2006 Chevrolet HHR
2006 Chevrolet HHR. Click image to enlarge


Review and photos by Peter Bleakney

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With the arrival of the retro-look 2006 Chevy HHR, it would be all too easy to accuse General Motors of crashing the PT Cruiser party a tad late in the game. But I, for one, would like to tip my hat to the General for brightening up the automotive landscape with this bravely styled and cleverly packaged people mover.

At the massive SEMA aftermarket show in Vegas last November, the HHR took the SEMA Vehicle Design Award as the most accessory friendly SUV. GM claims the HHR was designed to be a blank canvas for customizers and tuners, and judging by the plethora of modified specimens that were on the floor, they’ve inspired a fair bit of creativity.

The tuner scene notwithstanding, GM really has its sights set on the burgeoning compact crossover market, where economical, practical and smartly styled vehicles are in vogue.

HHR stands for Heritage High Roof, and here, the ‘heritage’ is justified as this vehicle’s styling is heavily influenced by the 1949 Chevrolet Suburban. GM says they also borrowed some design cues from the recently departed SSR pickup. And surprise – the same guy who designed the PT Cruiser penned this car.

Like the PT Cruiser, the HHR’s sculpted fenders and truck-ish profile make it look bigger than it really is. Unlike the PT Cruiser, the HHR looks tough and ready to rumble. The bold chrome grill really gives it some attitude.

2006 Chevrolet HHR
2006 Chevrolet HHR. Click image to enlarge

Built on the Cobalt’s Delta platform, the HHR is classified as an economy car. My LS tester, with a base price of $18,995, certainly falls in line with a number of other entry-level offerings. Its only option was $600 worth of anti-lock-brakes that come with electronic-traction assist.

Inside, the HHR is a mixed bag of utility, cool retro design features and some odd ergonomics. The doors open wide allowing for easy ingress and the front seats (six-way manually adjustable for the driver) are reasonably comfortable and supportive. In this tester, several stains were showing up on the light grey fabric, which does not bode well for those with ‘active’ lifestyles or messy kids.

2006 Chevrolet HHR
2006 Chevrolet HHR. Click image to enlarge

It certainly feels ‘heritage’ in there. The high belt line and small windows make for a cocoon-like ambience, and you’ll find yourself having to lean forward and peer up to see traffic lights.

The chunky, tilt-adjustable steering wheel has buttons for the standard cruise control, but you won’t mistake this for anything other than an entry-level offering. Although the overall design is pleasing, the shiny seat fabric and hard plastic surfaces look a bit low-rent. However, the way-cool chrome-rimmed speedo with the little inset tach is a nice touch, as are the circular chrome door handles and the tall five-speed shifter topped with a shining round ball.

2006 Chevrolet HHR

2006 Chevrolet HHR
2006 Chevrolet HHR. Click image to enlarge

The centre stack features large and logical controls for the standard HVAC with air conditioning and six-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo. For the iPod crowd, there is an auxiliary input, but sound quality of the system is marginal at best. An extra storage bin with flip-up lid located on the top of the dash is a handy feature.

Four power window buttons are inconveniently located behind the shifter at the bottom of the console.

The shifter’s throws are long and rubbery (just like the ’49 Suburban I bet) and adding to this unique experience is the placement of said cog-swapper. It’s set quite far aft, so your right hand swings the wand way back by your upper thigh and hip. Took me a while to get used to that, as my hand was grabbing for air the first day. The clutch has smooth and progressive take-up, but there is no dead pedal on which to rest your left foot.

The HHR LS is motivated (and I use that word sparingly) by an Ecotec 2.2-litre dual overhead cam inline four cylinder engine that has a peak horsepower output of 143 at 5600 rpm and generates 150 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm. The 1431 kg curb weight of the HHR taxes the little four-banger, and it sounds pretty coarse as it works its way though the gears. Colleague Jil McIntosh said it best when she referred to the HHR as ‘Hardly a Hot Rod’. I’d like to add my own: ‘Hiding from Headwinds Recommended’.

Moving up to the $21,195 LT with a 172-hp 2.4-litre Ecotec four-cylinder engine would certainly help in that regard.

2006 Chevrolet HHR

2006 Chevrolet HHR
2006 Chevrolet HHR. Click image to enlarge

To be fair, the HHR LS is just fine once one accepts its quirky driving experience. It’s all about the cruise, and if you’re not in a great hurry, it certainly has its charms. On the highway, the HHR is a serene and stable tourer with surprisingly little wind noise.

No complaints with the ride and handling either. The structure feels very rigid and road imperfections are dispatched with little intrusion into the cabin. Sure, it leans during brisk manoeuvres, but once it takes a set, the little trucklet handles quite nicely within its limits. The variable-speed rack-and-pinion steering is accurate and well weighted.

Tires on the LS are P215/55R-16 all-season radials on steel rims with alloy-look hubcaps. Front disc/rear drum brakes handle the stopping duties, but electronic brake force distribution is not available.

Where the HHR really shines is in the versatility of its interior. There’s plenty of leg room in the back for adults, and the 60/40 split rear seats fold forward (without having to remove the headrests) creating a large, flat loading area. Additionally, the front passenger seat can fold flat, allowing for 8-foot lengths of lumber, a surfboard or your Cirque de Soleil stilts. The rear floor section lifts to reveal extra storage, and can be placed on higher brackets where it makes a functional picnic table.

2006 Chevrolet HHR

2006 Chevrolet HHR
2006 Chevrolet HHR. Click image to enlarge

My time with the HHR LS was spent mostly on the highway, and it returned a very impressive 7.4 L/100 km. Here’s another definition: ‘Hardly Had to Refuel’.

On a day trip with my family, the AC proved very effective, easily keeping the cabin cool on that blistering day. Unfortunately, the rear upper seatbelt anchors aren’t height adjustable, and both my kids complained of the belts rubbing against their necks.

That aside, the HHR LS is pleasant driving crossover that adds a big dose of practicality and styling panache to everyday motoring duties. The fact that the HHR is still a fairly uncommon sight on our roads only adds to its allure.


Pricing: 2006 Chevrolet HHR


Specifications

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