The Chevrolet HHR that looks like a 1949 Suburban sent into the next century via time machine has a bit of a hot-rod look, and the SS version now has some added beans under the hood.
The HHR, or Heritage High Roof, is a retro-styled little truck that shares its basic chassis platform with the Chevy Cobalt, and its looks beg for some hot-rod treatment. Until now, the hottest engine was a 172-horsepower four-cylinder, but that changes with the availability of the SS, which gets the same 2.0-liter, 260-horsepower turbocharged engine that is used in the Pontiac Solstice GXP and the Saturn Sky Red Line. This engine is smoother and more civilized than its less powerful kin, and its added vigor is most welcome. Fuel economy is a reasonable 21 miles per gallon in the city and 29 on the highway with the manual transmission.
An SS version of the HHR panel van will be available as a 2009 model.
The HHR LS, with a 149-horse, 2.2-liter engine, has a base price of $16,730. The SS starts at $22,995, and the test vehicle had a sticker price of $24,475. The SS comes in red, black, silver, blue or orange.
Chevy has positioned the HHR as an alternative to compact SUVs because of its fold-flat rear seat. The cargo space, however, is smaller than most compact SUVs. Chevy sold 105,000 HHRs in 2007.
The HHR is technically a truck, but it drives like a sedan because it is built with many of the front-wheel-drive Cobalt components. The SS's suspension has been tuned for high-speed driving. The vehicle feels stable in turns because the body stays flat. The wide tires transmit pavement irregularities through the steering wheel, but overall the ride is comfortably firm.
The SS can be distinguished from lesser models by its deeper front fascia, new grille and 18-inch wheels. The SS fascia helps stability at higher speed, but its prominence makes it look a bit like the chin guard on a football helmet.
Inside, the SS has sport seats with embroidered logos, a new gauge cluster with 140-mph speedometer, a turbo boost gauge on the windshield pillar and a sportier steering wheel. The black leather seats and door panels had red accents that were bright without being too gaudy. The power window switches have been moved from the center console to the door panel.
The numerals in the gauges were not as easy to read as they could be because they are often in the shade. Lighting them continuously would solve the problem. Some other GM products have the same issue.
The HHR SS also comes with GM's StabiliTrak electronic stability control system and four-wheel, anti-lock disc brakes. Optional equipment includes side-impact airbags and a power-operated sunroof.
The split-folding rear seat is easy to put down. Rear legroom is fairly tight. The cargo space is fairly square and not very tall.
The center stack contains GM's newly designed audio system. This unit looks good and works well. One nice feature is that the station presets can be any combination of AM, FM and XM stations. The test car was equipped with the optional XM satellite radio. The sound system has an input jack for an iPod or other MP3 player.
The base price of the test truck was $22,375. Options included a limited-slip differential, side airbags, upgraded audio system, satellite radio and a performance driver's seat. The sticker price was $24,475.
Three years or 36,000 miles with a five-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranty.