One wonders now that the PT Cruiser is slated for termination if the Chevy HHR will follow soon after. The HHR only exists to begin with as a thinly veiled attempt at cashing in on the PT Cruiser’s past popularity anyway. Although the PT Cruiser’s unique (at the time) styling endeared it to a huge segment of buyers, the HHR has never been so lucky and has mostly lived on the periphery of automotive relevance for the last 3 years. All that being true, if the HHR is on its way out and it serves your needs, there are some pretty compelling reasons to give it a look. And none of them have to do with its styling.
Although Chevy does little to promote the HHR, a huge amount of its viability resides in its three distinctly different versions of the wagon-slash-crossover, each with a decidedly different application for a potential driver. There is the standard four-door wagon version, the panel version with a windowless rear area and cargo doors that is meant for business use and customizers, and then there is the SS version which comes with a boost of sportiness.
The SS version is a good place to start, if only to rant a bit on the haphazard “SS-ing” that has diluted that moniker’s famed heritage from the 60’s. There was a time when the SS badge meant a pretty specific set of things, and they all had to do with muscle cars and power. Then Chevrolet in their wisdom decided to stick the moniker on virtually anything that they made including Cavaliers, Cobalts, trucks and in the process the SS has lost a bit of its cache. That being said, with its 260 horsepower turbocharged 2-liter, 4-cylinder engine and sport-tuned chassis, the HHR SS can shuffle along nicely from 0-60 mph in the low 6 seconds. Transmission choices on all models include either a five speed manual or four speed automatic.
The base LS and mid level 1LT come with a 2.2-liter four cylinder engine that makes 149 horses. Optional on the 1LT and standard on the 2LT is a a 2.4-liter four-cylinder generating 175 horses and 167 lb-ft of torque. These numbers, even with the SS don’t translate into particularly spirited driving however. Though the HHR features an unusually quiet and comfortable ride for a compact wagon, this as at the expense of handling which is noticeably fluffy. This is not helped by rather lackluster braking which suffers in hard emergency maneuvers. The SS model improves things in both areas by way of a torsion-beam rear axle, but testers still lament that the steering is still a bit vague. Improvements over previous model years is most apparent with its list of standard safety features including ABS, stability control and side curtain airbags.
EPA fuel economy ratings are a bit of a bright spot for the HHR with the 2.2-liter engine delivering 21 mpg city/30 highway with the manual transmission; while a similarly equipped 2.4-liter model can produce 20 and 28 mpg in the same conditions. Contrary to expectations, though surely the result of its turbo charger, the HHR SS model is capable of 21 and 29 mpg, making it a serious consideration for those looking at the base model to save gas. It should be noted that the SS does require premium gas however.
In case you were wondering, the “HHR” refers to its “Heritage High Roof,” which is inspired by the 1949 Chevy Suburban. Fair enough, but because the PT Cruiser got there first, the Chevy just seems like a copycat. Opinions vary widely about the success of the HHR’s design. One thing to keep in mind, many older vehicles could have cared less about style, so while it may portray trendiness, its shape serves its function. Everywhere you look on the HHR a curve is presented with hardly a straight flat surface to be hand on any body panel. Although the retro-look seems to be working for many vehicles, whether a 50’s vintage delivery truck was meant to be resurrected is debatable. Nevertheless, it does have its own unique place in the compact wagon market, especially with the PT taking its final bows.
Interior and Amenities
The interior is functional and not without attractiveness, though some complain that the plastic materials are on the cheap side. Imagine that. Both the regular wagon and the Panel model come in three trim levels: LS, LT and SS. The LS includes 16-inch steel wheels, air-conditioning with cabin filtration, cruise control, keyless entry, a fold-flat front passenger seat, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat, full power accessories and a six-speaker CD stereo with MP3 playback and an auxiliary audio jack. The uplevel LT trim is subdivided into two packages; the standard 1LT and upgraded 2LT. The 1LT includes upgraded 16-inch wheels and an eight-way power driver seat. The 2LT adds a firmer suspension, 17-inch alloy wheels, foglamps, exterior chrome accents, color-keyed running boards, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, Bluetooth connectivity and a premium audio system with a subwoofer. The high-performance SS variant loses the 2LT’s standard premium stereo but gains a powerful turbocharged engine, unique exterior styling cues, 18-inch alloy wheels, an exclusive sport-tuned suspension, a boost gauge and two-tone sport seats and interior trim.
Options on the base LS are limited to minor enhancements such as running boards. Major options for the LT include remote vehicle starting (included with the automatic transmission), leather seating with heated front seats, Bluetooth connectivity and a sunroof. The SS can be outfitted with the optional Performance Package, which adds a limited-slip front differential and Brembo front brakes, and the 2LT’s premium audio system can also be added. The HHR Panel van comes similarly equipped in the same trim levels but has windowless rear cargo panel doors (they open via remote release), windowless rear quarter panels, cargo floor storage compartments and a rear 40-amp power point for electronic equipment. Legroom is ample front and rear, and the front passenger seat and rear seats fold easily to provide a flat loading surface. A tremendous asset for the HHR is its flexible cargo space. With the rear seat folded, the HHR boasts 57.7 cubic feet of cargo space and the front-seat-only Panel model features 62.7 cubic feet. Though there is plenty of cargo room, reviewers complain about a lack of smaller storage areas.
Pricing for starts at either $18,720 for the standard four door, or $19,030 for the panel version. Opting for the SS, a strong choice among all HHR models, will set you back around $24,000. Especially for those who enjoyed the PT and grieve its forthcoming extinction the HHR is a mostly fine wagon option that certainly is different than the pack. However, those wishing for a bit more excitement and perhaps a more mainstream modern conveyance, other options from Mazda, Scion and even the MINI Clubman may be worth a look.