Built on the Dodge Neon platform, the first PT Cruisers were front-wheel drive, five-passenger wagons that featured anemic four-cylinder engines and funky yesteryear styling, inside and out. Yet, with those odd looks came generous interior space, a terrific driving position, and, as it turned out, a long waiting list. However, in time and as demand was satisfied, interest in this retro Chrysler waned.
To curb the decline, engineers eventually brought to market two turbocharged versions of the PT, and in 2005, a convertible. Today, Chrysler has the retro small wagon market pretty well covered.
Be that as it may, Chevrolet has decided that there’s no time better than the present to release its own version of the PT Cruiser, the HHR.
Due to arrive on dealers’ lots this fall, the 2006 Chevrolet HHR is a five-passenger, front-wheel-drive wagon that is powered by an anemic four-cylinder engine and features funky, yesteryear styling, inside and out. Designed by Brian Nesbitt (the same guy who designed the PT Cruiser during his stint at Chrysler), the HHR made its debut at the 2005 Los Angeles Auto Show, at which time General Motors spokespeople insisted that the HHR was not just a Chevrolet-badged Chrysler PT Cruiser.
Let’s see if that’s true, at least on paper.
From a design perspective, whoever suggests these two cars didn’t originate in the same mass of brain tissue is on crack. Though, it is obvious – the blocky, more muscular Chevrolet HHR got the Y chromosome, while the sleek Chrysler PT Cruiser came up with double X’s.
Up front, both wagons (or SUVs, as the EPA prefers to call them) feature bulging hoods that expand rearward from a retro-style radiator grille, gradually widening as they approach the A-pillar and towering above the front fenders. Front and rear wheel wells flare out, reminiscent of cars from the 1940s, and carry their shapes into both the front and rear doors. Both models are dressed with chrome door handles, but the side profile of the Chevrolet HHR shows thicker B-pillars and a larger rear quarter window.
From the rear, differences are better defined. The PT Cruiser, for instance, includes taillights incorporated into the flared fenders, whereas the Chevy HHR features vertically-stacked dual taillights higher up on the rear quarter panel. Also, the HHR’s D-pillar stands upright compared to the PT’s, and the license plate frame is built into the tailgate instead of the bumper.
Despite having about seven fewer inches in length and two inches less in width, the 2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser is able to provide more overall interior room than the 2006 Chevrolet HHR. The PT offers an additional inch of rear legroom, about an inch more front and rear shoulder room, and an extra cubic foot of cargo room. For its part, the HHR has about a half-inch of extra front headroom.
Dimensions aside, the interiors of the Chevrolet HHR and Chrysler PT Cruiser offer similar designs. Among the likenesses are the shape of the dash (especially the passenger side dash panel), the large metallic shift knob, the independent fold-down center armrests, and the location of metallic door handles on similar two-tone door panels. Both models feature split-folding rear seats, though the seatbacks and cargo floor in the HHR are covered in hard plastic.
When it comes to motivation for the HHR and PT Cruiser, it’s all about four-cylinder, dual overhead cam engines with varying degrees of power.
Under the hood of the 2006 Chevrolet HHR is a 2.2-liter engine that puts out 143 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 155 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,000 rpm. In comparison, the base 2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser, displacing 2.4-liters, offers 150 horsepower at 5,100 rpm and 165 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,000 rpm. Both are mated to a standard five-speed manual transmission, with four-speed automatics being optional.
Power-hungry drivers can equip their HHRs with an optional 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, good for 172 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 162 lb.-ft. of torque at 5,000 rpm. Chrysler trumps Chevy with two optional turbocharged engines that quiet the HHR’s available 172 horses. The lesser of these blown PT Cruiser engines is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder that offers 180 horsepower at 5,200 rpm and 210 lb.-ft. of torque at 2,800 rpm. Even more punch comes from yet another version of the turbocharged 2.4-liter engine that’s offered on the PT Cruiser GT, with ratings of 220 horsepower at 5,100 and 245 lb.-ft. of torque at 2,800.
