2011 Chevrolet HHR Review

Chevy’s HHR delivers style and utility, but it’s a shame about the SS model

2011 Chevrolet HHR Review
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Near Milford Proving Ground, the automotive research and testing facility for General Motors in the suburbs of Detroit, we're scooting along Slobart Road in a most unusual performance car from Chevrolet.

FAST FACTS

1. With the SS model eliminated for 2011, the HHR is now offered with either a 155-hp 2.2L 4-cylinder or a 172-hp 2.4L 4-cylinder.

2. Fuel economy for the smaller engine is 22/32-mpg (city/hwy) and the larger motor gets 22/30-mpg.

3. Total cargo room is rated at 62.7 cubic feet.

4. Pricing starts at $18,720 for the LS model and jumps to $21,420 for the 2LT, with mid-range 1LT models priced from $19,720

With its fat-lip fascia hugging the pavement and a spherical stepped hood protrusion concealing a turbo-charged engine, the 2010 HHR SS, is one suped-up crossover utility vehicle (CUV). Consider it the coolest iteration of the Chevrolet HHR compact-class wagon. Sadly, however, GM has since cut this high-powered model from its product lineup.

NOT YOUR AVERAGE FAMILY SEDAN

The HHR (those initials signify "Heritage High Roof") is itself a unique vehicle, looking like some shrunk-down and retro-styled homage to Chevy's Suburban wagon of roly-poly fender and bulging roofline vintage, circa 1949.

Or maybe it's a mutational mixing of the vintage Suburban and Chevy's more recent SSR pop-top convertible pickup due to the forward fenders articulated in edgy bulges and a spherical stepped hood protrusion blunted in front by an in-your-face grille.

And the HHR's distinctive silhouette with three sets of windows etched into the flanks also reminds us of a woody wagon borrowed from those '60s beach-blanket movies with Frankie and Annette.

Yet the lines, a boxy but rolled body with exaggerated fenders and that chin-out grille, plus a roll of sheetmetal wrapping around the top-heavy rear, suggest both old and new forms, as if a gigantic blender, filled with assorted automotive concepts as diverse as a beach buggy, panel truck, hot rod and even a minivan, were whipped up in a concoction that's fresh and clever and too-cool.

Whatever cross-breeding may have occurred in the design progress, the resultant styling for the HHR clearly stands out.

SS MODEL WILL BE MISSED

With the SS model still available at some dealers, it’s worth pointing out, with a bulging dam-style front fascia with foglamps and curvy rocker extension moldings, plus the suspension slammed like a low-down street 'rod.

Engineers at GM's Performance Division developed the HHR SS by adding those wild-style body add-ons, then installing a performance-tuned sport suspension system, 18-inch high-polished aluminum wheels and Michelin Pilot Sport tires, plus a turbo-charged and inter-cooled four-cylinder engine tied to a quick five-speed manual gearbox produced by GM Powertrain Sweden.

All of the dynamic mechanical systems; suspension, steering, brakes, were revised to complement the SS's turbo-charged muscle. For instance, the suspension; consisting of independent front elements via MacPherson struts and a semi-independent twist beam axle in back, employs SS-specific stabilizer bars, spring rates and damper tuning to deliver a tight, road-hugging ride quality with minimal body pitch when cornering. In front, there are twin-tube struts, coil springs with specific damper tuning, stiffer bushings and 23-mm solid stabilizer bar. In back, the change list includes shocks, multi-rate coil springs, taut axle bushings and a 24-mm solid stabilizer bar.

An electric power steering (EPS) system for the rack and pinion mechanism scores special tight tuning with a faster (14.8:1 ratio) rack and pinion gear.

The HHR SS also gets upgraded brakes with vented front rotors and single-piston calipers plus solid discs at the rear. Brakes tie via electronic links to an anti-lock brake system (ABS) with a standard traction control system (TCS) and GM's electronic skid controller, StabiliTrak.

Standard safety content extends to frontal air bags for driver and passenger with side curtain-style air bags concealed in the ceiling above front and rear outboard seats.

TWO 4-CYLINDER OPTIONS REMAIN

Under the hood of the engine for the HHR SS is a 2.0-liter Ecotec DI (direct injection) four-pack fitted with the turbo-charger and air-to-air intercooling system. When tied to the "no-lift shift" five-speed manual transmission, the turbo plant delivers 260-hp of juice with 260 ft-lbs of torque.

The HHR's flat-floored passenger compartment is functional with a high ceiling and voluminous space with two rows of seats, featuring twin buckets in front of a bench for three. Total cargo room is a significant 62.7 cubic feet.

The HHR, when stripped of SS-specific paraphernalia, still consists of two trims, LS and LT. The LS carries a twin-cam 2.2-liter Ecotec inline-four, which produces 155-hp at 6100 rpm plus 150 ft-lbs of torque at 4800 rpm. Fuel economy for this engine is rated the highest at 22-mpg city and 32-mpg highway. The upgraded 1LT trim also uses this engine while the top-level 2LT gets a 2.4-liter engine exclusively. That engine makes 172-hp at 5800 rpm with torque rising to 167 ft-lbs at 4500 rpm. Fuel economy for the 2.4 is rated at 22-mpg city, 30-mpg highway.

The standard transmission for both plants is a five-speed manual by Getrag of Germany. The Hydra-Matic 4T45-E four-speed automatic shifter also works across the board. Cabin gear for the LS trim includes air conditioning, an audio kit with CD deck and six speakers, power controls for windows and locks and mirrors, cruise control and a remote keyless entry device.

The 1LT edition adds power controls for the driver's seat; an up-level audio system with CD/MP3 player and new 16-inch spoke wheels painted Sterling Silver. HHR 2LT goes further with the 2.4-liter engine, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, 260-watt Pioneer sound system, sporty FE3 suspension tuning with StabiliTrak plus 17-inch aluminum wheels and chrome exterior trim elements.

THE VERDICT

The 2010 Chevrolet HHR always was much more than just a competitor for Chrysler’s PT Cruiser.

While both offer a unique exterior shape, the HHR is designed to be an everyday vehicle the family can enjoy. Consider it a Malibu dressed in retro-style. Comfortable and fun-to-look-at, if owning something different is your forte, this may be the family sedan of your dreams.

LOVE IT
  • Excellent dash layout
  • Quirky style
  • Decent utility
  • Good fuel economy
LEAVE IT
  • Lack of center storage area
  • Legroom somewhat confined
  • Seats offer little support
  • No more SS model

RELATED READING

2011 Chevrolet Cruze Review - First Drive
Chevrolet HHR SS Review
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2008 Nissan Rogue SL AWD Review
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