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2008 Chevrolet HHR SS review

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Handling, value good for Chevy HHR SS

February 14, 2008



If there were ever a car to make you long for summer evenings, picnics and drives to the lake, it's the 2008 Chevrolet HHR SS.

Particularly if you drive really, really fast on the way to the lake and appreciate good value and fuel economy.

The HHR SS is the amped-up performance model of Chevrolet's compact retro wagon. Offering 260 horsepower, excellent handling, good fuel economy and a practical interior, it's a beach party on wheels that delivers kick-in-the-pants power at a bargain price. The combination of funky looks, value and terrific performance make the HHR SS my favorite among the current crop of sport compacts.

It's a spiritual successor to the surf wagons of yore, but with infinitely better handling and a 100,000-mile warranty on its high-output powertrain.

Prices for the 2008 HHR SS start at $22,375. All SS models come with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 260 horsepower at 5,300 r.p.m. and an impressive 260 pound-feet of torque at 2,000 r.p.m. when linked to the standard five-speed manual transmission. The engine is detuned to 235 horsepower and 223 pound-feet when linked to an optional four-speed automatic transmission.

I tested a well-equipped HHR SS with the manual transmission and a list of options that includes a limited-slip differential that virtually eliminates torque steer. It carried a sticker price of $25,604. All prices exclude destination charges.

The HHR SS competes with sporty compacts like the Dodge Caliber SRT4, Honda Civic Si sedan, Mazdaspeed 3 and Volkswagen GTI.

The Civic Si, Mazdaspeed 3 and VW GTI all beat the HHR SS handily on interior look and feel, but none of the cars can match its overall package of power, performance and value.

The Civic Si and GTI share the HHR SS' dynamic virtues -- clingy handling, good steering response and excellent brakes -- but at 197 and 200 horsepower, respectively, neither approaches its level of brute force.

The Mazdaspeed 3 and Caliber SRT4 have the power, at 263 and 285 horsepower, respectively, but rampant torque steer makes both of them more work than play when driven hard.

The HHR SS also stacks up well in fuel economy. Its EPA ratings of 21 m.p.g. city and 29 m.p.g. highway essentially match the GTI and Civic Si and beat the Mazdaspeed 3 and Caliber SRT4. All of the cars require premium gasoline, due to the high output wrung from their four-cylinder engines.

I drove an HHR SS to Chicago for the auto show last week and got a pleasant 27.2 m.p.g. on a long, fast highway run.

The car acquitted itself equally well on sharp, twisting roads. The steering provided excellent feel and response and the sport-tuned suspension kept the HHR SS flat and composed through high-speed curves.

The turbocharged engine revs freely and provides excellent power in all ranges from a full stop to high-speed passes. The manual transmission operates smoothly and the light clutch pedal won't exhaust your left leg in stop-and-go city conditions. The detuned 235-horsepower engine mated to the four-speed automatic provides ample power, but lacks the excitement of the full-bore package.

The HHR SS is so stable and quick that it's easy to lose track of your speed on the open road, as long as you have the optional 260-watt Pioneer stereo and like your tunes loud. Otherwise, the HHR transmits very noticeable road noise to the passenger compartment. Wind noise is minimal, however, and road noise is not an issue in city driving.

The interior offers the room and flexibility that helped make the HHR popular and adds sporty touches like a turbo boost gauge on the A-pillar.

Optional sport seats provide good support and comfort. They come in three color combinations and feature leather trim with mesh neoprene and suede seating surfaces. The doors also feature color-matched leather inserts, which look good, but do little to improve the comfort of the HHR's hard armrests.

Hard plastic trim in a few other places, most notably the top of the door where you're most likely to rest an elbow, are less appealing than the carefully crafted interiors of the Civic Si, GTI and Mazdaspeed 3.

Exterior touches unique to the HHR SS include 18-inch polished five-spoke aluminum wheels, mesh-style grilles, an air-dam-style front fascia with fog lights and body-color door handles and mirror caps.

A small rear spoiler mounted on the car's roof looks a bit out of place on the HHR's rounded retro profile, however.

The HHR SS comes with standard antilock brakes and electronic stability control, but curtain air bags are an option.

Despite its minor shortcomings, though, the HHR SS is a blast, and a car anybody shopping for an affordable sporty compact should consider.

Link to the story is HERE

All in all a good review. The complaints made were to be expected since they mostly revolved around the quality of the interior which could certainly use some improvement. Let's hope GM brings the interior of this vehicle up to par as they have with *most* of their recent MCE's and redesigns.

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I really want to like the HHR. The outside is very cool. I agree with the author that the inside is too 'plasticky.' It seems this vehicle has always suffered from money spent on the exterior, cool features and power, but the cash ran out when it came to the quality of the interior materials.

Spend a few more dollars on plastic and less on incentives.

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