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Chevrolet HHR SS Review
Does the Chevrolet HHR SS deserve to wear its Super Sport badge?
By Jeremy Korzeniewski, Oct. 20, 2008

Does the HHR deserve to wear the SS badge? Let's start with the aforementioned powerplant. Despite having just 2.0-liters of displacement, the SS mill has been turbocharged, intercooled and features direct injection. As a matter of fact, no production engine ever produced by General Motors has produced as much power-per-liter as this Ecotec four-banger. When mated to the standard five-speed manual transmission, the engine offers up a meaty 260-horsepower and 260 ft-lbs of torque, though it's toned down a bit when coupled with GM's 4T45 four speed automatic, producing 235 hp in that configuration. We'd stick with the stick, so to speak. For what it's worth, the drivetrain is shared with the Cobalt SS in both two and four door bodystyles as well as the Pontiac Solstice GXP and Saturn Sky Redline. It's a gem in all of its assorted applications, so if it's the engine you're after, you have a wide assortment of wrappers to get it in.

FAST FACTS

1. No lift-shifting means there’s no interruption of the boost between gears.

2. It may be fast but it’s also a people-mover and it show. In fact the HHR SS was 21 seconds slower around the Nurburgring that the Cobalt SS.

SS MODEL GETS MILD MAKEOVER INSIDE AND OUT

Closing the shapely hood reveals a body that mimics the 1949 Chevy Suburban. It was designed by Brian Nesibtt, the same man who styled the PT Cruiser when he worked for Chrysler. His retro touch shows up in both vehicles, which are often cross-shopped by buyers. The SS model from Chevy gets a modified front-end with a larger and lower opening to let the gaping intercooler breathe. Beneath the two-tiered grille sits a relatively discreet chin spoiler, which is part of a ground effects package wrapping the lower section of the car. Filling up the large and extremely rounded front fenders are 18-inch alloy rims shod in Michelin Pilot Sport tires sized P225/45R18.

On the inside, Chevrolet has gussied-up the HHR's guts enough that it doesn't shout "rental car" like its base-model siblings. There is a boost gauge mounted to the A-pillar, though you've got to take your eyes off the road to see it properly. The dash sees no major modifications, but the seats are new and rather well bolstered. Red and silver accents are optional on the inside, showing up on the seats and door panels. These offer a small but noticeable improvement among the sea of dark plastic that makes up the HHR's interior. The steering wheel features radio controls and cruise control buttons -plus there's even an iPod jack.

IT’S SUPER SPORTY ALL RIGHT WITH NO LIFT SHIFTING AND LAUNCH CONTROL

Mindful application of the go-pedal and you can supposedly achieve EPA fuel economy ratings of up to 30 miles per gallon on the highway, although, the SS engine does require premium fuel. The SS badge is all about going fast, and this is one Super Sport that delivers on that promise. Complex computer gadgetry offers a "Competitive Mode" to the standard stability control. When engaged in manual transmission cars, this competition setting allows for what Chevy refers to as no-lift shifting along with launch control. These two features are quite possibly the best reasons not to buy an automatic HHR SS. Flooring the gas in Competitive Mode will bring the engine to its power peak. Dump the clutch and the computer will automatically adjust everything so that the SS accelerates at its fastest. When it's time to shift gears, there's no need to let off the gas. Again, the computer takes over and keeps the turbo's prodigious boost pegged so that there is no lag when hitting the next gear. It all works flawlessly and is a ton of fun too!

When it comes time to turn, the HHR SS is ready, coming standard with the FE5 suspension package. Included are firmer shocks, thick stabilizer bars front and rear and a drop in ride-height by a few millimeters. It all works well enough that the HHR SS set a new record for its class of 8 minutes and 43 seconds at Germany's famed Nürburgring racing circuit. We spent some time with the HHR SS making fast laps at the Bondurant School of High Performance Driving. While it's no 'Ring, we found that everything worked as advertised, especially the no-lift shifting and launch control. When tossing the tall wagon into high speed sweeping turns, the lowered suspension and sticky rubber allows the SS to take a nice set, though understeer is definitely the name of the game. There is, as usual with today's crop of high horsepower front-wheel drive cars, some torque steer, but nothing that feels dangerous or more serious than any of its competitors, including the MazdaSpeed 3 and Dodge Caliber SRT4.

We spent plenty of time behind the wheel of an automatic HHR SS as well, and drivers looking for a sporty alternative to other boxy competitors like the PT Cruiser will find an agreeable driving companion in the SS. Power is noticeably down, and there are only four forward ratios for the transmission to choose from, so acceleration and fuel efficiency are naturally compromised a bit. Plus, there are no steering wheel paddle shifters to play with. Still, there's plenty to like, including the large rear seat and cargo carrying capacity. That rear bench seat folds in a 60/40 arrangement and folds completely flat so you can tailor your ride for cargo, people or a combination of the two. As a cruiser, you could certainly do worse.

POSITIVE

Stunning 18-inch wheels
Great fuel economy and power
A limited slip differential and Brembo brakes

NEGATIVE

Premium fuel is required
Four-speed auto significantly diminishes fun
Not that different looking compared to standard HHR

THE VERDICT

Base price for the HHR SS stands at $25,475. For that money, we really can't complain too loudly about any of the car's deficiencies. We do wish that there were more speeds for the automatic transmission, and a six speed stick would seem appropriate in a performance car. On the plus side, side airbags are available, as are XM radio, a limited slip differential and upsized Brembo brakes. Highlights include the no-lift shifting and launch control, the massive amount of available cargo space and space for four of your best friends. All in all, there are few better performance bargains available. In that respect, we think that the General Motors Performance Division did an excellent job tuning the HHR. While musclecar purists and SS aficionados are free to disagree, I think GM has created a model that deserves to wear its SS badge proudly.