2009 Chevrolet HHR
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    16 Owner Reviews
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    2009 Chevrolet HHR Expert Review:Autoblog

    The following review is for a 2008 Model Year. There may be minor changes to current model you are looking at.


    2008 Chevy HHR SS – Click above for high-res image gallery

    Our first experience with the Chevy HHR was back in 2006 when we rented one in Los Angeles while covering the 2006 L.A. Auto Show. Being a fleet vehicle, our HHR rental failed to impress with its raspy, underpowered Ecotec four-cylinder and cheap interior materials. The HHR does, however, have a way about itself. Its retro-inspired design is just plain good looking, better than the PT Cruiser to which this vehicle is most often compared (they were both designed by Brian Nesibtt, GM's current Executive Director of its European design center), and its outward attractiveness shows even on bare bones rental units like the one we abused in L.A.

    The 2008 Chevy HHR SS would seem to be the HHR we always wanted, with more power, an upgraded interior, aggressive tweaks to the exterior and the same two-box shape and clever cargo solutions that make the base model popular. But with the market for new car sales in the U.S. as soft as it is, should Chevy be spending its time making a high-horsepower, better handling SS version of a vehicle like the HHR? Read on to find out if their effort was worth it.



    All photos Copyright ©2008 John Neff / Weblogs, Inc.





    The HHR's retro design is probably not for everyone, but it's a hit with us. It applies specific cues from the 1949 Chevy Suburban to a smaller, tidier package and adds just enough modernity to avoid being a caricature of the past. The General Motors Performance Division (GMPD) didn't just slap a spoiler and some big wheels on a base model to make the HHR SS, but gave the high-performance model a completely new front fascia with a split grille, big lower air intake framing the turbocharged engine's intercooler and a subtle chin spoiler.



    Part of what makes the HHR's retro design so nostalgic are its chunky fenders that used to be all the rage some 60 years ago, and here they look right at home shrouding a set of large 18-inch aluminum wheels wearing Michelin all-seasons. There's also a spoiler perched atop the rear hatch and a new rear apron through which a single, larger exhaust tip exits. Finally, there are special "SS Turbocharged" badges heralding the vehicle's motive force on each front door and the rear liftgate.



    Our HRR SS tester was coated in a rich shade of Blue Flash Metallic paint, and thanks to body-colored mirrors, side sills and super chunky pillars, there's a lot of surface area to show off the color. While those wide pillars may look fun from the outside, but they also create some big blind spots from the driver's seat. Staring through the short and rather upright windshield can also be frustrating as traffic lights disappear from view long before you reach the white line. This is the price one pays for a cool design.



    The interior of the HHR SS is made from the same hard, textured plastic as our rental vehicle was two years ago, but Chevy has added a few extra touches of differentiation. The most obvious is the turbo boost gauge mounted on the A-pillar. Some might think it's cool, but we found it looked aftermarket and was superfluous. The seats are also performance spec with wide cushions and deep bolsters that are both extremely comfortable and grippy. The upholstery is a combination of black woven nylon and gray "suede" Ultralux inserts that make the new thrones look like the most expensive items inside the vehicle.



    The rest inside is standard GM parts bin components that are shared with a number of the automaker's other vehicles. While the HVAC controls and stereo are easy to use, we're getting tired of seeing them in almost every Chevy, Saturn, Pontiac, Buick and GMC vehicle we test. The instrument panel, meanwhile, feels like one continuous piece of thin, hard plastic, and the door panels flex in and out from the pressure of your leg pressing against them.



    The leather-covered steering wheel with redundant controls for the upgraded stereo (iPod jack included, thank you) and cruise control is swollen in the right places, though could be a bit smaller. There's also some "chrome" trim on the gauge dials, door handles, vents and floor shifter that add a sparkle from the sun to break up the acreage of black.

    Rear-seat occupants are treated to the same visual and tactile aesthetic as front-seat passengers and take their places on a 60-40 split folding bench seat. Head and legroom are adequate regardless of where you sit, unless you're the fifth person who's stuck riding center in the second row. There's no third row of seats in the HHR, which is fine. We wouldn't trade this vehicle's excellent ability to swallow stuff for a couple of extra cramped seats.



