The Best American Hot Hatches were disguised as retro wagons
While Volkswagen, Honda, Mitsubishi and Subaru were dominating the boy-racer/hot hatch market in the early 2000s, Two of the The Big Three looked like they were really fumbling around in terms of decent performance vehicles, but I don’t think that we ever really gave American Hot Hatches a fair shake.
The vehicles in question are the Chevrolet HHR SS, and Chrysler PT Cruiser GT. I'm not going to talk about the SVT Focus, because we already know that its an incredible vehicle. So let's get all the jokes out now, "oh, they're ugly, and slow and blah blah blah" are you done? Good.
The HHR SS put out 260 horsepower and 260 lb-ft from a 2.0-liter turbo with direct injection which isn't bad at all in the hot hatch market, and it sat five people. It also did 0-60 in 6.3 seconds, which is reasonably quick. I liked the HHR, I almost bought one a few years back, and I always thought it looked pretty cool. And you could get it with a manual! All for about $25,000!
The Chrysler PT Cruiser GT had a 2.4-liter turbo that put out 230 horsepower and 245 lb-ft of torque. Zero to 60 was 6.7 seconds for this glorified Airflow. The PT Cruiser was also available with a five-speed manual and it was even available as a convertible! A GT Convertible with the five-speed was available for $29,000.
When you look over the competition, there were better, sportier vehicles available. Vehicles like the Volkswagen Golf GTI, Honda Civic Si, and even the Mitsubishi Lancer and Subaru Impreza offered sportier styling than these retro wagons. Chrysler and Chevy did offer these engines in the Cobalt SS and Dodge Neon SRT4, but both of those vehicles shared similar issues in terms of reliability as their retro counterparts. I think Chrysler and Chevy figured that despite these vehicles having modern and powerful engines, that people would buy them for the nostalgia, and to a point that worked out rather well. Chrysler sold about 900,000 units over the PT Cruiser's life, and the HHR sold about a little under 500,000 units.
Chrysler and Chevy didn't use their retro vehicles to properly compete with these youthful racers, and the build quality of American vehicles at the time made them feel as cheap as they were. It's a shame, but that's exactly why all of the foreign competition lived on and the American offerings were gone after one generation. I feel that is both the manufacturers fault, and the buyers fault. Buyers should've embraced the American hot hatches, but opted to go with better and more reliable offerings, and let's be honest, they were the more sensible options.
Still, it would be amusing to see what a modern HHR would look like with Chevrolet's new design language.
What do you think of these American hot hatches? Should they be revered? Or forgotten? Comment Below!