Chevy HHR SS: The Worst Performance Hatchback in History

In recent years the “hot hatch” market in the US grew a massive amount. Ford launched the Focus ST and Fiesta ST which have both been praised endlessly by journalists including us. Chances are you’ve heard of the Chevy HHR, it’s the ugly panel van/car thing that you see running around town. You’ve probably also heard of the Chevy Cobalt SS, a small performance car from Chevy. What happens when you combine the two? A failure.

Awful Looks

Right off the bat, the normal HHR is an ugly car. It kind of looks like a station wagon mixed with a creeper van. It has a long, box yet awkwardly curvy design. The wheel arches stick way out in an attempt to make a sporty design, but Chevy managed to make it look the complete opposite of sporty. Those massive wheel arches make it look like a pickup truck which makes sense considered the design is inspired by the 1949 Chevy Suburban. Yup that’s right, Chevy based the design for this hatchback on the Suburban.

The problem is only compounded with the SS version of the HHR. It retains the awful base design, but with cheap body parts to make it look like a sporty car. The bumpers are redesigned, side skirts are added, and a small rear wing is also added. I will say the front bumper actually has a nice aggressive design, but all the other added parts just look awful.

You may not see the similarities initially, but the longer you look at an HHR SS the more it looks like a PT Cruiser. Don’t even get me started on how much of a design fail the PT Cruiser was.

2.0L EcoTec Engine

One area that Chevy got really good on the HHR SS is the powertrain. The 2.0L Ecotec is actually one of the best four-cylinder engines ever made, but definitely not the absolute best. The 2.0L Ecotec engine was taken directly from the Cobalt SS and plopped into the HHR, but with less power.

The manual transmission models output 260 horsepower and 260 lb-ft which is actually pretty decent. The automatic models, however, output a measly 235 horsepower and 223 lb-ft. Supposedly Chevy lowered the power on the automatic to make it last longer. This power translate to a 6.3s 0-60 time for the manual transmission and a 7.5s 0-60 time for the automatic.

These specs would be totally respectable if most HHR SS owners bought the manual transmission model, but they didn’t. Most HHR SS owners ended up buying the automatic which means the majority of these cars run a 7.5s 0-60 which is literally slower than a modern pickup truck.

Luckily this engine responds well to modifications so making as fast as a proper “hot hatch” is pretty easy. I seriously don’t understand how Chevy could release a car with the SS badge that runs that pathetic of a 0-60 time.

Does it Stop or Turn?

Well does it stop or turn? Sort of. Chevy knew the HHR SS wasn’t going to be a fast straight line car. Supposedly they put most of the development time into making the car stop and steer well, but they fell short. According to Motor Trend’s testing, the HHR SS was pretty bad at stopping compared the other hot hatches on the market at the time. It did, however, slightly out corner the contenders.

Compared to today’s hot hatches such as the Focus ST, the HHR SS is pretty bad at stopping and turning. The Focus ST has a brake-based torque vectoring system which majorly improves handling especially on tight canyon roads. The HHR SS is also on the heavy side coming in around 3,280 lbs which is 50 lbs heavier than the Focus ST.

Basically, the HHR SS was a halfway decent canyon carver at the time but falls extremely short compared to today’s hot hatches.

So What is it Good For?

The US is full of brightly colored and loud sports cars. These are fun and all, but having a car that looks slow but is actually somewhat fast is also very fun. This is where the HHR SS really fits in. It seems like nobody even knows the SS version of the HHR even exists, so when it comes to race they might be surprised by how quick it is. That is, of course, assuming said HHR SS isn’t a stock automatic version.

Other than the sleeper factor, the HHR SS really doesn’t have much of anything going for it. If you really want compact performance car from Chevy the Cobalt SS is really the only way to go. If you’re okay with buying a Ford the Fiesta ST and Focus ST are far superior options. Let the hate in the comments below begin!

20 thoughts on “Chevy HHR SS: The Worst Performance Hatchback in History”

    • You obviously have never driven one. I have had two and one of the best cars I have ever driven. No other hatch can compare, especially with a couple of bolt-ons. The look on people faces when my grocery getter passes them is priceless. You say it looks awful, you are entitled to your opinion, of which not everyone shares. It was designed as a throwback, the performance aspect makes it what it is, a SS.