    The second row of seats folds completely flat in the HHR and are also backed with plastic flooring. When down, you've got a cavernous cargo hold with a completely flat and level floor that's finished in durable plastic instead of stainable carpet. There are two smaller storage nooks with closeable lids built into the floor and a larger one at the rear hatch. Configurable in a number of ways with nets, straps and different shelving configurations, the cargo carrying and organizing ability of the HHR are some of its best selling points.



    It's finally time to turn the darn thing on, and anyone who's twisted the key of a Pontiac Solstice GXP, Saturn Sky Redline or Chevy Cobalt SS Turbo will instantly recognize the sound of GM's 2.0L turbocharged, direct-inject Ecotec four-cylinder. A jewel of the General's engine lineup, this little mill puts out a stout 260 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque... when paired with the available five-speed Getrag manual transmission in the HHR SS. As you can see, our tester was equipped with GM's 4T45 four-speed automatic, with which the 2.0L turbo is dialed back to 235 hp for what we presume is a good reason other than giving us a giant buzz kill.

    Even being 25 horsepower down, this HHR SS can still haul aSS. Even though it's a cliché, the HHR SS really does feel like its powered by a V6 rather than a tiny 2.0L four-cylinder. Since the slushbox has only four forward gears, however, it relies too much on the engine's strength to makes its tall gears feel short. We can only imagine what the five-speed manual feels like when you engage it in the motor's sweet spot, as the automatic gives you just a taste. Since there's no manual shift option or paddle shifters, you're completely at the mercy of the four-speed automatic, which, like most GM gearboxes lately, seems more interested in short shifting for fuel economy than maximizing the engine's output.

    The upside to a stingy automatic is impressive fuel economy, with the HHR SS scoring an EPA estimate of 19 city and 28 highway mpg. We drove the HHR SS all over creation during its week with us, and because much of that was long-distance driving on the freeway, the trip computer reported that we averaged an incredible 27 mpg. We would've stayed ecstatic after our first refueling, but a sticker on the fuel filler door reminded us that only premium fuel gets poured down this engine's gullet.



    We honestly weren't thinking of gas prices while driving the HHR SS, though. That's because our mouths were left agape at how this vehicle handles. GM has become increasingly good at suspension tuning, somehow finding that perfect balance between sporty handling and a comfortable ride that exists around 7/10ths of a vehicle's full potential. That's about the limit of safe performance driving on public roads, and the HHR SS handles like a sports car up to that point before giving way to the understeer, torque steer and body roll you would expect. The top 3/10ths of the performance scale have been sacrificed, however, for a ride that's eminently livable on a day-to-day basis and downright comfy on long drives.



    If you can believe it, the HHR SS's FE5 sport suspension was actually tuned on the famed Nurburgring in Germany where it posted a record lap time for its class of 8:43.52. While the vehicle's basic suspension components were never meant to tackle the Green Hell, performance-spec components like a 23mm stabilizer bar up front and 24mm bar in the rear, gas-charged twin-tube struts and unique electric power steering system prove that this is no SS wannabe.

    We still haven't answered our original question: Should GM have bothered making an HHR SS? Retail and rental customers alike would've appreciated some extra monies applied to the tall wagon's interior, and wouldn't an HHR Hybrid (even a mild hybrid) make a lot of sense right now? Perhaps, but the HHR SS is anomaly the likes of which we'll encounter less and less of going forward. Stiffer CAFÉ and emissions standards will squeeze out development dollars for high-performance models, especially oddball ones like the HHR SS.



    The 2008 Chevy HHR SS has a base price of $24,560 $22,375 (sorry, misread the sticker), while our tester was loaded up to $24,560 (not including destination charges) with options like the four-speed automatic transmission ($1,000), side airbags all around ($395), an upgraded stereo system ($295), the Blue Flash Metallic paint job ($295) and XM Satellite Radio ($200). Its pool of potential buyers will be limited to those cross shopping vehicles like the Dodge Caliber SRT4 and MazdaSpeed3. The market for these vehicles isn't large and probably won't grow in the near term, but we don't think Chevy wasted its time developing the HHR SS. Aside from some a sub-par interior, it offers high performance and a level of practicality that aren't often found in the same vehicle at the same time. The HHR SS is much more than its rental fleet relatives would have you think, and for that it deserves a place in the lineup.



    All photos Copyright ©2008 John Neff / Weblogs, Inc.


    The General has been on a roll as of late with new vehicles like the Saturn Aura, Cadillac CTS, Chevy Malibu and its line of redesigned trucks and SUVs that have been garnering good reviews and the attention of customers. We were invited to test drive the new Chevrolet HHR SS to see if they've knocked one out of the park, hit a foul or, ahem, missed the ball completely when transforming the little retro-mobile into a Super Sport. Our driving and vehicle impressions can be found after the jump, but for starters, remember these two key phrases: launch control and no-lift shifting. Intrigued? We were.


    We'll get back to the techno-goodies baked into the HHR SS package soon, but first, maybe we can take some time to do a proper walk-around. The HHR has been around for a few years now, so you've likely already drawn a conclusion on its retro styling. There are some changes with the SS, but the car is still instantly recognizable as a Morris Minor Heritage High Roof. The front has been dropped a bit, and the wheels fill up the bulbous fenders much nicer with the SS package's 18-inch rims. They're shod with fairly sticky Michelin Pilot Sport tires at P225/45R18. We like the new aero-package as a whole, but are much more impressed by what's under the hood.

    Sporting the same Direct-Injected 2.0 liter four-cylinder as the Solstice GXP and Saturn Sky Redline, the HHR packs an impressive 130 horsepower per liter. Multiply that by 2 and you arrive at the full 260 horsepower that's available with the manual transmission. The automatic loses out on power by a few dozen horses and offers a more sedate driving experience. We'd suggest you stick to the manual so you don't miss out on the awesomeness that is the launch control and no-lift shifting.

    Here's how it works. Put the car into "Competitive Mode" by hitting the stability control button twice. Come to a stop. Floor the throttle. Release the clutch. Next up is the no-lift shift to second. You'll likely never tire of holding the go-pedal to the floor and slamming the shifter into the next gear. Reward yourself by keeping the engine at full power with no loss of boost pressure by no-lift shifting into third and you'll be staring at triple-digits on the speedometer. Hold off the throttle pedal a bit and you'll be able to get near 30 miles per gallon on the highway, according to the EPA.

    Keep an eye on the boost gauge, which has been added (seemingly rather hastily) to the driver-side A pillar. Depending on your choice of color, consider the red or our favorite, the silver interior schemes.

    The FE5 suspension that comes standard in the SS model strikes us as a good balance between the necessary freeway drones we all are forced to contend with and the twisty backroads that we all love to play with. The go-fast crew at GM played around with the settings some, but ended up only dropping the ride height a few millimeters.

    We thoroughly enjoyed our track time with the HHR SS at the Bondurant School of High Performance Driving. We flung the little SS around with no mercy and were quite impressed by how rewarding driving the tall wagon proved to be. The limited slip differential was a very welcome addition, and after a few hot laps, the optional Brembo brake package proved that it is indeed worth whatever extra GM decides to charge for it. We had the most fun with the stability control left in "Competitive Mode". According the the GM people, the HHR SS holds the lap record for its class at the Nürburgring. We doubt that we set any records at Bondurant's track, but we had fun trying.

    Of course, all is not perfect with the HHR SS. We wish that GM could have offered more than four forward ratios in the automatic model. Again, we stress that we highly recommend opting for the 5-speed stick. Speaking of that tranny, Chevy assured us that it tried using a six cog unit but found that the car was actually slower with it. Whatever the case, five forward gears was enough for us anyway. Other gripes include the lack of an available navigation system despite there being an excellent place for it at the top of the dash. And even though it's a high-roof, this tester's hair brushed the ceiling on sunroof-equipped models.

    All of those criticisms miss the fact that for $22,995, the General has made a pretty darn good performance bargain with a giant boot to match. Launch control works well, and frankly we are a bit surprised that the feature, along with no-lift shifting, made it into production despite all of the people who could have axed it. In conclusion, the car performs as you'd expect an SS to perform. If you just can't live with the HHR's style, the Cobalt SS will soon be offered with the same engine and transmission package, including the launch control and magic shifting. Even better: wait a few months for the SS Panel to hit the dealers showroom. Trust us: you could so rock the Panel.



    PRESS RELEASE:


    DETROIT – During the nation's largest celebration of automotive heritage, the Woodward Dream Cruise, Chevrolet introduced the newest member of the prestigious SS family: the 2008 HHR SS.

