The most distinctive car Chevy makes is probably the Corvette. But if you're looking for something more practical and a lot less expensive, but still fun, try the HHR. And with OnStar you receive a portfolio of useful and life-saving features.
In its second year on the market, the retro-styled little wagon already boasts some improvements. Chevy boosted power in the standard 2.2-liter four and the premium level 2.4-liter, to 149 and 175 horsepower, respectively. My Sunburst Orange Metallic tester had the bigger engine, and it felt like more than enough for driving enjoyment. The car does a fine job in the daily commute and in town, including schlepping oversized musical instruments on its flat floor when the second row seats are dropped. Lower the front passenger seat and you can slide an 8-foot ladder inside on a rainy day.
For testing purposes, I pressed the little OnStar button. This in-car, satellite-linked safety and concierge service has been around for years, but you may have thought it was only for Cadillacs and Buicks. Not any more. OnStar can unlock your car remotely. If you are in a crash they automatically call you-and if there's no answer, they dispatch medical help. You can call if you need medical attention. OnStar helps locate your car if it's stolen. Its staff can direct you to restaurants, public places, and entertainment venues, too.
The latest OnStar development is called Turn-by-Turn Navigation. You can request directions to a location and OnStar configures it and then downloads the navigation to your car. So-without a screen, a voice guides you through to your destination. With your eyes on the road, you're safer, and you never have to look at a map (or refold it). And in my little HHR it was just a $695 option, versus around $2,000 for a full-boat navigation system.
I tried the Turn-by-Turn navigation, and it works great. A pleasant-voiced woman guided me through. Once the downloaded directions started, I chuckled at the mispronunciation of words like Chabot (they said "chabbit," not "shabow"). I also initially requested a street in a new housing development and OnStar didn't have it yet-they update every six months.
If you think the HHR is GM's version of Chrysler's PT Cruiser, you're only partly right. The designer of the PT Cruiser, now a GM employee, actually penned it, but it is larger and not really that similar. The upright windshield is slit-like, and the front window pillars are quite stumpy. The round details inside and out feel a bit like the 1950's, but materials and equipment are of this century.
HHRs come with a good assortment of standard features, even though the base price of the LS model is less than $17,000. Every HHR comes with air conditioning, cruise control, remote keyless entry and power windows, locks and mirrors. The standard six-speaker stereo system comes with a handy iPod jack. You can step up to a booming 260-watt seven-speaker system with the LT packages, 1LT or 2LT.
The 1LT package adds power seats, an MP3 player for the audio system, and 16-inch alloy wheels (the LS's wheels are steel, but they're still 16s). The $1,800 2LT package includes the bigger engine, a sport suspension, and 17-inch alloys. You also get antilock brakes, fog lamps, a bright exhaust tip, chrome trim, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob, and the aforementioned upgraded Pioneer sound system with subwoofer. Feel free to add more things, like an automatic transmission (a five-speed manual is standard), power sunroof, and super shiny polished wheels. On my orange test car, these rims really increased the eye-popping potential.
The HHR with the standard engine rates a combined highway/city fuel economy of 25 miles per gallon with the stick, 24 with the automatic. The 2.4-liter powerplant is 24 mpg with the stick and 22 mpg with the autobox. I got 19.9 miles per gallon, according to the handy trip computer.
The EPA also rates frontal and side crashes, and the HHR received a top score of five stars. From an environmental standpoint, the HHR picks up a 6 for Air Pollution and a 7 for Greenhouse Gases-way better than average.
With destination charges and my option list, the final sticker price of my HHR was $23,534, not cheap anymore, but this one was full boat. Although some interior plastics looked and felt cheap, the design was beautiful and the car was definitely comfortable. On one impulse drive through curving, tree-covered back country, the sport suspension did its job and the electric power steering felt quick and natural.
You may chuckle at the HHR's slightly cartoonlike quality, but the car does everything you need without drinking overly from the fuel supply and provides more comfort and entertainment than you might expect.