Going head-to-head
2009 HHR LT
Characteristics
Subaru Forester 2.5X
69.1
Width (in.)
70.1
63.1
Height (in.)
66.9
103.6
Wheelbase (in.)
103
57.7
Cargo volume (ft3)
33.5
4
Seats
4
22/30
EPA est. (city/ hwy mpg)
20/26
$22,585
Cost
$22,495

The HHR, a retro throwback that follows the PT Cruiser in looking backward for styling cues, combines the roominess and flexibility of a station wagon (remember those?) with the economy of a small car. I don’t mind a little throwback styling, especially compared to today’s mostly forgettable efforts. The truck, which is how GM refers to it, also has better-than-average performance and a lower-than-average price. (Base price is $18,930.)

The vehicle is powered by a 2.2-liter DOHC Ecotec engine that puts out 172 hp through a fourspeed automatic transmission (a $1,000 option). It provides plenty of power to move the 3,208-lb truck through traffic without worrying about merging or passing. The engine is also remarkably quiet. Even at highway speeds, engine and wind noise are almost absent, which makes it easier to appreciate the seven-speaker Pioneer audio system (a $300 option that includes a subwoofer). To keep it green, the engine is the first modern four-banger that runs on gas, E85, or any combination of the two, according to GM.

The HHR gets an EPA estimated 22/30 mpg (city/highway). It would be interesting (and useful) if GM published EPA mileage estimates for the vehicle when it is powered solely by E85, a mixture of 85% ethanol, 15% gasoline). From what I understand, E85 might be good for reducing U.S. oil use, but it’s not so good on the driver’s wallet. (If you have experience using E85, please drop us an e-mail at mdeditor.@penton.com).

The truck comfortably carries four in leather-covered seats (a $950 option), plus up to 57.7 ft3 of cargo, or 63 ft3 of cargo with the rear seats folded down.

The touring suspension, which provided a smooth, controlled ride, comes with monotube shocks for “sportier “handling. If by sportier, GM means crisp, effortless steering and little body roll, they succeeded. The steering was probably also helped by speedsensitive electrical power steering.

I really only have two minor complaints about the HHR. The name is silly. HHR stands for “heritage high roof,” but the roof isn’t particularly high. I’m a bit over 6 ft tall with a taller than average sitting height. And every time I was in the driver seat and looked straight ahead or left. I seemed to be looking at the inside of the roof. I had to scrunch down in the seat to really see out. If GM is not going to change the name, it should at least make seats that adjusts down farther.

The HHR LT, whether it’s a van, truck, or crossover, is a welldesigned and fairly priced vehicle that would suit a wide range of drivers, just not tall ones. Total cost was $22,585 for our test, which included a $750 sunroof, in addition to options previously mentioned. Now if they just offered a nice shiny black one with a flame job over the front end.