What's New for 2010
Not much is new for the 2010 Chevy HHR this year other than an optional rearview camera (late availability). Also, the HHR Panel is no longer available in SS trim.
They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. To find proof for that old maxim, you need look no further than the 2010 Chevrolet HHR. When Chevy introduced this compact wagon four years ago, it was clearly hoping to woo buyers away from the well-established and wildly popular Chrysler PT Cruiser. But despite the fact that both vehicles featured similar retro styling cues, the PT's broader range of engine choices and available features made the HHR look like a case of too little, too late.
The HHR's prospects have been improving, though, thanks to thoughtful tweaks over the years. The 2010 model pretty much stands pat, but last year Chevy added several important standard safety features, including stability control, antilock brakes and side curtain airbags. Along with baked-in virtues like a comfortable ride, a versatile interior with up to 63 cubic feet of cargo space and EPA fuel economy estimates as high as 32 mpg highway, these continual improvements have pushed the HHR out from the PT Cruiser's shadow.
Another point in the HHR's favor is that Chevrolet offers it in three distinct models. The regular four-door wagon is by far the biggest seller, but business owners (or ordinary folks who frequently haul bulky items) will want to check out the Panel version, which loses the rear seats and gains windowless rear doors and rear quarter panels. Those looking for a healthy dose of performance along with their practicality can opt for the sporty SS model, which makes the HHR much more fun to drive by virtue of its 260-horsepower turbocharged engine and sport-tuned suspension.
Aside from its PT Cruiser rival, the HHR faces some pretty stiff competition. The modish Kia Soul and Scion xB offer equally eye-catching exteriors, plus similar fuel economy numbers and typically lower MSRPs, and the athletic Honda Fit is better on gas and boasts a more flexible if not quite as commodious interior. The all-new Mazda 3 hatchback can't match the HHR's cargo capacity, but its swoopier styling and superior handling and build quality give it a definite edge with buyers looking for a more refined driving experience. All that said, the 2010 Chevrolet HHR still manages to fill a unique niche in an appealing way, and we think that makes it worth a test-drive.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The front-wheel-drive 2010 Chevrolet HHR is available in two different body styles: a traditional four-door, five-passenger wagon and a two-seat Panel van. The Panel van 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. The wagon is available in three trim levels -- LS, LT and SS -- while the Panel van is available only in LS and LT trims.
The LS base model includes 16-inch steel wheels, air-conditioning, cruise control, keyless entry, a fold-flat front passenger seat, a 60/40-split-folding rear seat, full power accessories, OnStar and a six-speaker CD/MP3 stereo with satellite radio and an auxiliary audio jack.
The midrange LT trim level is actually broken down into two different variants. The 1LT includes upgraded 16-inch wheels, a power driver seat and remote start. The 2LT adds 17-inch chrome alloy wheels, front foglights, color-keyed running boards, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, Bluetooth and a seven-speaker Pioneer audio system with a subwoofer.
The wagon-only SS model comes standard with the base six-speaker stereo (the Pioneer system is optional), but it gains a powerful turbocharged engine, an exclusive sport-tuned suspension, 18-inch alloy wheels, unique exterior styling details and two-tone front sport seats and interior trim.
Entry-level LS models offer very few options beyond running boards, a rooftop luggage rack and a rear spoiler. The 1LT features a more extensive list of extra-cost add-ons (many of which are standard on the 2LT), including chrome wheels, a sunroof, foglights, leather upholstery, heated front seats, Bluetooth and a USB port. The Pioneer stereo is optional on both the 1LT and SS. Additionally, the SS can be fitted with an optional Performance Package that includes a limited-slip differential and Brembo front disc brakes.
Powertrains and Performance
HHR buyers can choose from three different engines. Entry-level LS and midrange 1LT models get a 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine that puts out 155 hp and 150 pound-feet of torque. A 2.4-liter four-cylinder good for 172 hp and 167 lb-ft of torque is standard on the 2LT and available as an option on the 1LT. Both engines come mated to your choice of a standard five-speed manual transmission or an optional four-speed automatic.
Under the hood of the sportier SS version is a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that cranks out a healthy 260 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque when paired with the standard five-speed manual gearbox. Those numbers drop off to 250 hp and 222 lb-ft when the engine is fitted with the optional four-speed automatic.
EPA fuel economy ratings for the base model's 2.2-liter engine come in at an impressive 22 mpg city/32 mpg highway and 26 mpg combined with the manual transmission (22/30/25 with the automatic). Opt for the 2.4-liter engine and you'll see those numbers drop just a tad to 21 city/30 highway and 24 combined (22/29/24 with the auto). Considering the extra performance the HHR SS powertrain offers, its turbocharged engine is surprisingly fuel-efficient, with EPA numbers of 21/29/24 mpg when mated to the five-speed manual (19/29/23 with the auto).
Standard safety equipment for the 2010 Chevy HHR includes antilock front disc/rear drum brakes on LS and LT models and antilock four-wheel discs on the SS. Stability control and side curtain airbags are also standard, though front seat side-impact airbags aren't offered. GM's OnStar telematics system is also standard across the HHR model lineup.
Despite the absence of those side-impact airbags up front, the HHR earned top five-star ratings for both front- and side impacts in National Highway Traffic Safety Administration crash tests. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety also gave the HHR its highest "Good" rating for frontal-offset impacts, but only an Acceptable rating (second-highest) for side impacts.
Interior Design and Special Features
The 2010 Chevrolet HHR also gets high marks for its attractive and unusually quiet passenger cabin. Both front and rear-seat passengers have ample head- and legroom. The standard cloth seats are comfortable enough, though we found the better-bolstered optional leather seats to be noticeably more supportive. Folding down the front passenger seat and 60/40-split rear seatbacks creates an ample 63 cubic feet of cargo room and a flat load surface.
The gauges are easy to see, and the stereo and climate controls are intuitive. Outward visibility is very good on wagon models, though the same can't be said for the glass-deprived Panel version. The most significant downside is the relatively cheap look and feel of some of the interior plastics.
The driving experience for the 2010 Chevrolet HHR depends largely on the model in question. The softer suspensions found on mainstream LS and LT versions deliver a cushy ride over rough roads but soggy handling during spirited driving. The electric power steering system feels numb, and braking performance from the front disc/rear drum setup leaves a lot to be desired, especially when it comes to straight-line stability during panic stops. Both non-turbocharged engines sound coarse when revved hard, though the larger 2.4-liter is notably more energetic.
The HHR SS is another story altogether with its potent turbo engine, superior four-wheel disc brakes and firmer suspension tuning. The steering is noticeably quicker than that of the base model, even though it still feels a bit vague. Note that the SS's engine output is reduced by 10 hp and a significant 38 lb-ft of torque if you go with the automatic transmission. In any form, though, the SS is a lot of fun to drive compared with its less sporting siblings, and fuel economy remains quite good.