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2007 Chevy HHR Panel - Autoweek

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2007 Chevrolet HHR Panel LT
Chevy puts an unserved niche in its crosshairs
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By KEVIN A. WILSON | Link to Original Review @ AutoWeek


Thanks to Napoleon Bonaparte, England is often derided as “a nation of shopkeepers.” We’d wager there are far more of them here, though. The American entrepreneurial spirit and the number of small-business owners leave one to wonder why it’s been decades since Detroit built a mass-market panel wagon like the new-for-2007 Chevrolet HHR Panel. When Chrysler showed a panel version of its PT Cruiser in concept form in 2000, we thought the time had come, but the Panel Cruiser never arrived except as an aftermarket treatment. And Chrysler even has a two-door version (the convertible) that would have made a true two-door panel easier.

Although Chevrolet designers drew inspiration from the styling of the 1949 Chevy Suburban, those familiar with pre-World War II automotive forms will recognize the new little trucklet as more of a “sedan delivery” wagon than an actual panel truck. In a panel truck, or the modern van form that replaced it, a person can stand in the cargo hold.

Electricians, locksmiths and heating-and-cooling contractors, for instance, use such trucks as mobile workshops or parts warehouses. And we all know about custom and conversion vans in personal use.

Though an HHR Panel owner could throw a mattress in back and have a private sleeping area with the addition of only a curtain at the rear, a use you might envision if you wanted an HHR as a dinghy-cum-guest-cabin to tow behind your RV, as Cory Farley did, that’s not most people’s first reaction.

As with sedan deliveries of old, the HHR Panel seems best-suited to carrying stuff from point A to point B—flowers, pets that need grooming or maybe instruments and sound gear for a small band. If it’s just a duo, you could carry both musicians, too, but forget about more people.

In place of the rear seat, there’s a flat load floor, in this case topped by rubber mats (a $95 option). Total cargo space of 57.0 cubic feet is only 1.5 cubic feet more than in a standard HHR with the seat folded, but there’s another 6.0 cubic feet in stowage bins that replace the seat space, lockable if you tick the box for the $25 option and big enough for laptops, cameras and other stuff you want hidden from view.

Not that “view” is a strong suit of the HHR Panel. The key styling trick is that the rear quarter-windows and those in the rear side doors are replaced with steel on the outside and plastic on the inside, giving a retro look and an expansive canvas for signage or personalized graphics.

Those who complain that they can’t see out of our long-term Toyota FJ Cruiser, however, probably would feel even more uneasy in the HHR Panel. Chevy provides one of those wide-angle dot mirrors in a corner of the passenger-side exterior mirror, and we think we’d pick up another at an auto-parts store for the left side, just for safety’s sake. Backing out of a parking space, particularly if you’re adjacent to a full-size SUV or pickup, becomes a bit of a creep-and-hope adventure, since you can’t shoot a glance over your shoulder. We usually think backup warning systems on modest-sized vehicles are excessive and silly (who needs a warning beep to parallel-park a Mini?), but this is one case where we’d appreciate having it.

Unlike a true panel truck or sedan delivery, the HHR Panel has rear doors—they just don’t have outside handles. There are inside door handles and two buttons on the dash to open these doors, which, because they’re glassless, Chevy calls cargo doors. The tailgate is the standard one.

What owners—business or personal—may appreciate is the EPA combined fuel-economy rating of 26 mpg. This is far better than you’d get in a full-size van or even a minivan, the sort of vehicle commercial users have resorted to for short-range deliveries. Now that the Ford Aerostar and the Chevrolet Astro are out of the way and gasoline prices are a major concern, it may be that Chevy has hit a sweet spot in the market. But commercial users will have to compete with new-age hot rodders and tuners, who started salivating when Chevy displayed the car at SEMA last year.

Performance in the stock edition, which debuted at the New York auto show in April, is more modest than in the 270-hp fire breather shown at SEMA. The 2.4-liter version of the Ecotec four is rated at 175 hp, which is strong enough, and our AutoFile testing last year showed the Chevy had the legs of the Mazda 5 wagon at the track. And Chevy dealers have catalogs full of ways to make yours hotter still.

This example had the optional four-speed automatic (a five-speed manual is standard), which brings with it remote starting, a boon on a sunny, 95-degree day when it allows you to start the vehicle and let the air conditioning go to work. The dark blue paint made the inside of that box sweltering.

Speaking of paint, Chevy asked if we wanted “any lettering” on this test car. We were just joshing when we said we wanted “Roger’s Gun & Camera Shop,” because managing editor Roger Hart is serious about cameras but owns no guns, and we’d never actually seen a “gun and camera” store anywhere. When the car showed up in 24 hours wearing this nifty livery, our next thought was “Where can we park this without inviting a break-in?” Regardless, we worked up a motto for the fictional retail establishment that might work just as well for the development of the HHR Panel: “It’s Worth a Shot.”
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Well, someone will need to fill the gap left by the former Scion xB billboard on wheels. I still find it funny how the xB avoided this reputation. Besides the ZERO-opted models with tiny steel wheels, the only ones I see are driven painted up as advertisements.

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Well, someone will need to fill the gap left by the former Scion xB billboard on wheels. I still find it funny how the xB avoided this reputation. Besides the ZERO-opted models with tiny steel wheels, the only ones I see are driven painted up as advertisements.

True that... lets hope the HHR can cash in on the market.

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I love sedan deliveries, so this is one FWD that tugs at me a bit.

Future RWD version on Alpha?

Yes, please.

A sedan delivery variant was considered by GM for the SSR - I would have loved it!

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I've seen three HHR Panel's in the past week, and they look pretty cool. It certainly is more attractive than a sh*tty ol' Econoline. :)

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