So we stopped into the rental agency at LAX yesterday and asked what we might hope to score for our drive to San Diego. The woman behind the counter said, "Oh, an Aveo or a Cavalier."
"Hmm. How much more is an HHR? I saw you've got a couple of those out there."
"I'll take it."
"Perfect! It is, after all, Halloween."
What could be better than going to check out Rocket From the Crypt's final set of updated-for-now supercharged soul-punk than a pumpkin-esque manifestation of the latest retro-wagon to roll out of the Motor City?
Unfortunately, this isn't a full-bore Jalopnik Review; we didn't have the time, but we thought we'd offer up a quick impression of the vehicle the wags call "The GM Cruiser." The little Ecotec four, while not quite Honda-smooth, goes a long way toward erasing the memory of the god-awful 1.8L paint-shaker that was in our mom's '83 Firenza. It's peppy, the trans is generally willing when the throttle is romped on, torque-steer is well controlled, and the little ute's body motions are well damped. The front-disc/rear drum combo stops the HHR quite readily and efficiently; we only got into the ABS once and it was far more predictable than the system in our own personal vehicle.
Some of the styling cues are a neat touch. Our pal LaVella, a dyed-in-the-wool Mopar heavy who says he'd prefer the PT to the HHR, still really dug how the bowtie on the rear is integrated into the tailgate grab-handle. We liked the layout of the gauge cluster stylistically, although we would've preferred a larger tach and maybe two or three more nickels spent on the chrome-plated interior plastic. We also would've preferred a pair of front seats that were simply comfortable from the get-go (like the non-adjustable swivel units in our late, lamented '75 El Camino, rather than high-back barstools with a million adjustments, none of which hit the sweet spot for us.
Overall, the little HHR, for all of its virtue (and its solid sound system, in which we just realized we left one of our myriad copies of the US version of the first Clash album), didn't really win us over. It's a likable, convenient, adequate, interestingly-styled car. But it just didn't capture our hearts in the way an image vehicle should. And for all of its practicality, make no mistake, the HHR is an image vehicle. Unfortunately, Chevy's chasing Chrysler's thunder of a half-decade ago instead of forging their own road. That said, it's a perfect vehicle for city-dwelling nouveau-rockabilly metro/homosexuals who don't wanna deal with working on an old car. GM's actively courting the customizing/tuning market with the HHR, again following the lead of Chrysler, and to a lesser extent, Toyota's scion brand. (See the HHR SEMA concept below.)
It's a neat little car, it's just missing that something extra to recommend it to passionate buyers. Close, Chevy, but your Cohiba is in another castle.