    The HHR SS combines all of the style and capability of the popular HHR family with uncompromising performance, including a turbocharged and intercooled engine that produces 260 horsepower (194 kW), unique exterior styling and a SS-specific interior. The vehicle was developed by GM Performance Division (GMPD), with a team of engineers and designers dedicated to crafting high-performance vehicles.

    "With its muscular stance, turbocharged power and track-capable handling, the HHR SS is a worthy addition to SS lineup," said Ed Peper, Chevrolet general manager. "It also reaffirms in a big way Chevy's commitment to the sport compact market."

    Standard features include unique exterior appointments, with all-new front and rear fascias, new front grilles, a rear spoiler and 18-inch polished forged aluminum wheels wrapped with Michelin performance all-season tires. Inside, SS-embroidered sport seats – with ultra suede inserts – a new gauge cluster with 140-mph speedometer, an A-pillar boost gauge and a new, driver-oriented steering wheel and shifter support the serious driving capabilities.

    Along with its high-performance attributes, the HHR SS comes standard with a host of safety and convenience features, including the StabiliTrak electronic stability control system and four-wheel disc brakes with ABS. Optional equipment includes side-impact air bags and a power-operated sunroof.

    "This vehicle delivers all of the style, comfort and convenience found in the HHR portfolio, but also offers outstanding performance and versatility without sacrificing fuel economy," added Peper. "There's simply nothing else like it when it comes to four-door driving fun for the value."

    The HHR SS arrives in dealerships in the fourth quarter of 2007.

    An SS from the get go
    The '08 HHR SS was engineered by GM Performance Division and is the first SS model developed since GMPD was charged with overseeing all of the "go, stop and turn" requirements demanded of any new Chevrolet wearing the SS badge.

    "Beginning with HHR SS, all future SS models will have superior power, braking and handling capabilities for maximum credibility with our customers and enthusiasts alike," said John Heinricy, GM Performance Division executive. "The SS badge represents high performance, and the HHR SS delivers with a fully-integrated, balanced driving experience."

    To that end, the HHR SS was engineered to offer more than simply increased power. An all-new FE5 Sport suspension was developed and tuned at Germany's famed Nürburgring racing circuit. It includes specific stabilizer bars, spring rates and damper tuning – all designed to complement the turbocharged powertrain.

    Consequently, the HHR SS delivers a sports car-like maximum lateral grip of 0.86 g (with manual transmission). The brake system is enhanced, too, with a four-wheel disc system and standard ABS. StabiliTrak electronically controlled stability control system is standard.

    The HHR SS's performance rubber meets the road via Michelin Pilot Sport MXM4 P225/45R18 tires mounted on 18-inch polished forged aluminum five-spoke wheels.

    SS style
    The HHR SS is distinguished on the exterior with several unique features:
    • New air dam-style front fascia with fog lamps
    • New mesh-style upper and lower grilles
    • New rear fascia with outlet for single bright exhaust tip
    • Rear spoiler (mounted above rear glass)
    • New rocker moldings
    • Body-color door handles, mirror caps and rear license plate surround
    • SS badges on the front doors and rear liftgate

    Large, five-spoke 18-inch polished forged aluminum wheels and performance tires are standard and are tailored with the specific body enhancements to give the HHR SS a lower, performance-oriented stance. Likewise, the available exterior colors enhance the sporty nature of the vehicle. They include Victory Red, Black, Light Tarnished Silver Metallic, Mystique Blue Flash Metallic and Sunburst Orange II Metallic.

    Like the exterior, the interior is unique to the HHR SS, including SS-embroidered sport seats with suede-like UltraLux inserts, a specific gauge cluster, an A-pillar-mounted turbo boost gauge and a new shifter arrangement. Three interior color combinations are available: Ebony, Light Grey and Victory Red.

    Chevrolet is one of America's best-known and best-selling automotive brands. With the largest dealer network in the United States, Chevy is the leader in full-size trucks and the leader in sales of vehicles priced $35,000 and above. Chevrolet delivers more-than-expected value in every vehicle category, offering cars and trucks priced from $9,995 to $83,175. Chevy delivers expressive design, spirited performance and great value with standard features usually found only on more expensive vehicles. More information on Chevrolet can be found at www.chevrolet.com.

    Utility and efficiency with style.

    Introduction

    The Chevrolet HHR is a car-based retro-wagon that celebrates its Chevy heritage with styling inspired by the iconic 1949 Suburban. HHR stands for Heritage High Roof, a reference to the early high-roofed Suburbans and panel wagons that inspired its design. 

    Based on the same platform as the Chevrolet Cobalt, the HHR was first launched as a 2006 model. The HHR is similar in concept to the Chrysler PT Cruiser. 

    We found the Chevy HHR fun to drive. It isn't a sports car, but it's nimble and we were pleased with its acceleration. The HHR feels more responsive than its horsepower, torque, and transmission ratio numbers suggest. Plus, it gets decent fuel economy. 

    The HHR Panel Van features smooth, windowless side panels and side cargo doors with no handles. The cargo doors open via an instrument panel button. While it's plainer inside and provides seating for only two, the Panel best exemplifies the early Suburban heritage. 

    The HHR SS is the most fun to drive of the HHR models, launching quickly off the line and offering sharp handling. On an autocross circuit, we found the SS model handled like a sports car. 

    The HHR interior isn't as functional as we'd like, however, and the base cloth fabric left us wishing we'd ordered the optional leather. 

    The 2009 HHR is unchanged in any major way over the previous model, but there are numerous detail changes and upgrades. There is now an HHR Panel SS model. 2009 Chevy HHR SS models are available with an optional SS Performance Package, which includes Brembo four-piston front brake calipers and a limited-slip differential. Standard on all 2009 HHR models are XM Satellite Radio, anti-lock brakes, Stabilitrak vehicle stability control system with traction control, and roof-rail side-curtain airbags. The 2.2-liter engine delivers more power and better fuel economy for 2009, and there is E85 FlexFuel capability on the 2.2-liter and 2.4-liter engines. A back-up camera is available as an option, and there are a few other trim and convenience enhancements. 

    The 2009 Chevy HHR comes in two body styles, the four-door utility configuration with windows and back seats and the Panel truck with no side rear windows and no back seat. Each is available in LS, LT, and SS trim. 

    The standard engine is a 2.2-liter four-cylinder, rated at 155 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque. A 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine is optional, and included as standard with the 2LT trim; it's rated at 172 horsepower and 167 pound-feet of torque and delivers crisp, responsive performance. The SS version has a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 260 horsepower (250 with the automatic transmission) and 260 pound-feet of torque (233 with the automatic) and cranks out seriously invigorating performance. Each engine is available with a five-speed manual or an optional four-speed automatic transmission. 

    Lineup

    The 2009 Chevrolet HHR LS ($18,720) comes with air conditioning, power windows, power mirrors, power locks, cruise control, and a substantial level of standard features and equipment. Options for the LS include remote start, the automatic transmission ($1,000), running boards, a spoiler, and a variety of other factory and dealer-installed features and accessories. 

    The HHR LT ($20,720) adds remote start as standard, an eight-way power driver's seat, driver's lumbar support, and the availability of many more optional extras, including a Bright Chrome Appearance Package, which includes 16-inch chrome alloy wheels, and the Sun and Fun Edition, which includes sunroof and the 16-inch wheels. 

    The HHR 2LT adds the LT Equipment Group ($1,700), which includes the 2.4-liter engine, 17-inch chrome alloy wheels, fog lamps, running boards, FE3 sport suspension, Bluetooth connectivity, leather-wrapped steering wheel, auto-dimming mirror, and a Pioneer audio system with seven speakers and 260 watts. 

    The HHR SS ($24,815) adds the turbocharged engine, performance handling suspension, 18-inch polished alloy wheels, SS embroidered seats, a rear spoiler, and other items. Optional on the SS is the Performance Package ($895). 

    The HHR Panel comes in LS ($19,030), LT ($21,030), and SS ($25,135) versions. Options and prices for the Panel are the same as for the equivalent levels of the non-Panel versions. 

    Safety features include front airbags, front and rear side-curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes, Stabilitrak electronic stability control with traction control, and tire-pressure monitoring. 

    Walkaround

    We like the retrospective styling of the Chevy HHR. The closest comparison is the Chrysler PT Cruiser, another retro-styled utility vehicle with good fuel efficiency. 

