Chevrolet HHR: GM Bad Idea

Chevrolet HHR: GM Bad Idea

Remember the Chrysler PT Cruiser? I’d like to call that a “Chrysler bad idea,” but in reality, it wasn’t. The thing sold like crazy, and I still see them around, each in the hands of elderly people who are really pleased by them.

But the General Motors version was a bad idea. The Chevrolet HHR, which stood for ‘Heritage High Roof’ was a copy of the entire PT Cruiser idea, from the retro styling to the dull driving experience. It was even designed by the same person, Bryan Nesbitt, who joined GM after the PT Cruiser’s launch.

Chevrolet eventually decided to make a panel version of the HHR, which was also fairly bad, mainly because it didn’t have any rear exterior door handles. It did, however, have rear doors. They could only be opened from the inside, which was bizarre, because the HHR Panel didn’t have any rear seats.

Eventually, GM decided to get enthusiasts on board with the HHR by using the time-honored strategy of: “Throw as much power at it as you can.” This resulted in the 2008 HHR SS, which put 260 horsepower through its front wheels. Sadly, they didn’t make an HHR SS Panel, which would’ve been the fastest vehicle on the market without rear door handles.

Like the PT Cruiser, the HHR was eventually cancelled to the chagrin of fleet operators everywhere. Canada gets a newer version, dubbed the Orlando, but we Americans have to make do with nothing. I don’t think anyone’s really complaining about that.


33 Responses to “ “Chevrolet HHR: GM Bad Idea”

  1. Matt B says:

    These vehicles are truly bad, unfortunately we have one b/c my wife bought one before we were married. The interior quality is horrible – flimsy, hard plastics everywhere. The seats are pretty much horrendous. For what it is the interior is pretty cramped. Add to that the fact I had to make a custom socket to change the oil filter and the geniuses at GM make you remove the fender liner to replace the headlight bulb.

    Unfortunately with the depreciation these things see I just can’t justify getting something else at this point b/c it has been reliable and gets decent mileage. Only problem we’ve had is when the key got stuck in the “on” position – we literally could not turn the car off until we took it to the Chevy dealership. Apparently a common problem.

    • Doug DeMuro says:

      Wow – removing the fender liner to replace the bulb. And surely bulbs go out from time to time! Agree on depreciation/value by the way. The same can’t be said of the PT Cruiser…

  2. Ltd783 says:

    These panel versions still seems to be reasonably popular with smaller businesses; medical testing companies, office supply places, etc. The same type of companies that used to use Matrix/Vibes or PT Cruisers as “trucks”. I would think the HHR would be a little better at this job just because of its unique looks, I know of at least one done up like a 40′s rat rod with matte paint, whitewalls etc, not a bad mobile billboard, even if it is terrible to drive.

    PS- I’ve never been able to find this out, but did they make a semi-panel version? There’s one in my neighborhood with normal windowed rear doors, but the panel C-D pillar. Don’t know if it was sold that way, or someone swapped doors.

    • Doug DeMuro says:

      Odd. No idea, but i bet it wouldn’t have been hard to do.

      • Ltd783 says:

        I actually goggled it yesterday out of curiosity after I posted this, it exists as a factory option. It’s called the AA5 option, available on any, even the SS. If you image search AA5 HHR you’ll see plenty.

  3. Beelzebubba says:

    In the early 2000s, I traveled 40+ weeks each year for work. I drove rental cars constantly and had business rental accounts with several major rental companies. My profile in each company’s system had a flag that stated “Customer will NOT accept any Chrysler vehicle!” and that was later amended to include any GM other than full-size (if I excluded the Impala, they’d have nothing for me to drive half the time).

    That was after a few years of suffering random Neons, Stratuses, Sebrings, PT Cruisers and numerous other vulgar Chrysler heaps. In 2003, I hit a goat in a rural Colorado driving a Neon and it destoryed the car! The rearview mirror broke loose during the crash and hit my head, leaving most of the mirror shards embedded in my skull! 38 staples in my head and a few pain killers later, I swore I’d rather walk than drive a Chrysler vehicle again….and I also have an intense hatred of goats, which I never liked anyway…

    • Doug DeMuro says:

      Holy crap! Never even considered the idea of a mirror-into-head accident. That’s wild!

