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2006 Chevyrolet HHR

by Steve Siler

Chevy Pumps Out a Prudent, Practical Cruiser Bruiser

Prudence can be found on the streets of Europe, where little tiny cars — usually with four seats and a liftback — are the average family's choice for commuting and taking care of care of family business. In contrast to the States, European SUVs are scarce, and minivans are, indeed, mini.
2006 Chevyrolet HHR

Why do they like small cars? For one thing, buzzing up and down narrow European streets is challenging for larger vehicles, while taxes and astronomically high gas prices (hovering between the equivalent of 8-10 bucks per gallan at the time of this writing), make owning and operating large thirsty cars a pricey luxury.

And so with the recent spike in gas prices in this country, it's no surprise to see Americans taking a more prudent approach to transportation, specifically in the form of increased interest in small wagons and hatchbacks. And for 2006, we have one of the best ones yet for our consideration: the Chevrolet HHR.

The answer to the question everyone asks first: HHR stands for "Heritage High Roof." But one can't help but think that it was a nominal conjugation of SSR, a name assigned to Chevy's other retro trucklet, which pounds the pavement with a monster V-8 and a "spooning" convertible hardtop. And the HHR definitely bears a strong resemblance to the muscle-bound SSR. But alas, no folding metal roof or steroid-enhanced powerplant will be found on the HHR, its powerful looks are for show only.

Speaking of looks, if you think the HHR looks, well, familiar, you're not alone. Chevrolet claims its retro styling is derived from the 1949 Chevrolet Suburban-a much larger, much cruder, less civilized vehicle said to be one of the first SUVs. But the HHR is less an SUV than a wagon, and indeed it appears much more reminiscent of Chrysler's similarly sized, similarly sophisticated PT Cruiser than an old 'Burb, and one can't help but question just how much influence the PT's success had in Chevy's "greenlighting" the HHR.

Regardless of its conceptual kinship with the PT, we think the HHR is the better cruiser. For starters, the HHR has a more crisp and modern look, at least as modern as a retro wagon can be. It appears lowered, with squared-off windows and fenders adding length and geometry where the PT goes curvy and bubbly. The rear end's round taillights remind us of old Corvettes and new Cobalt coupes in equal measure.

The Cobalt, incidentally, shares more than its taillights with the HHR. In fact, Chevrolet's new compact sedan and coupe line donates its choice of 143-hp 2.2-liter and 172-hp 2.4-liter engines, 5-speed manual or 4-speed automatic transmissions, its front-wheel drivetrain and its road manners with its wagon counterpart. In spite of its high-up seating position, you don't feel a lot of body lean in tight corners. Brakes are responsive and predictable.

2006 Chevyrolet HHR Interior

Whereas the HHR's exterior is nostalgic and bold, the interior is modern and comparatively understated. Comfortable, too, with plenty of head and leg room for four adults. The low roofline and upright windshield don't exactly make seeing out as easy as it is in some of the other wagons in the segment, but we never found it problematic on the road. We certainly love the way most controls fall into place, and the digital stereo controls are a particularly cool touch. Versatility abounds: the cargo floor becomes a handy shelf in one quick move, while folding the rear and front passenger seats make accommodating eight-foot ladders a snap. Quality control is a revelation compared with past GM products. The only bones we could pick involved the steering wheel, which appears about a size too large, and the four window switches that are located in the center of the dash, not on the door where they belong.

That was a pretty short list of flaws, by our standards. As General Motors' Vehicle Line Director for Small Cars, Deb Lund, said, "the HHR had to be MORE than a heritage styling statement, it had to deliver to our customers versatility, functionality, safety, value, all in a fun to drive, fuel-efficient well executed package." We couldn't have said it better ourselves.

Interview with Deb Lund

To gain a better understanding of the extroverted HHR, we interviewed one of the key decision makers on the HHR program, the Vehicle Line Director for Small Cars, Deb Lund.

SS: What were some of the challenges your team faced while effectively transforming the Cobalt sedan's platform into an inspired retro wagon?

DL: The HHR is based on the Delta Architecture which is also the foundation for the Saturn ION and the Chevy Cobalt. This architecture delivers, with its very strong and rigid lower dominant body structure, outstanding results in responsive ride and handling, quietness and stability. The engineering team was able to customize this architecture, along with thousands of hours of tuning and calibrating, to make the HHR responsive and a joy to drive.

SS: How has the HHR been received by shoppers?

DL: The HHR has been well received by all lifestyles and ages. People are incredibly busy, and look for ways to improve their efficiency AND have fun. We have found that women-and we are all multitaskers-especially appreciate this little truck. It's stylish, inside and out, comes in fabulous colors, allows us to haul our friends and family COMFORTABLY, and with incredible ease...holding babies or bags, can get to cargo, and reconfigure the seating to now handle our stuff, even 8 foot long loads. The touch pads, remote start, big sunroof, cargo mats, and spacious interior, all make me think, as the vehicle was being developed...."they were thinking of me!"

SS: What features do you think our female readers are going to appreciate the most?

DL: Along with the style and functionality, safety is incredibly important, especially in small vehicles. The HHR is designed to meet /exceed Federal Government and IIHS standards, and the final testing is underway. We have optional side [air] bags, front seat suppression, Child LATCH systems, ABS, OnStar and many other features and systems that I am very impressed with and are very important to have in a small vehicle.

SS: You were glowing as you were doing walkarounds with us [at the press launch]. Which features are you particularly proud of and why?

DL: I love the ability to plug in my iPOD and listen to my favorite tunes, especially with the 260w sub woofer included in the premium sound system. Add the comfy seats and it makes my hour-plus drive back and forth to work quite enjoyable. And I love the versatility of the vehicle.

SS: I know you get this a lot, but how do you respond to people that regard the HHR as a PT Cruiser clone?

DL: Respective to PT comparisons, I ask people to explore the HHR, with all of its features, value and spaciousness, and then reconsider.

For more information visit the Chevy website here.


2006 Chevrolet HHR
Retro Wagon
Model options:

LS, 1LT, 2LT

103.50 inches
Overall length:
176.2 inches
Engine size:

2.2 or 2.4L EcoTec

4-speed automatic or 5-speed manual


Air bags:
2 front dual-side, w/optional side-curtain airbags
Fuel mileage city/hwy:

2.2L EcoTec: 22/30
2.4L EcoTec: 23/30


LS: $ 15,990
1LT: $ 16,990
2LT: $ 18,790