Test Driven: 2009 Chevrolet HHR SS (6/10)

Chevy HHR SS

The HHR is a car that is definitely overlooked by most people. It was a reaction to the Chrysler PT Cruiser, but it took GM 5 whole years before it was in showrooms. The HHR was often referred to as a small SUV, but honestly its proportions are only slightly larger than those of a Mazda3, and it lacks the ground clearance of a true crossover. It is a bit of an oddball car, and it looks like an old milk truck to boot. That however does make it more interesting than the average car, especially the SS, where Chevy decided to throw in the same turbocharged 2.0L motor from the Cobalt SS. In fact I got the idea to do this review off of a whim when a bright red HHR SS pulled up next to me at a light. The car looked cool, and it peaked my interest enough that I went out and found one to test drive.  

The HHR is interesting in today’s world of beige and bland. The one I drove was bright red, just like the one I had seen earlier that day. That kind of intense color, on a car with such retro looks basically makes the HHR SS look like a hot-rodded milk truck, and that gives it a certain badass flavor right from the get go. Buying one of these will get you noticed, for better or worse, but the car is far more unique than most other turbocharged pocket rockets out there, and that definitely adds to its appeal.

Inside things become pretty standard Chevy, and this was back before their interior designs improved a lot. Everything that needs to be there is present, but there is no real fit or finish to speak of, and no fancy designs to hide the cheap quality of the materials. Functionally the HHR SS is fantastic though, with loads of trunk space. In fact, with the rear seats folded, I would struggle to think of much that could not fit in this car that wouldn’t  need a truck anyway. The HHR has a roomy cabin for its size, making use of a lot of vertical space; there is definitely a bit more room in the back seat compared to a Mazdaspeed3 or a WRX though as well. The driving position is also much higher up, making the HHR very crossover-like from behind the wheel.

On the move the HHR is a bit different than a Mazdaspeed3 or WRX as well. Because you sit so high, you feel like you have to reach downward for the gear lever, and that took some getting used to. The steering is pretty quick to react but lacks in road sensation; I had the front wheels spin a few times and I felt it through the chassis opposed to through the steering wheel. The clutch was also quite numb and the gearbox was hard to place at times; notchy but not precise. I found the ride quality was decent though, figuring that anyone buying the SS won’t mind it being a little bit hard. The handling was decent enough, but I honestly would have hoped for more. It seems like they couldn’t quite make up their mind between a car and a crossover, so it lacks that sort of planted feel you get from a real driver’s car. Having said this, the HHR will deliver enough fun in corners for most drivers who haven’t tried all kinds of different cars like I have.

The HHR SS is quite quick with its 260hp, turbocharged engine. In 2nd gear it moves quite rapidly, as any good turbo car should. It will shoot to 80mph from any normal road speed in the blink of an eye, so passes and merges should prove easy, and a lot of fun. It does have a torque steer issue though, as to be expected from any fwd car with this sort of power, so be ready to keep her straight when hitting the low gears hard. The HHR SS does have a solid punch behind those hot rod looks, something that the PT Cruiser never had.

Overall the HHR SS is a very American type of car; it looks good, it’s real world practical, and it packs a nice punch too. On the other hand though, it is not too refined, and lacks on what I would call “real driving dynamics” when compared to other cars with a similar package. Right when I got in the car I noticed that the rev counter was much smaller than the speedometer, like it was an afterthought or something. I think that sums up the HHR SS pretty well; it works fine, but it could be a lot better. As a real world package though, this car is pretty solid, and in a world where highway pulls and curbside image are most important, it is fantastic. Few cars like this offer this kind of practicality and interior space, and the HHR SS even does pretty well on gas too (25 city/29 highway). Additionally the one I drove was around $20k with just 11,000 miles on it, so they are a bit of a bargain. The HHR SS is also far more unique than the Mazda, the Subaru, or the Cobalt SS with which it shares it’s engine, and this unique factor makes it much cooler in many ways. It also has all of the tuning capabilities of the Cobalt SS, so making it even faster is a piece of cake. I must say that, all in all, I like the HHR SS for what it is; it sure isn’t perfect, but it has the all important “Cool Factor”. It is a turbocharged milk truck, enough said.

WoM Score: 

Primary Function: Performance: 1………. fast, but mediocre handling, poor dynamic composure all around
Secondary Functions: Practicality(2), MPG(1): 1.5
Visual Appeal: 2
Build Quality: 0.5
Value for Money: 1

Final Score: 6/10

-Nick Walker

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4 thoughts on “Test Driven: 2009 Chevrolet HHR SS (6/10)”

  1. I love my 2009 SS. I bought it used for $14.5K + tax with 15K miles on it. A HUGE bargain. There are plenty of bolt-on mods out there that will really improve this car. For less than $1,500 I added a GMS1 turbo upgrade that won’t void warranty, (puts you in the 300HP range), a decent SS exhaust, rear sway bar, solid motor mounts and an interior trim kit. These additions made this car one quick and solid handling little ‘grocery-getter’. The kids in the neighborhood love when I car pool to school. I’ve blown minds at Willow Springs racetrack from folks who didn’t expect the car to be so quick or handle so well. It’s also got the highest crash test safety rating in it’s class. One of the last products to come out of the GM Performance Division.

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      1. I don’t actually own one. I went and drove one for this article. That said, I think the best thing you can do for it is to start with some wider and grippier tires to get the car’s wheelspin issues under control. Swaybars are never really a bad idea, but their effect will be pretty minimal. If you want to make it stiffer get coilovers or both shocks and spring…. not just lowering springs, you’ll blow the shocks.

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