Interior Comfort and Ergonomics
The first thing to note is that in order to shift into reverse gear, you need to pull up on a concentric ring below the shift knob. If you don’t, you won’t be able to get into reverse. We did a quick search of the owner’s manual and didn’t find any mention of this. Hmmm. Either we missed it or it’s an oversight on Chevy’s part.
Everything is laid out clearly and within reach on the center console. A large speedometer dominates the instrument panel while a smaller intersecting tachometer lies to the right. There is a small Auto Meter turbo gauge integrated into the A-pillar. Reading all of the instrumentation regardless of lighting condition was very easy. The front performance seats had Alcantara-like (“UltraLux” is what Chevy calls it) center sections with grippy, accented bolsters which adds to the sporty interior. The leather-wrapped steering wheel had a tilt adjustment which helped with the driving ergonomics. The HVAC is powerful and quickly cools the large interior. One of the cool features of the radio is the preset being identified in the LED screen … whether it was a radio station or a satellite station, I could see the radio/satellite station value assigned to a button. The rear seats (split 60/40) fold flat to give useful and cavernous space. Even the front passenger seat folds flat when you have to move that extra long ladder or a set of 2×4′s from the lumber yard.
Vrrrooom. The HHR is a large vehicle and you don’t normally think of a vehicle this size being able to do 0-60 in just over 6-seconds. The engine loves to rev and it’s easy to hit the rev limiter in the lower gears and have power cut abruptly. Shifting before redline for each of the lower gears will keep you accelerating rapidly to triple-digit speeds. With traction control off, it’s easy to spin the front wheels. I took my dad with me for a test drive, turned off traction control, and dropped the clutch … we both grinned as the wheels spun. Turning traction control “on” and repeating the same antics, there’s a slight chirp and then electronics intervene for smooth acceleration. There’s some turbo lag, but it’s not annoying. Chevy even created a feature (“Zero Lift”) to allow a user to maintain the RPM’s by not requiring you remove your foot from the gas pedal while shifting. I never quite re-taught my shifting habits to take advantage of this feature, but it’s a great idea.
Supposedly tuned on Germany’s Nürburgring’s track, the HHR SS is very agile on it’s feet for a 3,300 lb vehicle. Zipping through traffic on Hwy 101 while accelerating is actually fun and not scary. The body doesn’t lean excessively nor is there any looseness in the chassis. Point it in the direction you desire and it goes. Change directions again and it responds instantly. No wallowing. No hesitation or kickback. The HHR wears 18”, 225/45 Michelin MXM4 providing ample grip. High speed sweepers were controlled with a slight squeal from the tires. Despite the wide tires, the steering is well-weighted and provided good feedback. The Chevy tracks very well on the freeway and there’s little lash in the steering.
What’s not to like? Well, I’m definitely partial to this design over Chrysler’s PT Cruiser. The continuation of the front fender bulge to the front doors is slick and the design continues on the rear doors to the rear fenders. The rear windows are a bit small limiting visibility.The lower stance of the SS version (aided by the side sills and front and rear bumpers) is perfect. There’s not a large gap of space between the ground and body, nor is there a large gap between the tires and fenders. The interior is highlighted with red vinyl accents on the seats, doors, and headrests producing an easy to clean yet sportier interior. In my opinion, the best part of the car is the leading edge of the hood. The complex curves surrounding the grilled radiator opening is downright smooth and sexy. The small spoiler over the rear hatch is subtle, yet it adds to the car’s character. The Victory Red paint had depth and was very smooth.
Some say that you pay for performance … whether it’s a car, computer, engineer, CEO, etc. However, with the HHR, you’re getting a bargain. The SS stickered around $24.5k, and I went to Chevy’s site to “build” my own discovering there’s a $2500 rebate being offered right now (July 2008) bringing the cost down to $22k. Now that’s a bargain for a wagon with such performance capabilities in addition to its utility. Gas mileage was better than the PT Cruiser and the usable space is greater in the SS. Pricewise, a loaded PT Cruiser Limited is a bit more expensive. Comparing it to the Honda Element SC that I drove for the my last review, the SS wins hands down: it is quieter, has a better ride, better gas mileage, handles better, cheaper (with the rebate), looks better and has about 100 more horsepower.