2011 Chevrolet HHR Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
January 20, 2011

The 2011 Chevrolet HHR stands out with its retro exterior, but it's lackluster in most other respects.

The Chevy HHR is a tall, boxy, car-based wagon that is styled more like a utility vehicle in some respects but based on the now-retired Chevrolet Cobalt. Cargo space is a strength, fuel economy is good, and Chevrolet has done a good job in keeping the feature set up to date, but the interior is cramped for people, and performance is only mediocre.

From the outside, the 2011 Chevrolet HHR is certainly distinctive. There's not much else on the road that can match the HHR on styling; its big-fendered design heritage harks back more than half a century, to the 1949 Suburban, thus the name HHR, which stands for Heritage High Roof. But the down side is that the HHR hasn't changed in more than six years, and some already saw it as derivative of the Chrysler PT Cruiser. In short, overtly retro is played out.

The interior isn't nearly as carefully styled as the exterior, and it's almost as if the designers ran out of time or budget. It's much more "normal" and carlike—almost to the point of being anonymous and drab.

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Once again, the vehicle is available in two different body styles: a traditional four-door, five-passenger wagon and a two-seat Panel van. The HHR Panel van is geared toward small-business use, with windowless rear cargo panel doors and windowless rear quarter panels, along with cargo-floor storage compartments and a rear 40-amp power point for electronic equipment.

The overall driving experience in the 2011 HHR is benign and unexciting. The suspension is soft, so it's not very nimble for tight corners or quick maneuvers, but the HHR 2LT includes a sport-tuned suspension that brings a better sense of responsiveness without sacrificing too much ride quality. The electric power steering in the HHR is a disappointment; it's just too light and imprecise. Performance from either of the four-cylinder engines is adequate but not much more.

The 2011 Chevrolet HHR has a very versatile, expandable interior good for cargo items, or a mix of cargo and passengers, but it's actually not that impressive in terms of people space; even some average-height folks will be pushing into the headliner—which is odd, given the HHR's somewhat tall body.

Fold the back seats forward, and the HHR's design makes a lot more sense. There's a nice, neat cargo space capable of swallowing small pieces of furniture or even the largest Costco runs. And the cargo floor is flat. Although we haven't driven the HHR Panel Van, these observations would suggest that its cargo-centric purpose would be right in line with the HHR's strengths.

The 2011 Chevrolet HHR comes with a pretty strong set of standard features. Even if you go with the base HHR LS, you get air conditioning, an AM/FM/MP3/CD sound system with auxiliary input jack and satellite radio, power windows/locks/mirrors, remote keyless entry, cruise control, 16-inch wheel covers, a trip computer, and OnStar. Major options at the top of the line include a sunroof and heated leather seats, and a MY Link option package brings the HHR up with the times with a Bluetooth interface, OnStar Directions and Connections, and a USB port.

5

2011 Chevrolet HHR

Styling

The design of the 2011 Chevrolet HHR prioritizes function over form, but even the form is feeling dated now.

From the outside, the 2011 Chevrolet HHR is certainly distinctive. There's not much else on the road that can match the HHR on styling; its big-fendered design heritage harks back more than half a century, to the 1949 Suburban, thus the name HHR, which stands for Heritage High Roof. But the down side is that the HHR hasn't changed in more than six years, and some already saw it as derivative of the Chrysler PT Cruiser. In short, overtly retro is played out.

The interior isn't nearly as carefully styled as the exterior, and it's almost as if the designers ran out of time or budget. It's much more "normal" and carlike—almost to the point of being anonymous and drab.

Once again, the vehicle is available in two different body styles: a traditional four-door, five-passenger wagon and a two-seat Panel van.

The HHR Panel van is geared toward small-business use, with windowless rear cargo panel doors and windowless rear quarter panels, along with cargo-floor storage compartments and a rear 40-amp power point for electronic equipment.

Review continues below
5

2011 Chevrolet HHR

Performance

Performance pretty unremarkable—barely adequate in most respects—though the 2011 Chevrolet HHR 2LT handles a bit better.

The 2011 Chevrolet HHR offers a choice of two different four-cylinder engines: a 2.2-liter or a 2.4-liter, along with a standard five-speed manual transmission or optional four-speed automatic comes with either engine on this front-wheel-drive vehicle. LS and 1LT models get the 2.2, while the 2.4 is optional on 1LT and standard on 2LT.

With the smaller engine making 155 horsepower and the larger producing 172 hp, there's really not much of a difference between the two mills, and there's no reason to step up a trim level for it. In either case, the HHR functions reasonably well with an automatic transmission, even though it's an old-tech four-speed.