      Considering it was the early 2000s, I’m stunned you were able to reject all Chrysler vehicles. I worked at Enterprise in 2007 as a summer job, and there were times it seemed like Chrysler was 100 percent of what we had. That was just when the new Avenger was coming out, and all of ours had an issue where the driver door handle would fail so you couldn’t get out. They had to do a recall. Those were awful cars.

  4. Beelzebubba says:

    BTW, as a testament to GM’s brilliant (idiotic) engineering and design, to replace a headlight bulb, the front tire and fender lining has to be removed!!! To change a freakin’ bulb…

    And I though my Mazda3 was a pain because I had to remove a few parts to access the headlight on the passenger side. But it took less than 90 seconds with a screwdriver to do so, not a jack, lugwrench/tire iron, and the plastic lining probably required an odd-sized allen wrench (not included and not available in the English speaking world) and the physical ability (and mental capacity) to use all of that crap and put it all back correctly!

    Now more than even, I am certain that anyone involved in the design and manufacture of GM vehicles has an IQ that falls somewhere between an amoeba and dryer lint!

    • cweed says:

      Google “changing headlight bulb Cadillac CTS” if you think this is bad. Had to remove the entire front of car to do it. 2-1/2 hour job. Dealer wanted $300 + parts to do it!

  5. James Biddle says:

    I’d just like to point out that GM actually did make an HHR SS Panel, albeit in very limited quantities. I saw one on sale at the local honda dealership of all places. It had a manual in it too, but i’d be pretty scared of the pericellular handling characteristics with the lack of rear weight.

  6. JMII says:

    Funny I thought the panel version was a brilliant idea, given there are no more compact trucks and “vans” have been replaced by SUV/CUVs. My neighbor almost got an HHR to use a delivery vehicle and kind of medium-sized tool-box type on-site work vehicle (he got a mini van instead). For around town projects this vehicle seems more sensible then a full size pickup with a topper/bed cover on it. I see plenty of companies using it in a similar way complete with the vinyl wrap of advertising. So overall NOT a bad idea. However the regular version was nothing but a PT clone and clearly somewhat silly. Typical GM: a day late and a dollar short – they missed the boat, the PT ship had already sailed.

  7. HaloNHorns2002 says:

    I always wondered if the back doors on the panel versions opened or not, I figured they were fixed in place… it looks like an “El Cheapo” hearse… Oh, and I second the thought that GM engineers are idiots, my room mate has had a few Chevrolets and they always seem to be designed so that you have to take them to the dealer for EVERYTHING, from changing a bulb to locating the oil filter.

  8. Land Ark says:

    Silly me, thinking Chevy made some neat-o way of opening the rear “passenger” doors from the inside. So I went on You Tube to see it in action… Are you kidding me? Not only is it just a regular door handle in the regular spot, but they also molded in the missing windows. Seeing how they laid out the interior storage area was upsetting as well. The little bins they made appear to completely waste all the available space.
    The rest of the interior looks too much like the Cobalt it’s based on – having to drive one for work is enough to steer me away from what little desire I had for the SS version.

  9. Darren says:

    Well, this is embarrassing. I own one of the blasted things. It’s slow, boring, and (literally) beige. Everything everyone is saying about how stupid GM engineers are is correct. But I’d like to add one. I couldn’t believe it. I wanted to change the air filter, so I bought one, and in the parking lot I opened the hood. But I could find the air filter box. It was no where to be found! I did a quick google search. Guess where it is? One must open the hood, remove the air intake hose from the front of the engine cover, pop the engine cover off, flip it over, and then remove EIGHT screws (not just normal screws, they are those security screws), and only then does one find the air filter. Yes, it’s on the underside of the engine cover. It is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever seen.

    So yes, it’s been reliable, and it gets decent mileage. And mine is a 5-speed, so at least there’s that. But my god, it’s an idiotic machine. This will definitely be my last GM.

  10. LBJ's Love Child says:

    Boy am I out of touch. It’s actually one of the few (only) Chevy products I found the least bit interesting from the period.

