What's New for 2006
The HHR is an all-new compact wagon based on the Cobalt platform. Its retro styling is a throwback to the '49 Suburban.
A new entry for 2006, the Chevrolet HHR is a direct competitor to compact wagons like the PT Cruiser, Matrix and GM's own Vibe. HHR stands for Heritage High Roof, and GM says the compact wagon's styling is a tribute to the '49 Suburban. There's no question that the HHR looks an awful lot like the PT, though its boxier lines give it a stronger delivery truck resemblance.
Under the hood of the front-drive Chevy HHR you'll find one of two four-cylinder engines. A 143-hp 2.2-liter is standard on base LS and midlevel 1LT models. Optional on the 1LT and standard on the top-line 2LT is a 2.4-liter engine that puts out 172 hp. Even with the 2.4, the HHR doesn't have much spunk down low. Acceleration is more spirited once the engine revs up, though plenty of noise accompanies these efforts. On the plus side, the ride is quiet and comfortable as the front strut/rear torsion beam suspension competently filters out bumps and ruts. Unfortunately, engineers weren't able to work the same magic with the wagon's handling. Body roll is excessive during cornering, and the electric steering is slow and numb. Braking is another problem area, as the Chevy wagon exhibits poor straight-line stability during maximum braking efforts. Dynamically, the HHR can't match the more nimble, sprightly feel of rivals such as the Vibe and Mazda 3.
Inside, driver and passengers sit tall and visibility is excellent in all directions. The Chevy HHR is longer than the PT Cruiser or Vibe, and this opens up more space behind its rear seats. For larger jobs, the plastic-backed rear seats fold completely flat as in the Matrix/Vibe. With 63 cubic feet, the HHR has as much total cargo capacity as the PT and, unlike in the Chrysler, you don't have to completely remove the rear seats.
Overall, the 2006 Chevrolet HHR provides roomy, practical family transportation in an eye-catching retro wrapper. But with others in the class offering quicker acceleration, tighter handling and better brakes, you'd be well advised to explore all your options before settling on the Chevy.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The Chevrolet HHR is a compact four-door wagon and comes in three trim levels: LS, 1LT and 2LT. The LS includes essentials like air conditioning with cabin filtration, 16-inch wheels, a six-speaker CD stereo with an input jack for portable music players, a flat-folding front-passenger seat, cruise control and power windows, mirrors and locks. The LT trim is broken up into two groups, 1LT and the 2LT Enhanced Package. The 1LT includes an eight-way power driver seat, an upgraded MP3-compatible stereo and alloy wheels. The 2LT adds a firmer suspension setup, 17-inch wheels, a seven-speaker Pioneer sound system, foglamps and additional chrome trim. Options on the Chevy wagon include leather upholstery, seat heaters, an in-dash CD changer, satellite radio, a sunroof and OnStar.
Powertrains and Performance
Standard on the LS and 1LT models is a 2.2-liter, four-cylinder engine rated for 143 horsepower and 150 lb-ft of torque. A 2.4-liter engine with 172 hp and 162 lb-ft of torque is standard on the 2LT package and available as a stand-alone option on the 1LT. A five-speed manual transmission is standard on all Chevy HHR models, and a four-speed automatic is optional. Ordering the automatic nets you a remote vehicle start system.
Front disc and rear drum brakes are standard, with four-wheel antilock control standard on the 2LT and optional on all other models. Traction control is included with ABS when you order an automatic transmission, but stability control is not offered. Head-protecting side curtain airbags for front and rear passengers are optional.
Interior Design and Special Features
An attractive yet functional design gives the Chevrolet HHR one of the most inviting GM interiors of late. The metal-rimmed gauges are sharp, and the stereo head unit offers large dials, a scrolling display and a direct hookup for portable digital media listeners. Unfortunately, the window buttons are inconveniently mounted behind the shifter, and some of the plastics seem cheap. Legroom is adequate front and rear, but shoulder room can be tight for adults. The cloth seats are merely passable, but the optional leather chairs have extra cushioning that increases comfort. As in the Pontiac Vibe, the rear seats fold easily, providing a perfectly flat load surface coated in wipe-clean plastic. Maximum cargo capacity is 63 cubic feet.
Even with the larger 2.4-liter engine, the 2006 Chevrolet HHR isn't a fast car. Low-end torque isn't particularly impressive and the engine gets noisy as it revs. The HHR's best attribute is its smooth, quiet ride. On twistier sections of road, it's best to keep things at a relaxed pace, because the suspension and steering really aren't up to the task of aggressive driving. Stopping distances are acceptable in normal traffic, but the HHR has an unsettling tendency to pull left and right during maximum braking efforts.