Selling Points: Rugged cargo floor; forthcoming rebates are almost certain
Deal Breakers: Weak engines, uninspired handling, and cheap interior materials
Our Advice: Skip this “all-new” ride that fails to compete with the similar Chrysler PT Cruiser.
These days, every organization from CNN to the Times-Daily-Picayune contains a news item related to the hardships of domestic automotive giant General Motors. Fledgling sales and decreased market share, a disproportionate mix of SUVs for a fuel-conscious buying public, bankruptcy scares, and legacy costs make GM fodder for seemingly endless headlines. But the giant is stirring, shaking off excess baggage in a determined bid to whip itself into fighting condition. Validation is served by the improved Chevy Impala and the all-new Pontiac Solstice, among others.
These signs of product life make the release of the 2006 Chevrolet HHR quite puzzling. This mediocre copy of the aging Chrysler PT Cruiser is little more than over-the-counter relief when GM needs the good stuff from the pharmacist’s private stock. As Olympic hopeful Nancy Kerrigan so eloquently put it, “Why? Why? Why?” Why, GM, and especially Chevy designers, would you copy a model that Chrysler has nearly milked dry over the past several years with your own warmed-over interpretation that must suffer from some serious horsepower envy? To top it off, handling akin to a cardboard box is tossed in along with a bunch of cheap plastic parts and real-world fuel economy that falls short of 22 mpg. Maybe everyone at Chevy was concentrating on the development of the stellar Corvette Z06, leaving little time for sweating the HHR’s details.
The Chevy HHR is, according to its manufacturer, a sales success, one of several emerging bright spots. But after a week behind the wheel of the HHR LT1 with the optional 172-horsepower engine and automatic transmission (the most common model), a reason for purchasing it escapes us. There are better new and used cars available, vehicles with more power, better handling, and in many cases superior warranty coverage. However, for Chevy fans who’ve been gnawing at the bit for a small wagon that offers some utility and basic comfort accented by a driving character devoid of any spirit, consider the HHR the ultimate fix.