Chevy brings a new player to the tall-wagon mix

August 26, 2005|by MALCOLM GUNN/Wheelbase Communications

General Motors has dug deep into its time vault to create the Chevrolet HHR, an interesting mix of new ideas, technology and classic North American styling cues.

The new four-door truck-like wagon is reminiscent of a late-1940s Suburban panel van combined with the performance-laden SSR pickup first introduced in 2004. The fact that the HHR also evokes a mental image of Chrysler's PT Cruiser might be an unintended consequence, but it's tough to ignore. Both vehicles are memory machines of a sort and both are similarly sized, although the Heritage High Roof (HHR) exceeds its rival in length by more than seven inches.

As with the PT (now entering its sixth model year), the HHR's decades-old styling cues mask a thoroughly modern automobile. Its basic architecture has been adapted from Chevy's Cobalt small-car line, providing a rigid platform designed to keep noise, vibration and harshness to a minimum and convey a certain tight-as-a-drum feeling to the driver and passengers.


The HHR's interior is as stylish as it is utilitarian. There's a certain shoulder-rubbing coziness in the forward portion of the cabin, with room for up to three perched on the 60/40 split-rear bench. Long-legged types will appreciate the generous head room along with a serious amount of floor space. With all but the driver's bucket folded flat, there's an enormous area for transporting large objects up to eight feet in length. The load floor can also be raised to create a two-tier shelf, making the cargo hold even more useful.

Additional space for hiding smaller items such as cell phones, glasses and snacks can be located in a secondary glove box positioned atop the instrument panel. Two additional bins are located under the floor directly behind the rear seat and a larger oddment container is situated below the load deck.

Base LS and 1LT versions come with a 143-horsepower 2.2-liter four-cylinder, while a 172-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder is optional on the 1LT, but standard with the premium 2LT model.

Either motor can be connected to a five-speed manual transmission, or optional four-speed automatic. Select the latter and you'll automatically (pardon the pun) receive a remote car starter.

All HHRs arrive nicely turned out with air conditioning, power windows, locks and outside mirrors, keyless remote entry and a CD player that includes an input jack for connecting a variety of external digital players. Order the 1LT and the list grows to include an eight-way power driver's seat with power lumbar support, 16-inch alloy wheels and a chrome appearance package.

Ante up the extra coin for the 2LT and, along with the bigger engine, features such as anti-lock brakes, 17-inch wheels, fog lamps, sport suspension and a punchier audio system are included.

Leather-covered seats, power sunroof, roof rack side rails and traction control for automatic-equipped HHRs can also be purchased.

So, the HHR and the PT Cruiser are set to duke it out, but remember, they're not the only game in town. If the whole yesteryear design thing really isn't your thing, you can pick from an assortment of fresh-faced tall-wagon competitors, such as the Mazda3, Pontiac Vibe, Toyota Matrix and the soon-to-arrive '06 Dodge Caliber.

Whatever your choice, the HHR's union of unique styling, space-efficiency and affordability represents a trend that is likely to only gain momentum in the coming months.

Copyright 2005, Wheelbase Communications

The Herald-Mail Articles