Regardless of how many horses you buy from the factory, the PT Cruiser tips the scales at about 3,100 lbs. (add about 80 lbs. for the automatic transmission). Chevrolet has not yet released an official curb weight for the 2006 HHR, though with an extra 7.4 inches of length we can expect it to be at least as heavy, if not heavier.
Whether it’s the styling or the dimensions, the 2006 Chevrolet HHR and 2005 Chrysler end up looking pretty darn similar. Cruising by at 80 mph on the highway, it will be near impossible to tell the difference, but reaching 80 mph will likely serve as a clear distinction.
Less distinctive are the prices of the base models, which run about even when comparably equipped. The base HHR, for example, comes standard with air conditioning, whereas a/c is a $1,000 option on the base PT. However, the 2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser is offered with generous rebates, while the Chevy HHR will likely go on sale sans incentives, at least for a short period. Of course, given that the HHR is largely an updated PT Cruiser with less available power, the wait for incentives may not be a long one.
The differences, subtle as some of them may be, are real and number just enough to set these two cars apart. PT Cruiser shoppers looking for a more aggressive appearance will like the 2006 Chevrolet HHR; in turn, those interested in the HHR may be swayed by the Chrysler’s turbo power. But, with Consumer Reports naming the Chrysler PT Cruiser as one of the few domestic products on its recommended used cars list for its excellent reliability record, it seems Chevrolet had better insure that the HHR is flawlessly engineered and assembled.
In the end, however, only so much can be told about a car without the all-important test drive. We’ve got our impressions of the PT Cruiser, and will be keeping those in mind when we get behind the wheel of the new Chevy HHR later this year. Maybe that time behind the wheel will finally answer why Chevrolet decided to launch such an obvious replica of a proven competitor into a saturated niche market. Better yet, maybe some time in the HHR will tell us why someone should contemplate skipping the venerable veteran and take a risk on the green newbie.
|2006 Chevrolet HHR||2005 Chrysler PT Cruiser|
|Base Prices (including destination)||$15,990 - $18,790||$14,270 - $23,805|
|Engine Size/Type||2.2-liter DOHC four-cylinder; 2.4-liter DOHC four-cylinder||2.4-liter DOHC four-cylinder; turbocharged 2.4-liter DOHC four-cylinder (two with different power ratings)|
|Horsepower||143 @ 6,000 rpm172 @ 6,200 rpm||150 @ 5,100 rpm180 @ 5,200 rpm (turbo)220 @ 5,100 rpm (turbo)|
|Torque||155 lb.-ft. @ 4,000162 lb.-ft. @ 5,000||165 lb.-ft. @ 4,000210 lb.-ft. @ 2,800 (turbo)245 lb.-ft. @ 2,800 (turbo)|
|Transmission||Five-speed MT (standard)Four-speed AT (optional)||Five-speed MT (standard)Four-speed AT (optional)|
|Curb Weight||Not Available||3,101 lbs.|
|Length||176.2 inches||168.8 inches|
|Width||69.1 inches||67.1 inches|
|Wheelbase||103.5 inches||103.0 inches|
|Height||63.1 inches||63.0 inches|
|Legroom (1/2 – in.)||40.6/39.5||40.6/40.9|
|Headroom (1/2 – in.)||39.6/39.0||39.2/39.5|
|Shoulder room (1/2 – in.)||53.5/52.7||54.5/53.9|
|Cargo Volume (cu. ft.)||63.1||64.2|
|Basic Warranty (years/miles)||3/36,000||3/36,000|
|Powertrain Warranty (years/miles)||3/36,000||7/70,000 (drops to 3/36,000 for 2006 model year)|
|Corrosion Warranty (years/miles)||6/100,000||5/100,000|
Photos courtesy of DaimlerChrysler and General Motors