- The Washington Times - Friday, February 22, 2008

Chevrolet has added the versatile HHR utility vehicle to its performance ranks with the introduction of the new HHR SS model. No longer will a Chevrolet earn the coveted SS badging without the ability to stop better, handle better and perform better than the production version of the model in question. Such is the case with the new 2008 Chevrolet HHR SS.

A 2.0 liter Ecotec four cylinder turbocharged and intercooled engine now offers 260 horsepower and 260 pounds-feet of torque in the five speed manual transmission version. This combination is capable of zero to sixty times in 6.3 seconds. The EPA-estimated mileage with the manual transmission is 21 city and 29 highway. With the automatic transmission, the estimated mileage is 19 city and 28 highway. The optional four speed automatic transmission model comes in at 235 horsepower with 223 pounds-feet of torque.

In order to bring this newest model of the nostalgic five passenger Heritage High Roof (HHR) to market more quickly, the well tested and successful turbocharged engine found in the Pontiac Solstice GXP and the Saturn Sky Red Line was adopted to this latest entry in the return of the real Chevrolet SS legacy.

A turbo boost gauge is mounted in the driver side windshield pillar, just like the performance tuner cars offer. Redesigned instrument gauges also are specific to the HHR SS, along with power window switches relocated to the door panels. The gear shift lever on the manual transmission version has been repositioned further forward and a bit higher for a better feel while going through the gears. For an additional $95, a GM Performance driver’s seat with extended-length seat cushion and a high-bolster seatback is available.

To be a true SS model, the suspension of the HHR has been retuned through the use of SS-specific gas-charged twin-tube struts and gas-charged shocks with specific damper tuning. These changes and additional ‘SS only’ chassis tuning enabled this truck to achieve best in class times during testing on some of the world’s most challenging race circuits. In addition to the sport suspension, GM’s StabiliTrak (the electronic chassis control system) is standard equipment for even more confident handling. Eighteen inch polished wheels with Michelin Pilot Sport highway rated tires are just what the entire ride and handling package needed to exceed performance expectations.

Visually the HHR SS is also different. Gone are the bumperettes that were formed into the front and rear bumper areas of the regular HHRs. A new front air dam-style fascia with fog lamps, especially designed for the SS model, gives the HHR SS a more muscular look. The rear bumper area is redesigned to distinguish this HHR from the regular offering. Overall ride height has been lowered about six millimeters. A missing element needed to complete the performance image would be the addition of dual exhaust outlets. The single exhaust opening offered now, looks too pedestrian.

The HHR SS offers a Launch Mode that allows for consistent standing starts. Pushing the traction control button, on the instrument panel, removes the traction control. Push it again and the competitive mode appears and a third push puts the vehicle into Launch Mode.

On automatic transmission equipped models, by keeping the accelerator pedal force constant and with the other foot on the service brake, the engine will rev up and automatically maintain engine RPMs at approximately 4100. When the brake is released, the optimum launch is achieved every time with no turbo lag. This mode also controls the waste gate in the turbocharger to maximize power to the road. Launch Mode allows but minimizes wheel spin or slip, resulting in impressive controllable maximum acceleration.

In addition to the Launch Mode, on the manual transmission version, a No Lift Shift Mode maintains turbo boost and enables the driver to shift through the gears without losing power between shifts. Known by some hot rodders as power shifts, this No Lift Shift Mode adds the sophistication of adjusting some engine parameters. An algorithm in the engine’s controller allows upshifts to be performed very quickly without lifting the throttle.

All of the above add up to a well thought-out performance version of an existing model in the Chevrolet line up. The MSRP, including destination charge, starts at $22,995.

Certainly this is a positive beginning to the new Chevrolet SS moniker with a no compromise attitude. According to Chevrolet executives, we can look forward to more SS models in the future which will mean real performance is once again available.

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