    The rounded nose of the HHR is not unlike Chevy's SSR, which also reflects the brand's truck heritage. The HHR's fenders are well defined, with flat side wheel-well openings contrasting favorably with the vehicle's many curved, contemporary sculpted surfaces. Front and rear bumpers and fog lamps are integrated into seamless fascia, with nostalgic integrated running boards. The flush glass all around, including the windshield, is a nice touch, as are the headlights surrounded by body panels in old school fashion. The taillamp treatment consists of two round vertically stacked lenses on each side. The large, prominent grille is chrome, (except on the SS model), and appears much like that of the 1949 Suburban. 

    Front and rear bumpers are molded from composite material, integrated as part of their respective fascia. The Chevy HHR offers a more traditional look than other vehicles in its competitive set. It provides lots of room and functionality without being boxy. When viewed from a distance, the HHR looks larger than it really is. Examined closely, it's compact. And you have to sit down into it upon entry and rise out of it when exiting. 

    The HHR Panel has no side windows and cargo doors in place of conventional rear doors. The cargo doors open wide, enabling cargo access from both sides of the vehicle, as well as from the rear liftgate. The cargo doors are smooth and don't have external handles; they are opened via a dashboard release button or the remote keyless entry fob. The large, continuous area created by the windowless cargo doors and rear panels is ideal for business logos, advertising or personalization. Side visibility is obviously limited due to the solid sides without windows; one must rely primarily on mirrors for backing maneuvers. The smooth, windowless sides on the Panel give it a cleaner, retro, more hot rod look than the standard models. The lack of windows adds security for contents inside. 

    The HHR SS sits lower than its stable mates, but sports extended front and rear fascias that give it the appearance of riding much lower. The front fascia features an air-dam design with integrated fog lights, and the grille comes with mesh-style upper and lower grille inserts. The new rear fascia provides a cutout for a single bright exhaust tip. Rocker moldings somewhat resemble accentuated running boards. Out back, a rear spoiler is mounted above the rear glass. Body-color door handles, mirror caps and the rear license plate surround, along with SS badging on the front doors and liftgate, further differentiate the SS from the others. 

    Interior

    Inside, the Chevy HHR provides, for the most part, comfortable and functional surroundings. Included are durable, easy-to-clean cargo surfaces, a front passenger seat that folds flat for more cargo space, a 60/40 split/fold-flat second-row seat, and a multi-position cargo package tray in the rear that provides cargo security. Finding a comfortable seating position may require some effort; the problem seems to be with the contour of the seatback. Speaking of headroom, there isn't a lot of it, in spite of the high roof. Unless the seat is in its lowest position, you might find your head brushes the headliner, and the windshield header is low for taller drivers. 

    Cubby storage is limited. There's a handy flip-up compartment on top of the dash and a small glovebox. The rear provides one cupholder and small door pockets. The front-passenger seatback offers a tight storage net. 

    Side windows are controlled on the console by buttons located just ahead of the gear-shift lever, making them inconvenient to operate with ease; positioning them on the door would have been much better. 

    Second-row legroom is not particularly generous, and kids will definitely be more comfortable than adults. The rear seat, split 60/40, folds flat very easily, as does the front passenger seat, and, since the 60-percent side of the rear seat is on the left, a long item like a ladder can be slipped in diagonally, a nice feature. The rear cargo floor flips up to reveal a five-inch-deep tray useful for storage. The rear liftgate is one piece and raises easily. 

    The HHR Panel provides seating for two and a large, flat cargo floor with tie-down points to help hold things in place. The HHR Panel cargo area features a standard auxiliary power outlet, as well as a 40-amp auxiliary power connector to provide service for a variety of specialty equipment needs. Two large storage compartments, with a lockable option, are located forward under the cargo floor (in place of the rear seats of the passenger models). The compartments offer security for things such as computer equipment, flashlights, service manuals and other valuables. 

    The HHR SS features a special interior with SS-embroidered sport seats with inserts, a specific gauge cluster, an A-pillar-mounted turbo boost gauge and a new shifter arrangement. Three interior color combinations are available: Ebony, Light Gray and Victory Red. 

    Driving Impression

    The Chevy HHR offers a choice of engines, all of which offer good fuel economy. 

    We like the optional 2.4-liter Ecotec engine. The Ecotec is an aluminum four-cylinder engine, with 16 valves, electronic fuel injection and variable valve timing. The 2.4-liter delivers 172 horsepower at 5800 rpm and 167 pound-feet of torque at 4500 rpm. The torque peak figure at such a high rpm suggests that the low-rpm pulling power might be weak, but quite to the contrary, it's not. Faced with a steep, slow hill, the HHR worked its way upward like a tractor, with no shifting-down or searching by the automatic transmission. This high-load, low-rpm driving is what many drivers demand, and the pulling power of the 2.4-liter engine is impressive. 

    The four-speed automatic works well. We liked the way the automatic could be easily manually downshifted, even though it doesn't feature a separate manual mode. And we liked how it held second gear going down steep and slow hills. 

    Acceleration is impressive. Merge onto a freeway, with the foot on the floor, and the HHR 2LT really scoots, making it a lot of fun. The 2.4-liter engine is quiet, thanks partly to specially laminated steel in the firewall. It's also fuel efficient. 

    The 2.4-liter gets an EPA-rated 22/28 mpg City/Highway. That's with either transmission. Premium fuel is recommended but not required. During one week in the HHR 2LT, we averaged 23.4 miles per gallon, as indicated by the digital display on the dash. That included mostly around-town driving, plus about 120 freeway miles with a full load of passengers and the cruise control set at 70. The HHR got slightly better mileage at that freeway pace than it did light-footed around town. 

    The best fuel economy comes from the base 2.2-liter engine, which gets an EPA-rated 22/30 mpg City/Highway. 

    Even the SS, with its 260-horsepower engine and manual transmission, delivers EPA ratings of 21/29, City/Highway. 

    The 2LT has a sport-tuned suspension with 17-inch aluminum wheels. There is no harshness to the ride around town, or over freeway bumps for that matter. The HHR is nimble, though the suspension shows its limitations when driven like a sports car. Chevrolet said it put a lot of time into the calibration of the rack-and-pinion steering with power assist, and we would say it feels just right around town. 

    Brakes are discs up front, drums in the rear, and have an easy feel. The SS has four-wheel discs. ABS is standard on all models. 

    The HHR SS features a 260-horsepower 2.0-liter turbocharged and intercooled Ecotec four-cylinder engine with either a five-speed manual or four-speed automatic transmission. The SS rides on performance tires, mounted on 18-inch polished alloy wheels, and the FE5 performance suspension was tuned on the famous Nurburgring track in Germany. The suspension includes specific stabilizer bars, spring rates and shock absorber tuning, all of which were designed to complement the turbocharged powertrain. 

    We drove two SS models, one with a manual gearbox and Brembo brakes and the other with an automatic, in and around Phoenix as well as on an autocross course and the road course at Firebird International Raceway. In all cases, it handled everything thrown at it in superior fashion. It really gets going on acceleration, has very powerful brakes, handles as well as many sports cars, and at a bargain price, while managing to deliver remarkably good fuel economy. Our preference was for the manual gearbox and Brembo brakes. 

    Summary

    The Chevy HHR is a practical cruiser that lends itself to personalizing and customization. It is a nostalgic hauler for people who want something different, and who appreciate the classic looks of the 1949 Chevy Suburban. It's available with three different Ecotec engines, depending upon the model. It's not designed for off-road driving or even serious winter weather, however. Its 57.7 cubic feet of cargo space doesn't lead the class, but the fact that the seats may be folded flat increases the utility. In the end, it's all about styling preferences. Obviously, the HHR Panel is a lot roomier with its lack of rear seats. 

    NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Sam Moses reported on the HHR from the Columbia River Valley; Arv Voss test drove the HHR SS around Phoenix and at Firebird International Raceway, and test drove the HHR Panel in the San Francisco Bay Area. 

    Model Lineup

    Chevrolet HHR LS ($18,720); LT 1LT ($20,720); LT 2LT ($22,420); SS ($24,815); Panel LS ($19,030); Panel LT 1LT ($21,030); Panel LT 2LT ($22,730); Panel SS ($25,135). 

    Assembled In

    Ramos, Arizpe, Mexico. 

    Options As Tested

    LT Preferred Equipment Group ($1,700) includes sport suspension, 17-inch aluminum wheels, Stabilitrak, traction control, Pioneer seven-speaker sound system, leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, bright exhaust, fog lights, running boards; power sunroof ($750). 

    Model Tested

    Chevrolet HHR LT ($20,720). 

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