Latest Industry News

2008 Chevrolet HHR SS: Retro Looks Belie its Cutting Edge Technology

Here at VehicleVoice, we get the opportunity to test a lot of different vehicles. After a while, it’s all too easy to start drawing conclusions about some of those vehicles that show up at our office before actually driving them. Take the 2008 Chevrolet HHR SS, for example. Ever since the regular HHR came out a few years back, this writer had basically dismissed it as a PT Cruiser clone…several years too late. Sure, it had a spacious and functional interior package, especially relative to its tidy exterior size, but PT Cruiser pulled off the same high-function retro package years ago.


So it was too easy to dismiss this bright blue SS model. It was the same basic package, but with lowered suspension, 18-inch alloys, some fancy seats, and an engine upgrade. Big whoop. And then we drove it.

A few years back, Chevrolet swore to us that any future SS models would live up to those initials’ reputation. Back in the day, the SS designation meant serious performance. Sadly, the hallowed SS moniker became more of a trim package on various Chevrolet models in later years, forgoing any of the real performance that SS models of the past were known for. Fortunately, this latest generation of SS models are high on performance again, and better still, many, like this HHR SS, are future oriented performance vehicles with advanced technologies that address today’s new realities.
Let’s get this out of the way: the engine is a peach, and truly a harbinger of things to come. It’s a 235HP engine (260HP with a manual transmission) that truly scoots the little HHR with resounding authority. It’s quick, for sure. But dig a little deeper, and you’ll find that this is a very unconventional engine. It only has four cylinders, and it displaces just 2.0 liters! Yes, that’s actually smaller than the base HHR 2.2 liter engine, which makes just 149HP. Or, looking at it another way, it makes about the same horsepower as many 3.5 liter V6 engines on the market.


HHR SS’ diminutive 2.0L makes 260HP with a manual transmission

How is this possible? It’s all about efficient technology. The little engine has a turbo strapped on as well as variable valve timing and direct injection. That last feature is particularly important – each cylinder has a precisely metered fuel injector spraying fuel directly into the combustion chamber, resulting in greatly improved power and fuel economy.
The end result is that the engine truly feels twice its size, but offers economy car gas mileage. It’s smooth, refined, and has virtually no turbo lag – unlike many turbo engines from the past. Even with a heavy foot, we got gas mileage in the mid twenties – not bad at all considering the performance. Chevrolet says that with an automatic transmission (like ours), it will get 28 miles per gallon on the highway. In sum, this is truly guilt-free performance that’s easy on the pocketbook – ever more important today as gasoline is already past $4 per gallon nationwide.
The goodness doesn’t stop there. The chassis is unexpectedly well honed too. The car attacks corners with precision and enthusiasm that’s unexpected in such a tall vehicle. Yet, the ride quality is genuinely plush, with an amazing ability to smother even the worst broken pavement with a muted thump. This is particularly impressive given the ultra low profile 45-series tires on 18-inch wheels.
Styling, both in and out, is a matter of taste. This writer doesn’t personally relate to the retro mini-Suburban styling or its rice rocket-inspired seat upholstery. Still, everything seems well assembled and the vehicle felt extremely solid and totally rattle free. And the tall, upright body results in a spacious and functional interior package, though the smallish windows can make it seem a little claustrophobic inside.

Note the cool racer-style boost gauge on the A-pillar


Trim is not to everyone’s taste, but the seats are very supportive and comfy


Rear compartment is spacious, if a little cave-like

In some ways then, the HHR SS is something of a paradox, albeit an appealing one. Its styling is a definite nod to the past, but the powertrain in particular is cutting edge. As manufacturers seek ways to greatly improve fuel efficiency while maintaining power and drivability, we will no doubt see many conceptually similar engines (turbo, direct injection, small displacement, etc.) in the marketplace soon. The excellent chassis rounds out this incredibly apt package, one that all of us at VehicleVoice were universally (and unexpectedly) impressed with. All in all, this hot HHR variant is just so impressively cohesive and well-resolved, and starting at under $24,000, it’s a great value too.
Just like mom always said, you truly can’t judge a book by its cover.

Back to top