If Chrysler can do it, why not Chevrolet? General Motors might not appreciate comparisons between the new Chevrolet HHR and the retro-styled Chrysler PT Cruiser, but the HHR is unabashedly designed to resemble a vehicle from the past just as the Cruiser's styling did.
In Chevrolet's case, that vehicle is the 1949 Suburban, which ranks as one of the first utility vehicles. The HHR's design cues are also borrowed from the company's current SSR roadster pickup.
Introduced at the 2005 Greater Los Angeles Auto Show, the HHR wagon flaunts a tall stance like the PT Cruiser's. It's built on the same platform as the Chevrolet Cobalt sedan.
Built with a high roof, this four-door wagon's grille features a prominent Chevrolet bowtie logo. The HHR has a touch-pad rear liftgate and flared taillamps. Like the SSR, the HHR flaunts deep-draw flared fenders that tuck in at the rocker panels. A one-piece hood is reminiscent of the 1949 Suburban. Single-cavity headlamps incorporate jeweled lighting effects. The back window is flush with the body sides.
Two suspensions and two wheel sizes (16 and 17 inches) are offered. In addition to bright chrome exterior trim, the 2LT model includes fog lamps and a bright exhaust tip.
Electric power steering and front-disc/rear-drum brakes are installed. Built on a 103.1-inch wheelbase, the HHR is 176.2 inches long overall, 68.1 inches wide and 61.5 inches tall.
Up to five occupants fit inside the HHR. A high roof promises appealing headroom and an airy environment. The instrument cluster harks back to the past, and interior color combinations feature darker colors on upper trim sections.
The front passenger seat folds completely flat, and the center armrest is integrated into the seatback frame. The rear seats are split 60/40 and fold to form a flat load surface.
Chevrolet says the HHR's reconfigurable interior can accommodate everything from groceries to surfboards. Maximum cargo volume is 63.1 cubic feet. A concealed 5-inch recessed storage bin in the cargo area sits above the spare tire. When raised, the primary load floor can act as a shelf.
Standard equipment includes air conditioning, power windows and locks, a six-speaker CD stereo and remote keyless entry. Options include a power sunroof, GM's OnStar communication system, XM Satellite Radio and a Pioneer audio system with a subwoofer. Remote starting is installed on models equipped with the automatic transmission.
An additional feature in the 1LT model is an MP3 player. The 2LT edition adds antilock brakes, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and gearshift, and Pioneer audio. Heated leather seats are optional with both LT groups.
Under the Hood
Two engines are offered in the HHR. Standard in LS and 1LT models, an Ecotec 2.2-liter four-cylinder produces an estimated 145 horsepower and 155 pounds-feet of torque. An Ecotec 2.4-liter four-cylinder that generates an estimated 171 hp and 162 pounds-feet of torque is standard in the 2LT and optional in the 1LT. Both engines mate with either a Getrag five-speed-manual gearbox or a four-speed-automatic transmission.
Antilock brakes are standard on 2LT models. Traction control is available only with the automatic transmission. Side curtain-type airbags are optional.
Commanding looks aren't the only attraction of Chevrolet's retro wagon. Judged by performance and comfort attributes, as well as solid build quality, the HHR is actually one of GM's most appealing vehicles.
The HHR handles easily, maneuvers crisply and steers with a light touch. Body lean through curves isn't bad, but one tends to avoid pushing this wagon too hard. Even in urban settings, the ride is smooth. Occupants might feel pavement imperfections, but few produce noticeable discomfort.
With the optional 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, acceleration is reasonably spirited for passing and merging, though there's not a surplus of power. Chevrolet's automatic transmission operates gently, and except for a whirring sound while accelerating, the HHR is impressively quiet.
Front occupants get plenty of space, though the "chopped" windshield limits the driver's view of tall objects, such as overhead traffic signals. Rear visibility also could be better. Chair-style seats are reasonably comfortable, with moderate back support and adequate thigh support.