2006 Chevrolet HHR
This 2006 review is representative of model years 2006 to 2011.
By Dan Jedlicka of MSN Autos
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'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
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
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 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.
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
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
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.
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.