  11. Hooker says:

    I’ll say two things about this car:

    1) Mine was a 2010 2LT which was loaded and rather nice. A lot nicer and better riding than the PT Cruiser. I also expected the HHR to last a lot longer reliability wise. It was quiet (ish) comfortable, decent looking and swallowed (in a single trip to Lowe’s) a hot water heater, toilet, 4 8′ sections of 2X4 and other miscellaneous items. It was great.

    2) It saved my life. I was run off the road by an oncoming trucker who dosed off. At the time, I was traveling on some back country roads that had ‘drainage ditches’ aka road side canyons. I swerved to avoid the truck and almost recovered, however, lost control and went over a 12 foot embankment at a high rate of speed. The car landed and smacked into a telephone pole. All airbags deployed. Though I had a broken nose and an eff-load of bruises, I was alive. I still miss that car, though I like my Cruze a LOT better!

    • DCP says:

      So glad to see some positive, first-hand feedback on the HHR…especially in regards to the safety factor! :)

      I’m in the mkt for a car to share with my son…and the HHR is really the only (domestic) vehicle that fits 90% of my criteria. We are replacing a Scion Xa, which we enjoyed 30+ mpg…and room for a bit of cargo as well. Plus, it had just a smidge of sporty style.

      My son likes the HHR because it has ‘style’…a bit of personality. It’s not just an avg Joe type of vehicle. And when ur shopping in the 7K-10K range…thr isn’t much available that stands out from the crowd!

      I like the style as well…but was really impressed with the safety features…seems like thr are air bags everywhere! Plus, I need cargo space…I re-style vintage furniture, so I’m always hauling bits & pieces. Add the 30+ mpg….and it’s a winning combo for us!

      As for changing a bulb or air filter….I find these complaints to be a bit trivial. I’m 52…and I’ve NEVER had to change a bulb in ANY car I’ve owned. The last time I changed an air filter was when I was in charge of fleet maintenance at my Fathers const. company when I was a teenager! Now they have Jiffy Lube…so convenient!

      Even better…since the nay-sayers have given the HHR such a bad rap…for no significant reasons….I get an awesome car at a market discount! Thanks! You’ve definitely swayed my decision to confidently buy an HHR!

      • Hooker says:

        I would definitely recommend it! On the safety side as well as the cargo side. The best thing about that car was that it did so many things reasonably well. It’s not a sports car but it worked and it wasn’t large and ponderous like the Equinox (which I eventually purchased) it was more buttoned down. Good luck!

  12. ElkoSteve says:

    The wife had one of these as a loaner from the local GM dealership a few years ago.

    Awful car, gutless, boring, and it was like a reverse Tardis: Big on the outside, tiny on the inside.

  13. Wingnut says:

    We have a 2008 HHR SS, not a week goes by that we don’t answer a string of questions about it – what is it, do they still make them, etc. etc. It is especially popular at Cruise Nights (we don’t participate, we are spectators) and Swap Meets where the retro styling is appreciated.

    Yes, I wish the outward visibility was better but the upgraded seats (recaros I think) are wonderfully supportive on my aging back, the power vs economy tradeoff is excellent, and the handing is very good. It has also been very reliable. Wish the powertrain was in my Cruze LT RS.

    I watch the local classifieds and SS versions of the HHR are holding their value better than other HHRs, and they sell very quickly.

    Sorry to quarrel with you Doug, but the HHR SS is a terrific little car.

  14. Robert says:

    I have to speak up in the HHR’s defense. I had seen one at the annual auto show and liked the look. So a few months later I bought a fully loaded 2007 LT2 with the 2.4/auto and all the options and beautiful dark blue metallic paint. Got it new for less than $20k. I worked from home a lot so in the 2 years I owned it I only put about 19k miles on it. But it ran well, seemed to handle pretty well, good stereo and a/c. Best part of it; when the kids made a mess inside all of that plastic was easy to clean. And it never ceased to amaze me how much stuff I could load in it. Fold all the seats down, including the front passenger seat and it had an amazing amount of room. I carried lumber, sod, mulch. Did great on those Costco runs.
    I really liked that car. After 2 years my wife started driving it. She is the car destroyer, ruined every car she has ever touched. She drove it for 5 more years and kept it when we split.
    Last summer I had to borrow it for a quick errand. This poor car had been through 4 wrecks, all her fault. It had been folded, spindled, and mutilated beyond belief. This car looked so bad! But you know something? It still ran great! Drivetrain was solid as a rock, everything still worked.

