Versus the competiton:
Old is new again, particularly in the world of auto design, where Chevrolet’s HHR looks like a 1949 Suburban, albeit one sent into the next century via time machine.
HHR stands for Heritage High Roof, and this retro-styled trucklet is Chevy’s equivalent of the PT Cruiser. The HHR shares its basic chassis platform and engine with the Chevy Cobalt.
The HHR, with a base price of $16,325, is attractively priced. All HHR models include standard features such as air conditioning, power windows, power door locks, power outside mirrors, cruise control and remote keyless entry. The LT, with a larger, 2.4-liter engine, starts at $18,060. Standard equipment includes the FE3 sport suspension, 17-inch painted aluminum wheels, anti-lock brakes, fog lamps, chrome exhaust tip, leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter, the 260-watt Pioneer sound system with subwoofer and chrome exterior trim. That’s the model I drove.
The HHR is technically a truck but it drives like a sedan because it is built with many of the front-wheel-drive Cobalt components. Chevy positioned the HHR as an alternative to compact SUVs because of its fold-flat rear seat, but the cargo space is a little smaller than most compact SUVs.
The split-folding rear seat is easy to put down, and the back of the seat is covered in hard plastic for better durability. The LT’s front passenger seat also folds flat to add length for long items. The cargo space is pretty square, but not much taller than a small station wagon’s.
The optional 2.4-liter engine has 175 horsepower and 165 pound-feet of torque. When mated to the automatic transmission, this engine gives moderate but not exciting acceleration. The engine felt less lively when passing at highway speeds. Noise and vibration are nicely controlled. Fuel economy is rated at 23 miles per gallon in the city and 30 on the highway.
The heavily optioned test vehicle had a comfortable but not overly spacious interior. Rear legroom is fairly tight. Two-tone leather seats and a two-tone dash were bright without being gaudy. Like the PT Cruiser, the HHR has power window controls mounted on the center console rather than on the doors. The buttons were down low and partially blocked by the shift lever. The knob that controls the brightness of the instrument lighting is not only unmarked but is located on the center console.
A center console with front and rear cup holders sits between the front bucket seats.
The instrument pod contains a speedometer flanked by a very tiny tachometer. The center stack contains GM’s newly designed audio system. This unit looks good and works well. One nice feature is that the station presets can be any combination of AM, FM or XM stations. The test car was equipped with the optional XM satellite radio. The sound system has an input jack for an iPod or other MP3 player.
The HHR’s suspension is designed for a comfortable ride and leisurely handling, so drivers won’t be tempted to treat it like a sports sedan. Sixteen-inch wheels are standard and 17s are optional. The LT, with the FE3 sport touring suspension, still has a very soft ride, and that is a drawback when it comes to handling fast corners. I would prefer a firmer suspension for more responsive handling.
The HHR has interesting styling, but it would be more useful if it were about 20 percent larger.
The base price of the LT test car was $16,325. Options included automatic transmission, OnStar, 2.4-liter engine, side-curtain airbags, satellite radio, Pioneer audio system, heated front seats and power sunroof. The sticker price was $23,755.
Three years or 36,000 miles.