Well, it's that time again to report on this week's rental.
Since my rental car agency lets me choose a vehicle from a lineup, I thought I'd go "Retro" and give the new HHR a try -- otherwise, it was minivan central -- not that there's anything wrong with that, but I didn't need that big of a vehicle to cart me and my suitcase around town...
Trim Level: "1LT"
EPA Vehicle Class: Special-Purpose Vehicle, SUV/2-Wheel Drive, Front-Wheel Drive
Engine: 2.2L, 4-Cylinder rated at 143 Horsepower
Transmission: 4-Speed Automatic with Torque Converter
EPA Mileage Estimates (City/Highway/Combined Cycle): 23/30/25
Test Loop: 80% City, 20% Highway
Max Cruise Speed = 60 mph
Weather Conditions over 3-days: Gray with a temp range of 30-50F. Light rain, overcast skies, and heavy rain were experienced on each day respectively.
Driving Style: Average
Location Test: Urban Indianapolis
Vehicle Computer Average Speed = 29 mph
Vehicle Computer MPG = 24.2 MPG
Actual Calculation = 93 miles per 4.869 gallons (First Click Fill) = 19.1 MPG
Conclusion: The variance in calculated actual vs. vehicle-represented mileage issues a concern. 2 Theories: The tank wasn't entirely full when receiving the car (the guage showed past the F-mark upon taking delivery, though) and/or the MPG calculator on the vehicle is overly optomistic. Taking the mean of these two figures yields 21.7 MPG, which falls short of the EPA estimate for City, even though some Interstate/Highway miles were driven. Also take into consideration that heavy traffic and long idle-times were a factor.
Editor's Notes: This is a new model for 2006. Based on the Cobalt Chassis (next generation Cavalier), this vehicle's dynamics in handling and acceleration were more like a "tall car" than an SUV. Styling is definitely boxy, with poor aerodynamic features for high-speed driving. Since it is marketed as a "Crossover-Utility Vehicle", it competes with the likes of the Scion xB, Daimler-Chrysler PT Cruiser, and the Pontiac Vibe / Toyota Matrix -- and can be bought on the cheap. Due to the fact that it has a flat loading floor with fold-flat seats, it is not considered a car by EPA standards and does not have to comply with the car-based CAFE standards, but rather the truck-based requirements. Despite this allowance for lower economy, the decision to use the 2.2L "Eco-Tech" 4-cylinder was a wise choice (instead of a pushrod V-6 in GM parts bin). Although acceleration wasn't a highlight, a cycle of mostly urban stop-and-go driving yielded a figure in the low-20's -- a good balance between power and economy, perhaps. Such vehicles may be a good choice if cubic feet of cargo space (63 cubes total) and ride height is on the top your list in buying or renting. A 2.4L, 173-hp engine is also available (but strangely enough it's rated with the exact same mileage by the EPA as the smaller engine). Reliability is too early to tell, but given the engine/transmission choice, a "Marginal" rating is expected based on reported problems in similar vehicles (based on Consumer Reports responses).
Bottom line: The car-based crossover segment is much better than Frame-on-Body SUVs in terms of economy and handling, if you don't want a "Wagon" or Minivan.