retro-styling of the new HHR crossover vehicle draws attention and its utilitarian design makes it a solid rival to the retro-styled Chrysler PT Cruiser. However, even the most potent HHR engine provides just so-so acceleration.

The front-wheel-drive, compact HHR has styling reminiscent of the 1949 Chevrolet Suburban utility vehicle, with a bulldog face and bulging fenders. It also has styling touches from the Chevy retro SSR roadster-pickup truck.

As with most crossovers, the HHR is essentially a car-based sport utility. It shares underskin architecture with the successful compact Chevrolet Cobalt coupe and sedan.

The "HHR" stands for Heritage High Roof, with Heritage referring to the old Suburban and High Roof referring to the HHR's tall rooflline, which helps provide the vehicle's retro look and impressive, configurable interior space.

Larger Than PT Cruiser
The HHR is wider, taller and considerably longer than the PT Cruiser, which resembles a 1940s hot rod. But both have about the same amount of space for people and cargo.

The HHR's fairly large cargo area has a low, wide opening. That area can be enlarged by folding the 60/40 split rear seatbacks forward to create a flat cargo floor, although front seats must be moved far enough forward to allow rear headrests to clear them.

The front passenger seatback also can be flipped forward to further lengthen cargo room for ladders, Christmas trees—or whatever. There even are shallow underfloor storage bins in the rear cargo area, which has hooks for grocery bags and a cover that can be used to hide cargo or to form a two-tier loading shelf.

Bringing Back Distinctiveness
GM considers the built-in-Mexico HHR one of its unique new vehicles, such as the Pontiac Solstice sports car, that will draw more customers—and help bring back the GM vehicle distinctiveness mostly lost in the 1970s.

There are three trim levels: base $15,425 LS, $16,425 1LT and $18,225 2LT. The 2LT is really just a 1LT with the $1,800 2LT Preferred Equipment package.

That package is the hot HHR setup, such as it is. It includes a 2.4-liter 172-horsepower 4-cylinder engine, sport suspension with wider 17-inch (vs. 16-inch) wheels, anti-lock brakes (with traction control if ordered with automatic transmission), upgraded Pioneer sound system with iPod compatibility, leather-wrapped steering wheel with radio controls, fog lights and extra chrome exterior trim.

Average Highway Performance
The 2.4 engine is a $650 option for the 1LT, which has a base 2.2-liter, 143-horsepower 4-cylinder shared with the LS. The 2.4 provides lively in-town performance but just average highway acceleration. The lower-horsepower engine is less potent on highways.

Both engines are high-revving, dual-overhead-camshaft 16-valve units that work hard during highway passing maneuvers or climbing hills, although lots of sound insulation doesn't let them become too noisy in the passenger compartment.

A power boosting supercharger, such as the one in the 205-horsepower Cobalt would help, especially if the 3,155-pound HHR is filled with occupants or cargo.

A 5-speed manual gearbox is standard, with a downshift from fifth to fourth gear necessary for a decent 65-75 mph passing time. Nail the accelerator pedal in fifth gear at 65 mph and nothing much happens. Drop to third gear at that speed and the engine is revving way too high.

Responsive Automatic Transmission
The $1,000 4-speed automatic, which has a remote-start feature, is responsive and solves the shifting problem. Chevy expects most HHR buyers will opt for it, if only because "few people know how to use a manual transmission."

The manual gearbox helps provide slightly better acceleration and shifts nicely, but works with a stiff clutch and has long throws that take some sportiness out of changing gears. There should be a "short-shift-throw" option like the one for the new Subaru Forester.

Even the iconic 1960s Chevrolet Corvette Sting Ray's transmission, which had long shift throws, offered an optional "short-throw" shifter option. If Chevy wants to be "retro" with the HHR, it should offer such a useful shift feature.

Both engines provide an estimated 22 mpg in the city and 30 on highways with the manual transmission and 23 and 30 with the automatic.

Nicely Equipped
Even the LS has a fair amount of standard equipment for the money. It includes air conditioning, a tilt steering wheel, cruise control, a split-folding rear seat, an AM/FM/CD player and power mirrors, windows and door locks with remote keyless entry. The 1LT adds a power driver seat, an AM/FM/CD/MP3 player and alloy wheels.

Extras include a $725 power sunroof, $750-$925 (depending on trim level) heated seats with leather upholstery, $325 XM satellite radio, $395 rear spoiler and $395 polished alloy wheels. Safety options include $395 side head curtain airbags and $695 GM OnStar assistance system.

The car-like HHR has smooth, responsive steering and the wheel has an unusually large retro shape; big steering wheels were needed to more easily maneuver old utility vehicles such as the 1949 Suburban, which lacked power steering—let alone the speed-sensitive power steering of the HHR.

Not Very Sporty
Those who expect the HHR to be very sporty will be largely disappointed. The ride is on the soft side, even with the sport suspension, and the HHR is most stable on smooth roads. The body tends to lean a bit around corners, but maneuverability is good and handling is OK. The brake pedal has a nice linear action, and stopping distances are decent.

The high roof provides a "command-of-the-road" feel familiar to SUV owners, but there is only comfortable space for four adults because the center of the back seat is uncomfortable. Surprisingly for such a utilitarian vehicle, there's only one cupholder in the rear-seat area.

Wide door openings and low floor make it easy to slide in or out of the quiet interior's chair-high seats and make the $445 color-keyed running boards just an appealing cosmetic item. The broad front bucket seats provide nice support.

Large outside door handles also help entry, but inside door handles are more stylish than practical. The tachometer is small, as are gauge numbers.

Awkward Power Window Controls
Worst of all, the power window controls are hard to find and use because they're put way low ahead of the center console instead of high on doors, where they are usually found in most vehicles. Climate controls are large, but sound system controls are small.

There isn't much interior storage room for small items, with such things as slim door pockets and a small glove box mostly taken up by the owner's manual.

Airy Interior
The interior is generally nicely designed and airy, with lots of glass area, although a large inside rearview mirror partly blocks vision of overhead traffic lights despite the big windshield. Large outside mirrors are integrated into the overall design theme for a custom look and rear door windows roll down all the way.

The hood raises smoothly on twin gas struts, and fluid filler areas can be easily reached.

Chevrolet is vague about HHR sales numbers in the vehicle's first full year, only saying it might sell "50,000 to 100,000" units. There doubtlessly will be other versions offered, as has been the case with the PT Cruiser, to keep up buyer interest.

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BB02 - 9/16/2014 11:18:10 AM