The overall driving experience in the 2011 HHR is benign and unexciting. The suspension is soft, so it's not very nimble for tight corners or quick maneuvers, but the HHR 2LT includes a sport-tuned suspension that brings a better sense of responsiveness without sacrificing too much ride quality. The electric power steering in the HHR is a disappointment; it's just too light and imprecise.

Review continues below
6

2011 Chevrolet HHR

Comfort & Quality

The 2011 Chevrolet HHR is not at all a good choice for carrying passengers comfortably, but it excels with cargo.

The 2011 Chevrolet HHR has a very versatile, expandable interior good for cargo items, or a mix of cargo and passengers, but it's actually not that impressive in terms of people space.

The HHR's rather high seating positions and low roofline might feel odd to some when they first sit in this boxy wagon. If you're average-sized or shorter, you might come to like it, but taller drivers will find themselves pushing up against the headliner and wedging themselves a bit. In any case, the pushed-upward driving position is an acquired taste. Unfortunately in back seating is also a bit tight, lacking in both legroom and headroom, and the rear bench seat feels somewhat stiff.

Fold the back seats forward, and the HHR's design makes a lot more sense. There's a nice, neat cargo space capable of swallowing small pieces of furniture or even the largest Costco runs. And the cargo floor is flat. Although we haven't driven the HHR Panel Van, these observations would suggest that its cargo-centric purpose would be right in line with the HHR's strengths.

Interior appointments aren't anything special; there's a lot of drab plastic trim, and upholstery and materials are rental-car anonymous, a reminder of the switchgear and trim GM was using on nearly all its vehicles five or more years ago. On the bright side, the HHR feels tight and refined most of the time, with surprisingly little road or wind noise. Ride quality is one negative though; the HHR can get quite bouncy on some highway surfaces.

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6

2011 Chevrolet HHR

Safety

When it comes to safety, the 2011 Chevrolet HHR hardly impresses.

The 2011 Chevrolet HHR is a relatively safe pick, but in a class of overachievers it's mid-pack at best. The HHR hasn't yet been tested in the IIHS's new roof strength (rollover) test, nor has it been tested in the federal government's completely revised testing and ratings system. It did, however, earn five stars for frontal and side impacts under the old tests.

Standard safety equipment for the 2011 Chevy HHR includes anti-lock front disc/rear drum brakes on LS and LT models. Stability control and side curtain airbags are also standard, though front seat side-impact airbags aren't offered. GM's OnStar telematics system is standard across the HHR model lineup as well.

Depending on your height, you might find outward visibility just fine, or downright challenging. With the relatively short windshield and wide pillars, it all depends, so make sure you pay attention on the test drive. And beware, panel-wagon version, which are intended as work vehicles, do have bad rear visibility due to the omission of certain windows.

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8

2011 Chevrolet HHR

Features

For a dated design, the 2011 Chevrolet HHR is still remarkably up-to-date with respect to its feature set.

The 2011 Chevrolet HHR comes with a pretty strong set of standard features. Even if you go with the base HHR LS, you get air conditioning, an AM/FM/MP3/CD sound system with auxiliary input jack and satellite radio, power windows/locks/mirrors, remote keyless entry, cruise control, 16-inch wheel covers, a trip computer, and OnStar.

HHR 1LT models add a power driver's seat, large painted silver 16-inch wheels, and bright trim, while 2LT models get fog lamps, leather steering wheel and shifter trim, and a 260-watt Pioneer sound system upgrade with subwoofer. Major options include a sunroof and heated leather seats.

A MY Link option package brings the HHR up with the times with a Bluetooth interface, OnStar Directions and Connections, and a USB port, and for 2011 the package now includes a one-year subscription plus XM Satellite Radio.

Review continues below
7

2011 Chevrolet HHR

Fuel Economy

Fuel economy is better than that of many compact utility vehicles—and an unexpected strength for the 2011 Chevrolet HHR.

With an all four-cylinder lineup, the Chevrolet HHR is actually quite fuel-efficient and green.

All 2011 Chevrolet HHR models are E85 and flex-fuel compatible; but mileage suffers with E85, and the EPA figures with the primarily corn-based fuel rate as low as 15/21. Based on various real-world driving experiences from our editors, expect low- to mid-20s with gasoline.

The HHR's driving range is pretty impressive—up to 500 miles between service station stops with the more efficient engine.

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Styling 5
Performance 5
Comfort & Quality 6
Safety 6
Features 8
Fuel Economy 7
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