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GM gets it right in its HHR SS trucklet
Sunday, August 31
www.DallasNews.com



The Grateful Dead might call it Quasi-Trucking.

My neighbors probably smiled at the Chevy HHR in my driveway recently, figuring I had finally landed a real job.

After all, the compact HHR crossover would make a perfectly "correct," economical vehicle for, say, a house-painting business in the sensitive, totally tofu 21st century. (Sign me up for the Belo buyout, hand me that bucket and Glidden gimme cap, and I'll even slap a "Save the Cows" sticker on the back).

It would probably work out OK. The retro-styled '08 HHR vaguely resembles a blunt-nosed, strong- shouldered '50s-era Suburban that got left in a dryer too long. It looks stout and blue-collar virtuous in slightly shrunken ways – traits I find appealing for some reason.

But my HHR arrived with a tantalizing twist. As some of my sharper neighbors may have noticed, the "HHR" on the back shared sheet metal with an "SS" badge, probably prompting a few to wonder, "What in blue blazes is a Chevy HUH-HERZZZ?"

The sound of General Motors fighting back, I think.

HHRs start out as pretty solid four-cylinder, front-wheel-drive citizens with 149 ho-hum horsepower. With the SS designation (Super Sport, as most of you know), the HHR gets a much stronger engine, tighter suspension, better steering, larger tires and wheels, and way bigger grins.

The price rises accordingly, from a base of $16,730 to the $24,475 on mine. But it is money well spent.

Although sales of all HHRs remain modest – 62,336 through July, up 4.3 percent – it is another of the reasonably successful nontruck vehicles that GM has introduced in the last couple of years as buyers drift away from big SUVs and pickups.

GM doesn't get much credit for it, but the banged-up automaker is doing a pretty good job of reshaping itself in the ugly '00s. Sales of the redesigned '08 Chevrolet Malibu, for example, have increased an astounding 37 percent in an extremely weak market.

Moreover, I think the old-world Detroit automaker is doing it with some flair. Cautious mainstreamers like Toyota and Honda don't build quirky, semi-retro crossovers like the HHR – which to my eyes looks funkier than Chrysler's stale PT Cruiser.

Based on a Cobalt compact car platform, the HHR must make do with a four-banger and front-wheel drive – not exactly a recipe for excitement. But in SS form, it gets a 2-liter Ecotec four-cylinder engine with direct fuel injection and a turbocharger. The result is 260 pretty impressive horsepower and respectable fuel economy of 21 miles per gallon city, 29 highway.

FULL (Long) REVIEW

 

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That's because it's turbocharged.

You can't go wrong with a turbo.

I've always thought the LSJ was awkward.
 

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1st mod: center the cross on the grill!
 

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Congratulations, that is one ride I would definitely consider. I think the HHR SS would be a great commuter as well as a family vehicle; even family vehicles need to be fun.
 

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Nice review.

Man, I wish Chevy would offer the HHR SS with an optional AWD set up. Just steal it from the Saab 9-3.
 

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The 2009 HHR will have the P/W switches finally placed on the window armrest where it belongs.
Now, if GM had only made real improvements to the Cobalt.
Look at Honda, the Civic is the best selling car in the country but they werent satisfied and improved the front end. Can you imagine GM improving the Cobalt like that? Heck, they wont even give the car more comfortable seats or a telescoping steeering wheel.
Wagoner is a putz.
 

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The only thing I don't like about the SS is the front end, saw one in real life a few weeks ago... it just sticks out too far. Otherwise it is nothing I would object to.
 

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My first mod, after the removal of the dealership front plate, would be to paint the silly gold bowtie black, or red. :yup: That's a solid little review!
 

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Glad they did such a job with this vehicle! That's encouraging! I REALLY hope they do a second generation but find a way to keep the funky styling, but also resist the urge to make it much bigger and a 7-seater. There are enough larger people movers at GM... leave the HHR as a compact! What they SHOULD do is increase the amount of window surface and perhaps raise the roof a tiny bit, to get rid of that claustrophobic feeling.
 

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Improve the tupperware interior and it's a winner! Kinda cool how it has two different front seats.
 

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I don't think I've ever seen a review from the Dallas Morning News that was negative on any car.

That said, the HHR is a good car. I really like the one I bought for my wife a year ago. After 23K miles we still haven't had a problem with it. It has a smooth ride, tons of practicality, good fuel economy (I can get it up to 31mpg at 65mph), a VERY strong AC, and the looks have grown on me.

However there is a lot of room for improvement. While the interior is generally well laid out, there is on glaring mistake on the part of GM designers. Who on Earth decided to put the window switches between the gear selector and the center stack is an idiot. I shouldn't have to reach around the gear selector to put down the passenger side windows. Oddly enough, HHRs with a stick shift have the window switches on the armrest where they belong. My other complaints are a rattling radio antenna at speeds over 75mph and a windshield that is simply too low along the top edge. It is difficult to see stop lights a lot of the time.

The HHR's interior is still representative of what I call "old GM" in that it is nicely designed (except the window switches) but poorly executed because of low grade materials being used. I always advice people considering this car to get the Black interior because it doesn't look as cheap as the gray or beige interior.

When GM redesigns this car I would ask them to do the following to take if from being a good car to a great wagon. I would first move those switches to the doors where they belong. I would also use Malibu grade materials and the switch gear from the upcoming Cruze. The radio antenna should be moved to the rear of the roof. Finally modernize the exterior a bit. Give the windshield a bit more sweep and make it extend further into the roof for better visibility. Make the A, B, and C pillars narrower. Take the "heritage" design and modernize it "just a little" to give a more crisp look and better aerodynamics. IMO GM came really close to making the HHR into a hit but just missed the mark in part because of design but mainly because the bean counters got a hold of it. Bob has mostly solved the bean counter issues now they just need some better design. The Malibu is evidence that those bow tie boys DO know how to design a fantastic car.
 

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I own a HHR SS and I agree the interior needs work. The dash in particular looks and feels cheap. The steering wheel is nicely wrapped but the hub feels as if it might cut your finger it is so hard and sharp. I plan to re-trim the dash in vinyl and add some color to the all black dash/console area. I also agree the front overhang is too long, but they needed room for the intercooler. I plan to paint the bowties red, the gold just doesn't look quite right on my blue car. As for the performance, GM hit one out of the park. The turbo ecotec is clearly one of GMs best engines. Great performance and economy (I get approx 28mpg mixed, I could do better but I can't stay out of the boost!) the engine is smooth and the shifter has short positive throws. The car handles well and still maintains a decent ride with low road nosie. I needed the utility of a wgaon but wanted something that was fun to drive. The SS fits the bill perfectly.
 

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I, personally, always considered the HHR to be a crossover SUV/wagon of sorts. With its 2WD drivetrain, its not very much different than many of the smaller/mid-sized SUVs on roads today. I like that the HHR has the additional cargo space behind the 2nd row seats which make it more functional and not just a retro-cruiser like the PT.
 

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I wish they will put 6AT in HHR SS. It can make good replacement for my wife MAXX
You are dead on absolutely correct on that one. The 4 speed version of the SS is a total waste. The 6 speed could make it better than the manual and give even better fuel economy to boot!
 
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