Full Edmunds Expert Review: 2008 Chevrolet HHR Wagon
What's New for 2008
The 2008 Chevrolet HHR receives minor feature updates this year. OnStar is standard across the lineup and stability control has been added as an option. Debuting later in the model year will be the HHR SS with a 260-horsepower turbocharged engine.
Introduced two years ago, the Chevrolet HHR is a modern take on the expressive, big-fendered American vehicles of the late 1940s. Chevrolet says the HHR moniker refers to Heritage High Roof, and the model's overall styling was inspired by the 1949 Chevy Suburban. Most prospective buyers wouldn't know a '49 Suburban if it ran them over, but they will likely be drawn to the HHR's mix of classic-car styling, everyday practicality, mainstream mechanicals and affordable sticker price.
Like the Chrysler PT Cruiser, Dodge Caliber, Pontiac Vibe and redesigned Scion xB, Chevy's sporty HHR offers a tall passenger compartment and lots of usable room. For example, the HHR is 4 inches shorter than the compact Chevy Cobalt, yet offers almost 6 extra inches of rear legroom. And at nearly 24 cubic feet with the rear seat up, the HHR offers one of the best luggage capacities in its class.
Where the HHR suffers is in overall performance and refinement. Its base engine struggles to sufficiently motivate the 3,100-pound vehicle, and the HHR doesn't feel as responsive as its lighter and less powerful rivals when accelerating or cornering. On the plus side, it does have a smooth and quiet ride, with a softly tuned suspension that handily soaks up bumps and surface irregularities.
Overall, the 2008 Chevrolet HHR delivers practical and roomy transportation with retro styling that's distinctive and appealing. But given that competitors like the Mazda 3 offer better performance and handling while the Scion xB is more up-to-date in terms of image and features, it's a good idea to check out all your options first before deciding on the HHR. That is, unless you want to wait for the 260-hp SS Turbocharged model expected later this year with high-performance suspension tuning, 18-inch wheels and various other goodies to sweeten the deal on this otherwise utilitarian retro-flavored wagon.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The compact, front-wheel-drive 2008 Chevrolet HHR is available as a regular four-door wagon or a two-seat Panel variant with solid and handle-less rear doors. The regular wagon comes in two main trim levels: LS and LT. 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 an auxiliary audio jack.
The uplevel LT trim is actually available in two packages: standard 1LT and enhanced 2LT. The 1LT includes upgraded 16-inch wheels, an eight-way power driver seat and an enhanced MP3-compatible stereo. The sportier top-level 2LT adds a sport-tuned suspension, 17-inch alloy wheels, foglamps, exterior chrome accents, color-keyed running boards, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls and a premium audio speaker system with subwoofer.
Major options for the LT include remote vehicle starting (included with the automatic transmission), leather seating with heated front seats, in-dash CD changer, satellite radio and a sunroof. The HHR Panel van comes similarly equipped in the same trim levels but has solid rear cargo panel doors (they open via remote release), 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 backed by a standard five-speed manual transmission, with a four-speed automatic optional. The engines are somewhat noisy, and due to the HHR's heft, neither provides an abundance of thrust down low. However, the larger 2.4-liter delivers more spirited performance once engine rpm and road speed spool up. The EPA gives the 2008 Chevy HHR with the 2.4-liter engine and automatic a fuel economy estimate of 22 mpg city and 28 mpg highway.
GM's OnStar emergency communications system is now standard on all 2008 Chevrolet HHRs. A basic front disc/rear drum brake setup is included across the lineup; ABS is standard on the 2LT and optional on the LS and 1LT as part of the Enhanced Safety Package, which also includes side curtain airbags. Front seat-mounted side airbags are not available. Traction control is included with ABS when ordered with an automatic transmission, and is standard on all 2LT vehicles, as is this year's new addition of stability control.
In National Highway Transportation Safety Administration testing, the HHR earned a highest possible five-star rating for occupant protection in both front and side-impact crash tests.
Interior Design and Special Features
Attractive and functional, the 2008 Chevrolet HHR's cabin has handsome bright-ringed gauges, easy-to-use audio systems and impressive outward visibility for the regular wagon models. Less happily, the window buttons are awkwardly mounted behind the shifter, and some of the interior plastics are of mediocre quality. The standard cloth buckets are not as comfortable as we'd like, but the optional leather seats are better cushioned and more supportive. Legroom is ample front and rear owing to the HHR's voluminous layout, and the front passenger seat and rear seats fold easily to provide a flat load surface trimmed in easily cleaned plastic. Maximum cargo capacity is among the class leaders at 63 cubic feet.
The Chevy HHR's strength is a smooth and quiet ride, and it's really in its element pointed straight down the highway. When the road gets curvy, it's best to maintain an easygoing pace, as the suspension and steering just can't keep up with overly aggressive driving. Body motions are not well controlled, and the electric-assisted steering is slow to respond and numb in feel. Braking is another weak area, as the HHR exhibits a loss of straight-line stability during maximum braking.