As the highways begin to descend into the ground and the dull grays of weathered concrete fill the car windows, a chill begins to grow. Visions of a legendary powerhouse that in its glory days produced a vehicle a minute, empowered our troops at the farthest corners of the globe and once provided industry jobs for every one out of six Americans –
this was Detroit.
But if time is any indication of the direction Detroit is heading, things are looking brighter. Commercial businesses continue to find residence in the city through remodeling and new construction. Large lofts now fill old brick industrial sites and new townhouses have begun to spring up in hopes of combating a declining population, even if they’re slow in coming. And of course there is Super Bowl XL, which the National Football League estimates will pour at least $300 million into Michigan’s economy.
Yet as the city’s renaissance seems to be in full swing, one of the state’s largest economic and employment powerhouses is wilting in the Renaissance Center. Faced with one of the worst losses in 2005, General Motors must win back American consumers, and the offensive has already commenced. I think the battle begins with competitive, high-volume products that consumers actually want to drive, such as the retro-inspired 2006 Chevrolet HHR.
The Car to Paint the Town In
While it may look like a belated Chrysler PT Cruiser knock-off, the HHR (Heritage High Roof) actually has family roots on which its contemporary styling is based – a ’49 Chevy Suburban. The overall classic shape and proportions resemble a \’50s milk delivery truck, with large fenders at each corner and a semi-tall height. Its curvaceous but edgy design is warm and appealing. A large chrome grille, door handles, roof rack and mirrors add flare to an important vehicle segment GM has neglected for years.
Great aesthetics are one thing, but being well engineered is the key to bringing the General back to power. Driving my very feminine-colored Chevy around this rude and crude city definitely did not make me feel like a macho bad-ass, but instead a driver who began to see a brighter side of the once industrious town. While its lavender exterior may not have been ideal, its ride is. Steering is responsive and the suspension is firm enough to feel like a great tourer, but it lacks the confidence of a sports tourer. And that’s OK. Detroit is home, and maybe even capital, to potholes and uneven pavement, allowing the HHR’s suspension to excel. The Chevy also features higher positioned seating, allowing for greater visibility, perfect for sightseeing all the highlights of Detroit and many areas people forget about.
But don’t expect this semi-hotrod-looking Chevy to be roasting the tires on Woodward. The larger 2.4-liter four-cylinder in the HHR produces 174 hp, providing decent acceleration and torque, but fuel economy is a more impressive statistic. While the trip from Lansing to Detroit nears 200 miles of various driving speeds and conditions, the vehicle’s trip computer averaged close to 27.5 mpg – not too shabby for a vehicle that looks exciting, can seat five comfortably, has loads of cargo room and a base sticker price of $15,890.
The return to bold, American styling mixed with great build quality, ride and price is the war strategy GM needs to gain foothold on the territory-stealing imports. Even President Bush told the Wall Street Journal (1/26/06), General Motors needs to develop more appealing products.
The cars America produced in the 1950s, \’60s and \’70s have some of the most distinct, exciting and all-that-is-great-about-Detroit look; the HHR reflects on these glory days. If the General can continue to modernize a product offensive that made it the envy of automakers during that time, the war is theirs. And GM truly will be in the center of Detroit’s automotive renaissance.
XL and the City
With Detroit gearing up for its largest event in years, don’t miss this opportunity to check out many of the city’s great attractions and Super Bowl events – even if you don’t have a ticket!
NFL Experience at Super Bowl XL
Of course you came to the attractions for some football! Walk over to COBO Center to measure your skills against pro athletes in throwing accuracy, speed and even field goal distance. And if you\’d rather cheer on your friends, join one of the cheerleading clinics to improve your skills. Over 50 NFL superstars are expected to attend for autograph sessions and the events take place Feb. 1 – 5. Tickets cost $15 and can be purchased ahead of time. (See for more information on event times.)
Motown Winter Blast
A great, affordable way to enjoy the Super Bowl festivities without the thousands of dollars needed for a ticket, the Blast will feature more than 60 Detroit music acts performing at four different Motown Blast zones during the week, each zone offering unique activities.
Want to ride in a Ford Model T? Or enjoy figure skating with athletes from the Detroit Skating Club? The Motown Blast Zone center will be located at the new Campus Martius Park and will offer samples of some of the best tastes of Detroit. The Taste of Detroit Zone will be located outside the Hard Rock Café, with over 20 different local restaurants providing samples from a wide variety of cuisine. Other blast zone attractions include a 200-foot sled run piled high right on Detroit streets, dogsled exhibitions, snowshoe courses, snowmobile demos, ice sculptures and much more. Events take place Feb. 2 – 5. (See for more event times and locations.)
Campus Martius Park
Across from the Hard Rock Café and in the heart of Detroit, Campus Martius Park offers a Manhattan-style ice skating rink with some of the best new architecture the city has to offer. Admission is $10 with skate rental, $7 without. Even if you are not an ice skater, or do not feel like today is your day to try, enjoy the city center’s Au Bon Pain café. With traditional café umbrella tables around the rink, warm up with an espresso or soup in a bread bowl.
GM Renaissance Center
Don’t be fooled that the RenCen is only for GM Headquarter employees. The cylindrical office grouping is actually home to more than 70 different shops and restaurants. The new lobby and GM Wintergarden offer great views of the Detroit River and are great places to enjoy live music on the outdoor Riverfront Plaza. Here at the RenCen you can catch the high-riding People Mover or one of the latest movies playing at the Riverfront 4 Theatres.
Opa! Home to the best Greek cuisine around and the Greektown Casino, this neighborhood off Monroe Street offers a variety of fare. From shops to bars, this area of the city is the best place to be in the evening hours. Enjoy a plate of flaming saganaki at one of the numerous authentic restaurants like Pegasus Taverna or the oldest on the block, the New Hellas Café. Should you want more variety, check Fishbone’s down the street – they have the best pan-seared scallops.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *