Chevrolet HHR 1LT Review

C Douglas Weir
by C Douglas Weir
chevrolet hhr 1lt review

Brian Wilson is a genius. Back in the day, he'd craft a pop song that etched itself deep into your brain, change a few chords, alter the harmonies and… brainwash you again. Bryan Nesbitt was the chief designer of Chrysler's phenomenally successful P.T. Cruiser. After switching to the Chevrolet label, Nesbitt has picked up his pen once again. He's changed a few lines, altered the platform and given us the HHR. After you've seen his retro-futuristic minivan on the road, you'll never forget it. Yes but… is that a good thing?

This time 'round, Nesbitt drew his inspiration from a 1949 Chevrolet Suburban (…er…uh…okay). Although the "Heritage High Roof" retains the panel van's pulchritudinous proportions, Nesbitt's team added extra cuddliness and a dose of faux belligerence. They replaced the Suburban's gigantic slatted chrome grill with a gently arched rendering of the ill-fated SSR pickup's nose. At the side, they installed windows that ape the Hummer H3's armored car aggression. With a snarky exhaust, rear roof spoiler, running boards and modern-looking aluminum wheels, the overall result is a "me-too" cruiser with an attitude problem.

Slide into the HHR– striking your elbow on the armrest as you shut the door– and the narrowing effect of those big, deep fenders makes itself known. The second thing to hit you (hopefully not literally) is the windshield. It's extremely close, short and vertical. The center stack presents another cliff face, in an old-metal shade of grey. While the cabin's strict horizontality creates a kind of three-dimensional vertigo, at least the architecture maximizes cabin space. The HHR's cargo area– complete with folding and flipping seats, movable shelves and dividers– makes the most of the large, rectangular shape.

Predictably, the HHR's chopped roof constricts sightlines. Unless you carefully adjust the upright seating to place your eyes in the sweet spot, peripheral vision is for naught. The ergonomics of the HHR's handsome three-spoke steering wheel aren't so easily dismissed; the flat perimeter separating the front and rear edges leave harsh edges that hit you in the palm and fingers no matter how you grip it. The cabin plastics are equally deceiving; enticingly grained to the eye but unyielding to the touch. Fortunately, the HHR offers plenty of pleasing details to distract drivers from haptic distress: elegant gauges, underfloor storage, cubbies galore, MP3 compatibility, a chrome-ringed shift knob, fold flat front seat, that sort of thing.

Dynamically, the HHR is a bit too nostalgic for its own good. Remember the days when tiny engines pushed big cars? The HHR 1LT attempts to motivate 3155 lbs. of retro-styled minivan with a 2.2-liter four-cylinder mill good for 143hp and 150 ft.-lbs. of twist. Do the math. We've got time. While you're waiting to get out of your own way, you might want to crank-up the tunes. The HHR's Ecotec powerplant is a hoarse old thing at the top of the rev range, without any kind of compensatory thrust. Sure, the HHR's performance is adequate for ambling schleppers/shoppers. And yes, she'll cruise at "mach-highway" speeds with fuel efficient ease. But pistonheads' adrenal glands will remain dormant, if not comatose.

Unless they thrash the HHR without mercy. Throw the truck into a corner and survival-triggered adrenalin will flow. Let's all recite Cornering Physics Law high roof = low expectations. The HHR's body roll is epic; like turning a bass boat sideways to a howling gale. The truck's slow and numb electric steering system underscores the accuracy of the maritime analogy. Slam on the HHR's anchors, rear drums and all, and the vehicle displays a worrying inability to maintain course. Chevrolet's decision to restrict ABS to HHR's equipped with automatic transmission, and forgo the traction control thing entirely, is bound to place some inexperienced sailor in harm's way…

Over normal street surfaces at relatively lazy speeds, it's easy enough to zone-out. The HHR's Cobalt-based chassis may be about as engaging as a pre-flight safety demonstration, but at least it's quiet and rigid. The HHR's front strut/rear torsion beam suspension effectively masks the worst effects of road-related lumps and bumps. Unfortunately, HHR drivers face the possibility of bumps of a more visceral kind. The truck's massive A-pillars create equally massive blind spots, continuing the blind spot theme on either side of the vehicle and towards the rear three quarter. Eyes on stalks! Eternal vigilance is the price of sensible insurance premiums.

Sales figures say the HHR is a hit. Whether it has the legs of Chrysler's PT Cruiser is another matter. The HHR is a clever device that meets or beats the PT in every major category save driving pleasure– the one area completely beyond Mr. Nesbitt's control. While the Chevrolet HHR has the visuals to gain attention and keep it, it lacks enough dynamic appeal to become a golden oldie.

Join the conversation
2 of 4 comments
  • Sherman Lin Sherman Lin on Apr 11, 2007

    Style wise you either like this look or don't. For some reason while I don't care for the PT cruiser I find myself attracted to this car. This is also a modest hit for GM.

  • Reddog642 Reddog642 on May 13, 2007

    I rented one of this in the begining of may, I would not ever spend my money on one of these. they ride extremely rough you can feel every bump on the road. they are made extremly cheap we were in a storm and the wind was blowing pretty good but could have been worse i stopped the car and when I opened the drivers door the wind took it and pulled it back all the way denting the fender and the door & scratching the paint I took it in to the body shop and it they gave me an estimate of $1,100.00. that my insurance had to cover I would not suggest to anyone to buy one of these, a little wind caused that much damage could you image what another car would do to it. In my opinion they are the unsafest vehicles on the road!

  • Art_Vandelay Gee that's too bad.
  • SCE to AUX Free speech isn't unfettered speech, despite what Mr Musk and Mr Trump think.Still, I'm only interested if this news affects Tesla in some fashion, which I'm guessing it doesn't. Pretty weak connection here.
  • MaintenanceCosts This is very relevant to anyone who would consider buying a Tesla. This same man is the CEO and largest shareholder od the company.And the plaintiff deserves a chunk of flesh. Falsely accusing people of being neo-Nazis from a huge social media account can indeed have far-reaching consequences. As a reminder, the dispute in which this person was falsely accused of participating was between a self-described “chauvinist” group and an even crazier offshoot that the original group had rejected for being, literally, too Nazi.
  • CaddyDaddy A+ appeasement for the ability to continue on in the dictatorial nation of Canada. Throw the censors some red meat. Elon, A. Jones, Sandy Hook, Neo Nazis, False Flags and...... "he’s worried that the situation will interfere with his ability to pursue his goal of working in government..." (the loftiest left wing goal). This has to do with the automobile industry how? Come on Chris, this posting is Trash.
  • Tassos Question of the Day: Fill in the missing word in Janis Joplin's song:"Oh Lord, won't you buy me a Blah Blah? My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends ..."a. Dodge Neon (fast or slow)b. Fugly Subaruc. Damn Nissand. Mercedes-Benz