Affordable, reasonably gas-thrifty, unmistakable for anything else and fun to drive. That's a winning combination, so even in a widening field of small cars, Chevrolet's HHR SS sport utility vehicle stands out.
For a few grand more than basic HHRs, and at the cost of three miles per gallon in local driving, the SS version offers a ripping 260 horsepower when paired with a five-speed manual transmission, or a still-notable 235 hp. with an automatic, as I sampled it. And the HHR has the utility that only a box on wheels can provide.
The retro look of the HHR, inspired by the 1949 Chevrolet Suburban, is augmented in the SS by rocker extensions, highly polished wheels and other boy-racer touches that won't be to everyone's taste. But for about $23,000, this is one of the best performance bargains on the market.
The SS was added in December as an '08 to the HHR family, which debuted for the 2006 model year. More basic HHRs have either 2.2- or 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engines that deliver 149 hp. and 172 hp. respectively. The SS has a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that is turbocharged.
The turbo boost comes on so gradually that the strongest evidence of its presence (besides the power, of course) is the boost gauge on the roof support pillar to the left of the windshield.
A few complaints: The HHR's retro look includes retro-fat roof pillars, which impair visibility somewhat, especially in turns. Sun glare sometimes makes gauges difficult to read. And the rear wiper and fog lamp switches would be better located near the front wiper and headlamp switches on the steering column rather than in the center of the dashboard.
Chevy says the stick-shift SS makes zero to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.