2006 Chevrolet HHRPosted on September 15th, 2006
Sport tourer with retro styling
By Nina Russin
The Chevrolet HHR is a compact cross-utility vehicle that combines retro styling on the exterior with a spacious, cargo-friendly interior.
The HHR is Chevrolet’s answer to the Chrysler PT Cruiser: a compact cross-utility vehicle with retro-styling on the outside, and a stylish, cargo-friendly interior within. The HHR is built on the same platform as the Chevy Cobalt: the sportier of the automaker’s two compact sedans.
Pricing, including the $550 destination charge, starts at just under $17,000. A well-equipped model with cloth upholstery costs about $20,000.
The test car came with the optional high-output 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine, five-speed manual transmission, and 17-inch wheels in place of the standard 16-inch rims. Other options included XM-satellite radio ($325), power sunroof ($725), side curtain airbags ($395), roof rails $150), and an upgraded AM/FM/6-CD audio system with MP3 compatibility.
The HHR’s cargo friendly interior is its biggest asset. Release latches on the second-row seatbacks are a snap to work. The seats fold flat in one easy movement, creating a load floor that will easily hold a road bike with the front wheel removed.
The front passenger seat also folds flat to extend the floor up to 8 feet in length. A tray on the seatback functions as a desk top with the seat folded flat. There is a net map pocket on the back of the driver’s seat for extra storage.
A unique feature is an auxiliary glove box located on top of the instrument panel. The lid pops up to hold an MP3 player, compact disks, cell phones or other small items.
All four doors have map pockets. The center console incorporates two large cupholders for the front passengers that will easily accommodate water bottles, and a single large cupholder to the rear.
Because of the vehicle’s high roof line, the second-row passengers have plenty of head room. The HHR is relatively narrow, so two adults will fit in back more comfortably than three. Leg and hip room are also excellent. The optional sunroof brings much-needed ambient light into the back of the car, since the side windows are relatively narrow.
The seats are well-designed from an ergonomic stance and easy to adjust. Controls for the audio, heat and air conditioning are easy to reach from both front positions. The roof pillars on the HHR are thicker than normal, restricting the visibility to the sides and rear, but the side view mirrors do an adequate job of compensating.
The base model comes well-equipped with comfort and convenience features, including air conditioning with filtration, a tilt steering wheel, power windows and door locks, remote keyless entry and cruise control.
The preferred equipment group on the test car ($1,800) added the more powerful engine and sport-tuned suspension, a seven-speaker sound system, redundant steering wheel controls, an-auto-dimming rearview mirror with compass, leather steering wheel and shift knob, fog lamps and anti-lock brakes.
Above-average fuel economy
With fuel prices being what they are, the HHR’s 22/30 m.p.g. city/highway fuel economy is very appealing. Unfortunately, that fuel economy comes at the cost of lackluster performance.
While the car has adequate power to merge into high-speed traffic, its lack of low-end torque makes sharp grades and long hills a struggle. In running terms, the HHR lacks VO2 max.
Steering feedback is also a problem, despite its speed-sensitive feature. There is far too much play in the steering wheel, enough for the driver to feel a disconnect between himself and the car.
The brakes do a good job of stopping the car, but the suspension is soft, which doesn’t help in the corners. This is one case where different wheels and tires can make a big difference. It’s worth the money to get the 17-inch rims, to give the wheels a bigger footprint and better traction.
Below-average maintenance costs
To their credit, the engineers at GM made a conscious effort to minimize long term maintenance costs, with features such as an oil-life monitoring system and chain drive. The oil filter housing is cast into the engine assembly, eliminating the need to crawl under the car to change the oil, and the need for a separate oil filter can.
The chain drive should appeal to buyers who plan to pack on the mileage, since a typical timing belt needs to be replaced at about 60,000 miles. A chain drive lasts the life of the vehicle. Balance shafts keep the four-cylinder engine vibration free, making for a more pleasant driving experience.
Standard safety features on the HHT include dual-stage front airbags, three point safety belt harnesses in five seating positions, daytime running lamps and the LATCH child seat attachments.
A good choice for city driving
Its compact dimensions and good fuel economy make the HHR a good choice for drivers who plan to use the vehicle around town to commute and haul cargo. The HHR is relatively inexpensive to fuel and maintain, and its flexible interior makes it exceptionally adept at hauling odd-sized cargo. It has adequate power for the highway, and will work fine for the occasional road trip.
But it’s not the best choice for those who plan to do a lot of driving on rural two-lane roads or unimproved roads. In those cases, a more powerful sport wagon or traditional sport-utility vehicle would be better options.
Likes: A good value, the HHR offers a lot of standard comfort and convenience features. The interior can be configured to haul cargo up to eight feet in length. Retro exterior styling will appeal to buyers looking for something that stands out from the crowd, and the higher-than average fuel economy will appeal to anyone who would rather spend their money on gear than gasoline.
Dislikes: A slightly underpowered engine makes the HHR a chore to drive on hilly roads. The steering is too loose, and there is not adequate feedback for the driver. The suspension is soft, which is especially noticeable at high speeds or when driving on a challenging course.
Base price: $16,425
Price as tested: $22,375
Horsepower: 172 @ 6200 r.p.m.
Torque: 162 @ 5000 r.p.m.
0 to 60: 8.4 seconds
Antilock brakes: Option
Side curtain airbags: Option
First aid kit: No
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 22/30 m.p.g. city/highway
Comments: The Chevrolet HHR comes in two models, LS and LT. The upscale LT comes in two trim levels: 1LT and 2LT. A 2.2-liter 4-cylinder engine rated at 143-horsepower with a five-speed manual transmission is standard. All models are available with an optional four-speed automatic transmission. The Chevrolet HHR is built at GM’s plant in Ramos Arizpe, Mexico.
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