Imagine you've landed on a tropical island and your first stop after baggage claim is the unnamed, ubiquitous car rental agency. You could go for the convertible Ford Mustang, but the price of admission is out of your league. The Chevrolet Impala is the reasonable choice but its vanilla appearance (and performance) annuls any umbrella-drink fantasies yet to be fulfilled. After exhausting all of the options and the patience of the folks behind you in line, a silver HHR is insured, signed for and piloted onto the H1, the major interstate (yes, interstate) that leads to Honolulu, Hawaii.
First impressions seemed to be lasting ones. Whatever one may say about its distant cousin from the same penman (the Chrysler PT Cruiser), the HHR's exterior is funky enough for a second glance, but bland enough to be categorically ignored throughout the rest of the trip. Threats were made about traveling to a hardware store for wood-grain shelf paper, but that too had already been done by the folks at Chrysler. The interior seemed par for GM, namely cheap plastics, mid-grade switchgear and a gauge cluster reflecting designers' botched attempts at recalling a bygone era.
The driving experience proved equally underwhelming. Power comes on strongly enough when provoked, seemingly a result of deft gearing over engine power. A speed limit of 50 mph is strictly enforced throughout Oahu, leaving few opportunities to stretch the wagon's legs — not that I had any desire to test the limits of adhesion. I didn't expect much in the handling department, and therefore wasn't let down. (Count 'em: disconnected, isolated, disengaged.) There is no single word to properly describe the utter lack of road feeling transmitted (or not) through the wheel. It's as if the steering column's been shoved into a vat of denture cream, and the running gear replaced with marshmallows.
At the end of our journey we unloaded the cruiser and never looked back. The HHR served its intended purpose as people mover, luggage transporter and glorified towel held over a partner who'd changed into swimming attire. Hopefully the underwhelming nature infused into the HHR is exactly what the General and its customers are seeking. Too bad it's been available for several years at your local Chrysler dealership. [by Damon M. Lavrinc]
Jalopnik Rental-Car Reacharound: Put Down That Yaris! Buy a Used Civic! [internal]