Downside: Power freaks complained that the tested HHR 1LT took too long, especially in hilly and mountainous country, to exceed posted speed limits. I was one of those complainants -- until it dawned on me that state troopers in Virginia and West Virginia were willing to give me the same speeding tickets they were handing out to people in Porsches. And, funny thing, not one of those law enforcement officers seemed terribly interested in the HHR's 0-to-60-mph time.
Ride, acceleration and handling: Good in all respects for normal drivers -- people who drive at reasonable speeds, who want to save fuel and who want to get to where they are going in reasonable comfort and safety at reasonable cost.
Head-turning quotient: Two enthusiastic thumbs up. Of course, there were the inevitable comparisons to the retro PT Cruiser made by the Chrysler Group of DaimlerChrysler Corp. But everyone who crawled in and out of the HHR said that it was bigger and more useful than the PT Cruiser, and every bit as cute.
Body style/layout: The HHR is a front-engine, front-wheel-drive, four-door wagon with a rear hatch that means it also can be used as a small truck. It shares basic underpinnings with the front-wheel-drive Chevrolet Cobalt sedan.
Engines/transmission: The HHR 1LT comes with a 2.2-liter, 16-valve, inline four-cylinder engine that develops 143 horsepower at 5,600 revolutions per minute and 150 foot-pounds of torque at 4,000 rpm. The HHR 2LT gets a 2.4-liter, 172-hp version of that engine. Both engines are linked to a standard five-speed manual transmission. A four-speed automatic is optional.
Cargo and fuel capacities: The HHR has seating for five people. Cargo capacity with second-row seats up is 23.8 cubic feet, and 63 cubic feet with those seats down. The HHR can be equipped to tow 1,000 pounds. Fuel capacity is 16.6 gallons of recommended regular unleaded.
Mileage: In the automatic HHR 1LT, I averaged 27 miles per gallon in highway travel. The five-speed manual offers better mileage . . . and a lower purchase price.
Safety: Standard anti-lock brakes and side air bags. I also recommend the optional OnStar emergency communications system for $695.
Price: Base price on the tested 2006 Chevrolet HHR 1LT is $16,425. Dealer's invoice price on base model is $15,357. Price as tested is $18,790, including $1,800 in options and a $565 destination charge. Dealer's price as tested is $17,506. Prices derived from Chevrolet and Edmunds.com.
Purse-strings note: Compare with Chrysler PT Cruiser. The HHR is a good value, a solid buy.