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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Chevy’s new HHR sedan is that good

Greg Zyla King Features Syndicate

We had the opportunity to drive two 2006 Chevy HHRs recently, one for a week on the flatlands of sunny Orlando, Fla., and the second in snowy Pennsylvania. Regardless of Mother Nature’s menu, the all-new HHR responded well.

Built on the front-drive Cobalt chassis, the HHR merges styling cues from the popular 1949 Chevy Suburban and the SSR Roadster. In addition to its good looks, the HHR offers low cost, great gas mileage and a unique aesthetic impression. Move over PT Cruiser, Chevy is ready for battle.

The five-passenger HHR is available in two models: base LS and upgraded LT. Both come standard with a 2.2-liter four-cylinder Ecotec engine that puts out 140 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque. However, both our testers came with the optional 2.4-liter, 172 horsepower High Output Ecotec powerplant, a $650 option we highly recommend. Both also came with the standard Getrag five-speed manual transmission, adding to the driving fun. (Automatics are optional.)

One area where Chevy lacks in comparison to the PT Cruiser is in power. Cruisers offer 180 and 220 horsepower turbo four-cylinder options. That’s not saying HHR is out of the ballgame, by any means. The 172-horsepower HHR is quite peppy, and capable of more. GM engineers have developed the Ecotec four-cylinder engine for drag racing and produced a reliable 1,200 horsepower; so, adding a turbo should be no problem.

Noteworthy standard equipment includes air conditioning, power windows and locks, six-speaker CD stereo with MP3 player, remote entry, six-way power seat with power lumbar, 16-inch aluminum wheels, cruise, battery rundown protection, dual-stage airbags, rear defogger and wiper, and fold-flat front passenger seat. The only negative is that ABS is a $400 option (both our testers had it), except on the top-of-the-line LT.

The comfort factor is good, thanks to a touring suspension that features MacPherson-strut front suspension with a semi-independent, torsion-beam rear. Our Pennsylvania tester came with a sport-tuned suspension with monotube shocks as part of an $1,800 preferred equipment group that also included the bigger engine, four-wheel anti-lock brakes, fog lamps, chrome trim, Pioneer stereo and 17-inch aluminum wheels and tires. The final tally of tester No. 2 came in at $20,350, including $565 destination. Both cars, however, were similar.

The HHR is fully competent on any road. Back in Pennsylvania with almost 10 inches of snow on the ground, HHR pulled right out of my unplowed driveway, much to everyone’s surprise. Sure, it spun the tires a little here and there, but overall it performed wonderfully considering the snow shovel never left our home. It gets an “A-plus” for this maneuver.

Inside, HHR is functional, comfortable and sporty. There’s lots of room and then some, as the front passenger seat folds flat to extend the total load length from the lift gate to the instrument panel. The rear seats are 60/40 and fold under to allow a flat surface. Cargo area ranges from a low of 45.7 cubic feet to more than 100 depending on seat configurations.

Important numbers include a wheelbase of 103.5 inches, 22 mpg city and 30 mpg highway EPA numbers, 16 gallon fuel tank, and an estimated curb weight of 2,900 pounds (actual weight not yet released by GM).

We rate the new HHR a deserving nine on a scale of one to 10. Yes, it’s that good.

Likes: Price, looks, functionality, gas mileage, ease of handling.

Dislikes: ABS not standard on lesser models, some have drum rear brakes.

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