Chevy’s HHR Goes Old School

Your first glance at the all-new-for-2006 Chevy HHR overwhelms you with a sense of deja vu.

Haven’t we been here before?

Isn’t this what the PT Cruiser was and is for Chrysler? A retro people-mover that draws its inspiration from the 1940s? And just when I was saying that General Motors has often had no concept of its own history, re-introducing proud nameplates with sub-par imitations, here comes the HHR (which stands for Heritage High Roof). The HHR pays homage to the 1949
Suburban and other high-roof Chevy trucks of the era.

And it’s the perfect complement to the high-powered SSR in the Chevy lineup. Bot the HHR and SSR come off the assembly line looking like customized vehicles.

Yes, it’s like the PT Cruiser, yet during a test drive, the HHR showed a personality all its own.

At second glance, the HHR has the truck stance on which its retro styling was based. The stance is wide,leaving room for a big, toothy chrome grille and wideset headlights.

That’s form. From a function standpoint, the HHR can operate as a wagon or too-cool-for-school minivan or as a box van. The rear seats fold down completely (as does the front passenger seat), leaving just more than 63 cubic feet of storage space. With the seats up, the HHR can seat five adults and carry their bags.

The tested HHR LT is the top-end of a trio thatincludes an entry LS version, the 1LT and 2LT. The difference in the LT versions is the engine, the LT2 comes with a 2.4-liter inline 4-cylinder, while the LS and LT1 are equipped with a 2.2-liter inline 4 rated at 143 horspower.

The tested HHR LT came with the former – a 172-horsepower 2.4-liter engine with plenty of power and little vibration, a vast improvement over the small engines of even a decade ago.

Given Chevy’s upgrade in its small-car lineup with the Cobalt, and its desire to impress the 20-something tuner set, it’s no surprise that the 4-cylinder is a marked improvement over previous tests. Coupled with a Getrag 5-speed manual transmission, which is standard on all models, even the smaller engine provided excellent acceleration and plenty of low-end torque.

Bottom line, the HHR is a very driveable vehicle. Beyond solid performance, the HHR gets very good fuel economy – 22 mpg city and 30 mpg highway.

Sure, it has a few quirks here and there – mostly the unusual locations of a few interior gadgets take more than a week to get used to – but the positives far out-weigh the negatives.

The interior has a small but neatly packaged instrument cluster and the control panel for all else is contained in a well-designed center console that is easy to reach and operate.

The tested HHR LT came with a base price of $16,425 and included about $3,300 worth of options. The LT2 equipment group, which also included a sport-tuned suspension, anto-lock brakes and speaker upgrades, was an extra $1,800. XM Radio, side head curtain airbags and 17-inch alloy wheel were extra upgrades on top of

The total cost of the tested HHR was $20,900. But like the PT Cruiser, the HHR comes with a fairly wide range of pricing, starting at $15,990 for a base LS version.

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