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american_driver

Autoweek: Chevrolet HHR SS: Give it an 'A'

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http://www.autoweek.com/apps/pbcs.dll/arti.../FREE/544250292

The turbocharged and intercooled four-cylinder engine in the Chevrolet HHR SS puts out 260 hp.

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By PATRICK C. PATERNIE

At Chevrolet, cubic inches and horsepower ratings share a high-performance legacy with alphabetic designations.

The most prominent designation--and, since the 1980s, arguably one of the most abused--is SS, or Super Sport. So forgive us for our initial skepticism when we first saw an SS-monogrammed HHR last August at the Woodward Dream Cruise. The HHR SS looked mean enough, squatting on 18-inch split-spoke polished forged-aluminum wheels with a snout extended by a burly air-dam-style bumper, black mesh upper and lower grilles and a roof-mounted rear spoiler. But super looks do not make a Super Sport.

Wariness remained even when General Motors vice chairman Bob Lutz extolled the HHR as the first product to meet a new mandate that SS vehicles must "turn, stop, and go substantially better than the base vehicle."

We let down our guard a bit when John Heinricy, respected race driver and engineering executive for the GM Performance Division that builds the HHR SS, said the car turned an 8:43.52-minute lap at the Nürburgring. That eclipsed the class record of a 240-hp Opel Zafira OPC by more than 10 seconds.

All doubt was erased, however, as we hustled the HHR SS through a narrow, squiggly heaving piece of asphalt known as Arizona Highway 88 near Phoenix.

"Everything from the tire contact patch to the steering wheel is new," said lead development engineer Brian Vivian. "Everything" includes wheel bearings, steering knuckle, all-season 225/45R-18 Michelin Pilot MXM4s, a 20 percent quicker electric power-assisted steering rack, and a smaller-diameter steering wheel. Software mitigates torque steer without masking road feel. Later, on a test track, we forgot we were driving a front-drive vehicle, let alone one that can haul a small family and their luggage.

The intercooled turbocharged 2.0-liter Ecotec (new cylinder head, intake manifold, direct-injection fuel system, forged rods and more) features variable boost pressure (21 psi maximum) to compensate for air temperature and altitude. As a result, turbo lag was never an issue.

The engine produces 260 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque when paired with the five-speed manual trans, 235 hp and 223 lb-ft with the four-speed automatic. Both transmissions include "launch mode" that switches off traction control. Manual transmissions add "no-lift shift" that allows nearly 6300-rpm redline "speed shifts" without releasing the accelerator pedal. Chevy claims this gets you from 0 to 60 in 6.3 seconds.

Chevy folks noted that console-mounted window switches were moved to the doors to allow engineers to relocate the short-shift manual unit farther forward and higher to fall readily at hand. In addition, the upgraded interior includes an A-pillar-mounted boost gauge, instrument panel with 140-mph speedometer and supportive driver's sport seat.

Does the HHR deliver on the SS promise? We'll go to the alphabet and give it an A.

SPECS: 2008 CHEVROLET HHR SS

ON SALE: Now

BASE PRICE: $22,995

DRIVETRAIN: 2.0-liter, 260-hp, 260-lb-ft turbocharged inline four; fwd, five-speed manual

CURB WEIGHT: 3280 lb

0-60 MPH: 6.3 sec

FUEL ECONOMY: 24.4 mpg (est)

Edited by american_driver
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