Full 2009 Chevrolet HHR Review
What's New for 2009
More safety features come standard on all models of the 2009 Chevrolet HHR, including ABS, stability control and side curtain airbags. The 2.2-liter and 2.4-liter engines can now run on E85, and the turbocharged SS model is available in the rear-windowless Panel body style. And although the in-dash six-CD changer is no longer offered, the base stereo system now includes satellite radio and MP3 playback. Bluetooth connectivity is also available.
Chevrolet introduced the HHR three model years ago in what was a fairly obvious attempt at competing with Chrysler's successful PT Cruiser. Even though both were small, retro-styled wagons, we felt the HHR had little to offer, as the PT had the upper hand when it came to both engine choice and features. Early HHRs were also hindered by a lack of standard safety features -- omissions included side curtain airbags, antilock brakes and stability control. But improvements over previous model years have made the 2009 Chevy HHR a much more competitive and desirable small wagon. The aforementioned safety features now come standard (although the HHR still lacks rear disc brakes on all models except the SS), and this sharp-looking little wagon can haul up to 63 cubic feet of cargo and achieve 30 mpg on the highway.
We like that Chevy offers the HHR in three distinct flavors. The volume leader is the regular four-door wagon, but business owners (or consumers with a sense of humor) will be intrigued by the Panel version, which has windowless rear cargo doors and side panels, along with useful convenience features like a rear 40-amp power point and storage compartments in the loading floor. If you prefer peppy performance to penuriousness at the pump, there's always the SS version, with its 260-horsepower turbocharged motor and sport-tuned chassis.
Of course, the HHR is far from the only practical small wagon on the market today. In fact, the competition is pretty stiff. The Scion xB offers its own unique appeal, along with nearly 7 extra cubic feet of cargo space and comparable fuel efficiency. The Mazda 3 can't carry as much stuff, but it offers contemporary styling and superior handling, and the Mazdaspeed 3 version is more than a match performance-wise for the HHR SS. There are also the redesigned Toyota Matrix/Pontiac Vibe twins. But if you like the look of the 2009 Chevrolet HHR, we'd say it's definitely worth a test drive.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The front-wheel-drive 2009 Chevrolet HHR is available as a regular four-door wagon or a two-seat Panel variant with windowless rear doors and side panels. Both the regular wagon and the Panel model come in three trim levels: LS, LT and SS. The LS includes 16-inch steel wheels, air-conditioning with cabin filtration, cruise control, keyless entry, a fold-flat front passenger seat, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat, full power accessories and a six-speaker CD stereo with MP3 playback and an auxiliary audio jack. The uplevel LT trim is subdivided into two packages -- standard 1LT and upgraded 2LT. The 1LT includes upgraded 16-inch wheels and an eight-way power driver seat. The 2LT adds a firmer suspension, 17-inch alloy wheels, foglamps, exterior chrome accents, color-keyed running boards, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, Bluetooth connectivity and a premium audio system with a subwoofer. The high-performance SS variant loses the 2LT's standard premium stereo but gains a powerful turbocharged engine, unique exterior styling cues, 18-inch alloy wheels, an exclusive sport-tuned suspension, a boost gauge and two-tone sport seats and interior trim.
Options on the base LS are limited to minor enhancements such as running boards. Major options for the LT include remote vehicle starting (included with the automatic transmission), leather seating with heated front seats, Bluetooth connectivity and a sunroof. The SS can be outfitted with the optional Performance Package, which adds a limited-slip front differential and Brembo front brakes, and the 2LT's premium audio system can also be added. The HHR Panel van comes similarly equipped in the same trim levels but has windowless rear cargo panel doors (they open via remote release), windowless rear quarter panels, cargo floor storage compartments and a rear 40-amp power point for electronic equipment.
Powertrains and Performance
Base LS and midlevel 1LT HHRs come equipped with a 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 149 hp and 152 pound-feet of torque. Optional on the 1LT and standard on the top-level 2LT model is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder generating 175 horses and 167 lb-ft of torque. Both are mated to the standard five-speed manual transmission or available four-speed automatic. The SS comes with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four that pumps out 260 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque when paired with the standard five-speed manual; these numbers drop to 250 hp and 222 lb-ft when the optional four-speed auto is selected.
The naturally aspirated 2.2-liter and 2.4-liter engines are coarse at higher rpm and short on low-end power, though the larger 2.4-liter does deliver a fairly spirited performance once it gets going. The SS model, though, is an altogether different beast, offering up gobs of manic turbocharged thrust that should generate 0-60 sprints in the low 6-second range. EPA fuel economy ratings for the 2.2-liter engine stand at 21 mpg city/30 highway and 24 combined with the manual transmission; a similarly equipped 2.4-liter model has a 20/28/24 rating. HHR SS models are surprisingly fuel efficient given the extra performance, having a 21/29/24 rating with the manual.
Antilock brakes with a front disc/rear drum setup are mandatory across the HHR lineup, with the exception of the SS, which comes with four-wheel antilock disc brakes. Stability control and side curtain airbags are also standard, though front seat-mounted side airbags are not available. OnStar is also standard on all HHR models.
Despite the absence of those side airbags, the HHR earned a highest-possible five-star rating in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration testing for both front- and side-impact crashes.
Interior Design and Special Features
The Chevy HHR's cabin is attractive and functional. It has handsome, bright-ringed gauges, easy-to-use stereo and climate controls and impressive outward visibility on regular wagon models. On the downside, some of the interior plastics are on the cheesy side and outward visibility is substantially compromised on the largely windowless Panel models. The optional leather seats are better-bolstered and more supportive than their standard cloth cousins. Legroom is ample front and rear, and the front passenger seat and rear seats fold easily to provide a flat loading surface. Maximum cargo capacity is admirable, if not class-leading, at 63 cubic feet.
The 2009 Chevrolet HHR features an unusually quiet and comfortable ride for a compact wagon, though the trade-off is overly soft handling characteristics when driven spiritedly. It also doesn't help that the electric power steering system is rather slow-witted and devoid of feel. Braking isn't fun either, as the HHR exhibits tenuous straight-line stability during panic stops. The saving grace for the HHR lineup is the SS model, which handles better than any vehicle with a torsion-beam rear axle and economy-car roots should. But the steering is still a bit vague, even though it's been quickened considerably from the base setup. Overall, though, the SS is a hoot to drive thanks to its tossable nature and eager turbocharged engine. It's also compliant enough over bumps to be a livable daily driver.