    This little car absolutely blew me away. It took such tremendous abuse, never once failed. And I mean never. And at the end when I drove it it was still a pretty decent car.

    She traded it off last fall on a Kia Sorento and they gave her $6100 in trade. So to me, this is probably one of the best cars every made.

  15. Vince Kumagai says:

    The HHR has to be an improvement. Over what you ask? The 4 Vegas I owned. One for each year they were made 1971 to 1974. Junk, yes, but very practical. I purchased then for less than $200 each. The 1973 was a Panel Delivery Truck. No back seat, no back windows. The perfect vehicle for a college student moving apartment things and in the winter you throw your skis and things in the back, a quart of oil and off you go. Even sleep in it with your top of the line sleeping bag. No scrimping there. Need to keep warm. I sold it and sent the money to my then girlfriend so she could buy an airline ticket to go to Europe with me on vacation. On our return she became my wife and brought the nextgen GM econo-box to the family, a Chevette. Oye! Married 30 years. GM success in a round about way.

  16. Tony GRIEGO says:

    Doug, guys like you never cease to amaze me. If you write am article you should get your facts straight so you don’t sound uninformed. 1st off GM did make an SS Panel. 2nd , the rear doors DO OPEN from the outside via a remote key fob. The lack of rear outside door handles is for aesthetics, kinda making it look a 2 door. Like it or not, plenty of owners would agree with me. 3rd, MOST newer cars have the same difficulty changing headlight bulbs or housings. I agree with you that this is really dumb but it is by no means limited to the HHR. I drive one and I enjoy my SS. You made NO valid points as to why you think the HHR is a bad idea. Get your facts straight next time before you bash a car or maybe you should be limited to critiquing washing machines or something you may know more about. You certainly know NOTHING about cars.

    • Doug DeMuro says:

      Hahaha. The sad thing about posts like these is that I make fun of myself and my own cars more than I make fun of anything else… and yet. I’ll never understand why people take their cars so seriously. Tony, dude, I HAVE A NISSAN CUBE. Think about that for a second.

      Appreciate the insight on the key fob though. That’s good to know.

    • Ron C says:

      It is in the section GM Bad Idea. It is not in the section History of the HHR for Fanboys.

  17. Tony GRIEGO says:

    Doug, I guess I was having a “defensive moment”. All is good. I can’t argue with someone who drives a Nisaan Cube lol!
    All is forgiven. Let me know your thoughts on electric cars. I did own a Vega Wagon when I was younger but I promptly
    swapped in a 327 to make up for the 4 bangers deficiencies. I will continue to read your post.

  18. DR says:

    My first thought after reading “A Bad Idea”: Doug is a car snob.

    As a new owner of a 2011 HHR I felt disrespected. I was upset. As we all should know there is no perfect vehicle. Otherwise, we’d all be driving the same exact thing. People buy different cars for different reasons.
    I’m sure, in time, I will clench my fists and curse GM’s name (as I have with every other car I have ever owned). But you didn’t have to remind me of that, did you?

    With that said, I soldiered on to read every comment – and laughed my rear end off (Well, not really to the point that my rear end came off. But I was quite amused).

    Here’s why I bought the HHR: nobody makes a roomy light duty truck that’ll get 30+ mpg. Nobody. That’s why I bought it. For me, it’s all about multi-purpose. The HHR also has an excellent safety rating, as witnessed in a comment here. And the 2.2 has a long, proven track record. As a bonus, the ride is very impressive (smooth and quiet).

    Finally, if you crouch down on one knee, and looking from the rear quarter from about 30 feet away, with the car pointing at about 11 o’clock and the front wheels slightly turned to the left, the HHR looks good. Damn good.

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