Chevy’s HHR provides retro-styled fun on the road
December 14, 2005
If you’re in the market for a small vehicle that’s as fun to drive as it is to look at, the very distinctive Chevrolet HHR may have some unique and affordable appeal. The automobile seems aimed directly at the portion of the market filled with those who, a few years ago, might have opted for the PT Cruiser.In the case of the new HHR, the comparisons with the slightly similar PT are inevitable – automobile designer Bryan Nesbitt, who crafted the PT Cruiser, joined GM’s ranks not so long ago and created the retro-futuristic HHR as one of his recent projects.Shaped like a miniature Suburban of days gone by (the 1949 model, to be precise), the Heritage High Roof is fronted by a long, almost truck-like hood and a rounded chrome grille. It features the biggest, most prominent bumper we’ve seen in years; the overall design uses oodles of chrome, which appears on the squarish, five-spoke wheels, the side mirrors, the door handles and the roof rails.The body draws its cues from the little, old truckish cars of the past – think woodies and cruisers of that ilk – with built-in running boards. The doors incorporate chunks of the widely flared wheel wells; small, darkened windows and an overall, dynamic curvature make it a very interesting vehicle that wears its styling on its sleeves.
Taking a look at the rear flanks, there’s a set of round brake and turn lights that jut out (as does the overly beefy rear bumper) and a gigantic, chrome-plated exhaust port that makes the HHR seem like a veritable sports car.While design is cool indeed, it’s when it comes to performance that the HHR begins to stumble, just a little bit. Powered by a 2.4 liter Ecotec four-cylinder (a 2.2 liter four-cylinder is standard on the base models), producing 172 horsepower and 162 lb.-ft. of torque, the HHR is no screamer but does produce 30 mpg ratings on the highway.Ours even came with a loose five-speed manual transmission to try to make things a bit more fun; while handling and stopping in the tiny car/truck were pretty good for the vehicle’s proportions and 17-inch wheels and tires, the buzzy engine just failed to provide enough oomph to make things that exciting. And that means a vehicle that would probably take its own sweet time doing work on the passes, although it would be fine for flat-out cruising. The lack of power was a bit of a disappointment considering the generally fun, easy and forgiving driving experience the HHR offered around town.Interior design is clean, tasteful and well-organized but a little heavy on the plastics and, frankly, a little small and rounded enough to make it seem just a tad claustrophobic to some passengers. Look at an HHR from a distance and you might think the vehicle’s as large as an SUV but it’s when you get up close – and especially when you open the doors – that you realize this is a vehicle just a half-step up from a Cobalt in terms of size. Flatten the 60/40 rear seats and you’ll be able to access 63 cubic feet of storage space, which isn’t so bad. The rear deck is also covered in a hard plastic surface which will make for easy loading and easy cleaning. A large, heavy carpet covers that rear deck; flip it up and there’s secured storage space under the deck.
Cloth seating is rather basic but power-controlled on the driver’s side, with a large lumbar support adding to long-distance comfort. Actually accessing the controls is difficult as there’s very little space between the seat bottom and the door. A very funny little instrument panel with a series of concentric half-moons and circles delivers the information – a tiny little gauge that looks like it might be a temperature read-out is in fact the tachometer. Rounded two-tone door panels, chrome-plated door pulls, instruments and air vents brighten up the look; the five-speed shift knob is very plasticky to the touch and felt a bit loose as we made gear changes. A small, comfortable, leather-wrapped steering wheel features redundant controls for the audio, cruise and the trip computer, while a small storage box with a flip-up lid sits next to the wheel on top of the dash, useful for securing small objects.Window controls are placed at the bottom of the center stack and aren’t particularly intuitive, requiring a long reach to operate.Simple, basic but overflowing in style, the HHR is certainly a different option for anyone looking for $20,000 transportation – check it out and see if it suits your lifestyle.
2006 Chevrolet HHR 2LTPrice as tested: $20,900Includes: 2.4 liter four-cylinder engine, five-speed manual transmission, sport-tuned suspension, 17-inch painted aluminum wheels, XM Satellite Radio, MP3-ready six-CD stereo with iPod input, Pioneer seven-speaker sound system, fog lamps, leather-wrapped steering wheel, auto dimming rear mirror with compass, roof railsStated mileage: 20 mpg city, 30 highway
Best featuresCool retro stylingAmple cargo spaceFun to drive, cruising style
Worst featuresShort on highway powerCabin may make some claustrophobicHeavy on plastic finishing