First Drive: 2008 Chevrolet HHR SS

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.


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

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