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  1. You need to Drive one. I own both a Focus ST and a HHR SS. I love the HHR SS I get more respected bring it to car shows. Then when I take my FoST to a car show. Both cars are moded and push over 375hp

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  2. Sounds like you encountered a HHR SS in your Fiesta and got handed a smackdown. Envy doesn’t look good on you Bryce, and evidentially, jealousy causes bitterness.

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    • I’ve actually hurt the feelings of quite a few automatic HHR SS owners so far with my Fiesta ST. The automatic variants are pathetically slow in stock form. I’ve yet to race a modified HHR SS or a manual transmission HHR SS.

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  3. Sorry, but you don’t know the HHR SS. I’ve had a manual 2008 since it was brand now and it’s my favorite daily driver ever. And yes, I still squeal my tires when I pull away from the lights. The design is based on a 1940s Chevy Suburban and some of us really love the retro styling. In fact, I bought mine after esteemed automotive journalist Mark Phelan reviewed one at the test track for the Detroit Free Press.

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    • Darn tootin, I love the retro look, after all I’m a 50s child. I don’t take much stock in other people’s opinion.

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  4. Bryce, Bryce, Bryce….

    As a Focus ST driver, I have to disagree with you. Yeah the ST platform handles well, but what do you expect from something thats small and in the words of one of my students, looks like “a pregnant gerbil on its back.”

    If you wanna compare cars by sticker specs, even the auto SS beats out the big brother of your fiesta. I mean, come on man, the ST boost gauge is just a half-circle that shows 0 on one side, and 25 on the other. Best part? The icon for it is a turbine in some weird tunnel thing.

    It’s okay, you’re comparing a car that is over 8 years old, to a current production car. If for some chance you live around Philly, we should link up. I would love to create a video for my channel comparing your fiesta ST to my focus ST and HHR SS. I promise you’ll be trading what you think is a hot hatch, for the “worst performance hatch ever”.

    Cheers!

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  5. You guys are delusional. I’ve never heard anyone say a positive thing about any HHR, and it’s not due to lack of data, I worked at a dealer lol. Chevrolet, the only people who ever looked at a PT cruiser and said “we need one of those?.

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  6. My old hhr ss felt faster and cornered better than my now chally srt-8. It was way lighter but my Butt dyno yes. Gummie bear tires stick on cloverleafs and nice pull when you hit the gas. Torque steer was the only noticeable downside. Buying another for a daily driver. Thanks to Bob Lutz for a fun as hell car !

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  7. The HHR is an ugly vehicle inside and out. Very ugly. I couldn’t give a blankety-blank how much super-duper rocket power is under the hood. That’s superfluous. The fact is the HHR is a product of the very forgettable days of General Motors. Cheaply engineered, cheaply built. And those gawdawful GM interiors of that era that look like they’re designed by a preschooler with a can of playdough. Throwback, retro style, tribute, whatever you want to call it, never looked good on any car or utility vehicle. The whole stupid retro craze in auto designs has thankfully run its course give or take a few designs are still being pooped out of Detroit. And thank you Bob Lutz for this hideous creation, along with the equally hideous SSR, and the Pontiac Aztec. It’s no wonder GM jumped ship and needed big brother to bail them out of the stormy sea.

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  8. I’ve got a 2010 HHR SS performance package and standard transmission that I bought with 600 miles in 2010, and that baby gets right on it, even at altitude. One heck of a cruiser. I took it out in the desert in Nevada and hit over 150, twice. Others hate it when I pass them, but that makes it all the more fun. You got it right, that little 2.0 engine is awesome, and reaching only 260 HP is fine. I don’t need 5.0 0-60. Its plenty quick. Transmission is not that smooth, though. Yep, it does have the cheap HHR interior and it gets a little noisy, but the car is really fun to drive, and it stops damn fast with the Brembo brakes.

