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Avg. Price Paid:$7,350 - $8,414
Original MSRP: $16,730 - $18,050
MPG: 21 City / 30 Hwy
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2008 Chevrolet HHR Performance

This performance review was written when the 2008 Chevrolet HHR was new.

The 2008 Chevrolet HHR gets mixed reviews on the road. Many compliment its smooth ride, but some feeling it lags behind its competition in power. As a result, the 2008 HHR's performance ranks near the bottom of the affordable compact wagon class.

Edmunds says, "The 3,100-pound HHR still doesn't feel as sprightly as lighter rivals with less power. In handling, too, it loses out to more agile wagons like the Mazda 3 and PT Cruiser."

But others are more complimentary. U.S. News reviewer Rick Newman says the HHR's two engine offerings are "peppy for a compact car, and the HHR's handling feels sportier than it should for something that looks like a transformed hearse." And while Edmunds says the HHR is "no fun to drive," New Car Test Drive reports, "It isn't a sports car, but it's nimble and we were pleased with its acceleration. The HHR feels more responsive than its horsepower, torque, and transmission ratio numbers suggest. Plus, it gets decent fuel economy."

Acceleration and Power

The HHR offers two four-cylinder engines that bring out mixed reviews. Some find engine power too modest for the HHR's hefty size, while others such as Kelley Blue Book report "none of the HHR's powertrain combinations felt the least bit anemic." LS and 1LT models come with an Ecotec 2.2-liter four-cylinder engine, while 2LTs get a 2.4-liter four-cylinder. The high-level engine is also optional on 1LT models. Both engines come standard with a five-speed manual transmission. A four-speed electronically controlled automatic is optional.

The Car Connection calls the base 2.2-liter engine "an eager performer in a small, lightweight car." Kelley Blue Book similarly notes, "Even when outfitted with the base engine and four-speed automatic transmission, the HHR still feels adequately motivated." However, AutoWeek notes it "has less oomph in the class than all but the xB's tiny 1.5-liter four, which makes 108 horsepower." Edmunds says that the "base engine struggles to sufficiently motivate the 3,100-pound vehicle, and the HHR doesn't feel as responsive as its lighter and less powerful rivals when accelerating or cornering."

The more powerful 2.4-liter engine is a useful upgrade. The Boston Globe says it "provided plenty of power to move even a fully loaded car," and New Car Test Drive finds that on the freeway, "the HHR 2LT really scoots, which makes it a lot of fun." However, some still find it lacking in power. MSN says "even the most potent HHR engine provides just so-so acceleration." USA Today notes the engine "didn't feel very powerful, requiring the transmission to downshift frequently to maintain speed on mildly hilly interstates." AutoWeek says it "was a good match for the 3,208-pound curb weight," but still notes the 175-horsepower engine doesn't offer best-in-class power: "The PT Turbo makes 220, and the Escape V6 offers 200."

The HHR's perceived engine power is debatable, but it does offer good fuel economy. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the HHR with the base engine and manual transmission is expected to net 21 miles per gallon in the city and 30 on the highway. With the 2.4-liter engine, it is expected to 20 in the city and 28 on the highway. However, the higher-level engine takes premium gasoline, while the base engine takes regular. The Boston Globe says "considering that I got more than 25 miles per gallon overall in lots of fully loaded driving, that's an efficient hauler of people and cargo in these days of prohibitive gasoline costs."

Most prefer the five-speed manual transmission to the optional automatic. AutoWeek reports, "Our drive with the manual trans was smooth and problem-free, even fun," and Consumer Guide says the manual "feels slightly quicker than automatic." But MSN is a bit more critical, noting a downshift from fifth to fourth gear is "necessary for a decent 65-75 mph passing time. Nail the accelerator pedal in fifth gear at 65 mph and nothing much happens. Drop to third gear at that speed and the engine is revving way too high."

Consumer Guide finds the four-speed automatic transmission "responsive" and "quick to downshift." But ultimately, the automatic only accentuates the HHR's lack of acceleration. MarketWatch notes, "With a four-speed automatic transmission, there wasn't a lot of power to spare." However, the automatic has one major advantage -- it comes with a factory-installed remote vehicle starter system. The convenient system, which is one of Kelley Blue Book's favorite features, lets the driver start heating or cooling the car before even leaving the house. New Car Test Drive says this is "a nice luxury" and also praises the transmission's performance, noting, "We liked the way the automatic could be easily manually downshifted, even though it doesn't feature a separate manual mode. And we liked how it held second gear going down that same steep, slow hill."

Handling and Braking

The HHR handles well and offers a smooth ride, even if it does lack sporty performance. Automobile Magazine notes "the HHR's core competency lies in civilized travel, where the quiet interior and the well-damped suspension deliver both composed low-speed driving and effortless freeway cruising." Edmunds adds, "The HHR's best attribute is its smooth, quiet ride. On twisty sections of road, it's best to keep things at a relaxed pace, as the suspension and steering really aren't up to the task of aggressive driving."

LS and 1LT models get a Touring suspension with variable-rate springs and a front stabilizer bar. The 2LT models upgrade to a Sport suspension, which adds gas-charged shocks. Cars.com emphasizes the resulting comfortable ride, saying, "Even in urban settings, the ride is smooth. Occupants might feel pavement imperfections, but few produce noticeable discomfort." Car and Driver notes, "Ride smoothness is very good, slightly better than the PT Cruiser's, which likely suffered a bit for its 50-series tires, compared with 55s on the HHR." Consumer Guide finds the ride composed overall, but notes it "can get bouncy over sharp bumps." Consumer Guide also reports the standard suspension's 16-inch tires "absorb most bumps, but transmit some vibration over coarse surfaces."

Automobile Magazine says the HHR's speed-sensitive variable power steering "lacked linearity and was too slow for maneuvering through the urban jungle of our local Wal-Mart parking lot." Likewise, Edmunds says steering is "much too light and numb for enthusiastic cornering, but its weighting is fine for maneuvering around town." Consumer Guide also notes "Good around-town maneuverability," but again points out that steering is "numb on center" and "requires attention in straightline highway-speed cruising."

Braking is another problem area, especially the HHR's stability in a straight line. "It doesn't stop straight," Edmunds writes. "This was disconcerting at the track. It was downright scary during a real emergency stop on the freeway. And it crosses the limits of what is acceptable on a 2006 vehicle." Edmunds also finds the tester's 0-60 stopping distances disappointing. But a few others find the four-wheel front discs and rear drums adequate enough. The Boston Herald says they offer "excellent braking," and MSN says, "The brake pedal has a nice linear action, and stopping distances are decent." Anti-lock brakes are standard on the 2LT trim and optional on the other trims.

Performance Options

LS and 1LT

The base model and 1LT trims come with the same engine -- a 2.2-liter 149-horsepower Ecotec four-cylinder engine. A 2.4-liter 172-horsepower engine is optional. A Getrag five-speed manual transmission is standard, and a four-speed automatic with remote vehicle starter system is optional.

2LT

The higher-level model comes standard with the more powerful 2.4-liter 175-horsepower four-cylinder engine. A Getrag five-speed manual transmission is standard, and a four-speed automatic with remote vehicle starter system is optional. The 2LT models also get a special Sport suspension.

Review Last Updated: 2/18/09

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