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2006 Chevrolet HHR

by Martha Hindes

Chevrolet HHR
Chevrolet HHR Interior

For an inveterate schlepper, Chevy's HHR would have to be love at first sight. Cute in a funky way. Roomy? You bet. "Haul Heaven" for days when loads of cargo, or five people with luggage need to go places. We could envision hours spent shopping without unloading at home midway. And that was our initial reaction before testing it out.

The HHR, new for '06, has kind of an oddly oldie quality that works in a practical kind of way when common sense suggests maybe it shouldn't, sort of like Chrysler and Honda with their PT Cruisers and Elements respectively. Sure, we remember some reviews that bemoaned the HHR as ersatz PR Cruiser. Those were somewhat impressive until we realized many were copies of a very few opinions scattered around the internet. (When your base price is in the $15,000 range, folks, you shouldn't expect thundering power or lavish splashes of leather.)

What we decided about PT Cruiser, after having a blast driving it around a few days, was this is a vehicle that's fun with a lot of attitude thrown in. We didn't expect it to rip around with eight-cylinder authority. With a four-banger under its hood instead, it didn't. That could be a downer for purists who had expected a real '49 Suburban from the echo vehicle it spawned. Too bad. What it did was deliver a car-like ride in friendly retro style and extremely usable manner with details meant to serve the budget minded without being sparse.

HHR comes in base LS, LT and LTZ trims. It's powered by two Ecotec fours, a 143-HP 2.2-liter and 172-HP 2.4-liter, both with manual or optional automatic trans. For the myspace crowd, CD audio connects with iPod and MP3. Among highlights: Express-powered sunroof, remote start, XM-satellite radio interface, and room for a surfboard with seats folded down.

Complainers might yet prod Chevy into offering a mightier powerplant for the HHR -- just as high fuel cost and greenhouse gas concerns are registering with consumers. If so, let them buy one. Otherwise, maybe the thumbs-down crowd should find another Colosseum.