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  9. The 2006 HHR was the first new car I have ever owned and I still have it.
    I like that when I fold the rear seats down, the seats go all the way down, leaving a nice flat level hard plastic surface to lie on.
    I have done a lot of car camping alone and I sleep in the back, corner to corner.
    I will never buy another car unless the car also enables me to sleep in the back.
    I just wish this car was 4×4.
    What I do not like is there is not a keyed entry to the hatchback. That means when the battery dies. One must climb through the side door to get access to the battery.
    Lastly, for years I have been chasing a clunking sound. I only hear it over bumps. Have replaced drag links, sway bar bushings, steering rack, both CV axles, right A arm, and both hubs looking for the culprit.
    Conclusion, The HHR is a good car that meets my needs to be able to sleep in the back.

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    • Front end rattles on my 2008 HHR SS, and new sway bar links stopped it for a short time, but It came back a year later. The links feel good, but did discover the parts store sold me links that are not listed for the SS. I haven’t dealt with them yet on that. Decided I’d start at the top, and replace the strut mounts. Can’t think they would be like new at 108,000 miles. I elected to spend the money to get OEM strut mounts so I would get the correct part instead of a part that is for another HHR model, that happens to fit the SS.

      Much bigger deal is the Fuel lines. They are wrapped with heat resistant material where the lines go up to the chassis from the tank, next to the left rear wheel, and then down to go forward. Depending on how the protection was installed, it retains water, rusting the lines outside in. Due to my age, and Arthritis took it to a dealer. $700 for both lines OEM. No jury-rigging for me.

      I bought mine, used, because. needed something to go to road races all over the Midwest with luggage space, food for 2, and tools. I wanted some performance and a std. trans, and loved the style, looking like early 50’s GMC and Chevy panel trucks. Performance was more than expected, 100 mph in 3rd gear quickly. I believe the rated top speed of 150 mph.

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  10. Hate to comment on an old post, but I will.

    Having owned several SS Badged cars over the years including a ’09 HHR SS which I still have with roughly 85k on the odometer, I can say that the HHR SS is an economical beast. It is/ was severely detuned from the factory so it doesn’t compete with the Corvette at the time.

    The writer of this article obviously doesn’t know about “Competition” mode. Hit the button on the dash twice and away it goes. Why GM doesn’t mention it in the owners manual and made it an insider secret, who knows? Many buyers opted when the car was new to have the dealer do the GMPP upgrade for $300-500 that allowed boost to increase to 23psi and 330hp all under factory warranty.

    With tune for E85 or E47, K&N intake pipe, cored 2nd cat you are into the 12’s and 11’s on slick.

    Mine has a tune and K&N intake pipe and runs sxs with late model Camaro SS with them barely being able to pull away on the top end. Not bad for a 2.0. Hits 150 very quickly and handles very well with the addition of a small rear sway bar. This car is too fast for a teen.

    Couple things to note with these cars: A lot of bad blocks that need premature replacement. Must, must, must use “Top Tier” fuel and high octane. The other fuels do not contain the detergents to help keep the intake valves clean. This is a GDI engine and the intake manifold, head, valves, etc are dry with nothing to wash over them other than air. The PCV system recirculates dirty air over the valves causing them to allow build-up. Use Top-Tier fuels, Mobil 1 oil, GDI cleaner every 10k and it will perform well. Deviate and you’ll experience issues.

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  11. Writer obviously grew up with rice rockets. My first car ever was a 1950 Chevy Panel wagon. My 2008 HHR SS reminds me so much of that panel. Has everything good need and want, can haul anything, take my kids around and still rip around town. A+ on the car.

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    • Wow same here. 1950 Chevy Panel wagon, my first car. This dude probably had a stock Japanese car as his first. Love my HHR SS.

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  12. I own an ’07 HHR 2.4 with a 5-spd. Bought new. As I write this, the car had 145K mi. on it. Aside from some niggling suspension issues, no major electrical or drivetrain problems. Would you believe that it has the original clutch and still shifts fine? Also never had to do a brake job on it. Even when I owned the vaunted ’83 Toyota 4×4 truck, that clutch had to be replaced at 90K. I wish they hadn’t stopped production on the HHR.

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