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2006 Chevrolet HHR

It's nice that the HHR looks a bit like a '49 Chevy Suburban shrunk to car size, but it's even better that this pseudo-truck actually has full-size utility.

The HHR's interior is like a puzzle box of reconfigurable space. The seats fold flat (including the front passenger seat), and the cargo space is long, wide, and tall enough to fit an eight-foot stepladder or a junior-class sprint go-kart. A package shelf lets you stack a second tier of stuff behind the second row, and there's a shallow well beneath the load floor. Overall, there's 63.1 cubic-feet of cargo volume, plus bins, handles, and hooks everywhere you look.

Because the HHR looks like a truck, there's no need to hide its utility. The door handles are big, the door openings are wide, the headroom is vast, the seats are broad, and the step-in height is low. All this makes it easy to arrive and depart from every errand on your Saturday-morning list.

The HHR also aspires to be a worthwhile driver's car, and its agile Cobalt platform is a good starting point. There are two engines: a 143-hp, 2.2-liter four and a new, 172-hp, 2.4-liter four. There are two suspension calibrations as well, and the upgraded version uses 215/50TR-17 Firestone Firehawk GT-A tires.

For all that, the HHR's core competency lies in civilized travel, where the quiet interior and the well-damped suspension deliver both composed low-speed driving and effortless freeway cruising. In between, however, it's always apparent the HHR weighs more than 3000 pounds, and the 143-hp engine, the noisy four-speed automatic transmission, the brakes (drums in the rear), and the suspension (lots of road noise on broken pavement) are not really up to it. We suggest the 172-hp, 2.4-liter engine and five-speed manual transmission and perhaps the base suspension's 55-series tires.

There are three HHR models, and the price steps up from $15,990 to $16,990 and then to $18,790. Overall, the HHR is a pretty neat piece, less cute than a Chrysler PT Cruiser and way more refined than a Scion xB. The retro look is cool, but the retro values of practicality and utility are even cooler.

SPECSPrice: $15,990-$18,790Engine: 2.4L DOHC I-4, 172 hp, 162 lb-ftDrive: Front-wheel