2008 Chevrolet HHR Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Marty Padgett Marty Padgett Editorial Director
July 23, 2008

The 2008 Chevrolet HHR (Heritage High Roof) may surprise you with its competence and quality.

TheCarConnection.com's editors studied reviews from across the Web and have condensed opinions about the 2008 Chevrolet HHR in this comprehensive review. Experts from TheCarConnection.com have driven the Chevrolet HHR (including the HHR SS) on several occasions and offer driving impressions and more details, and they've compared the 2008 Chevrolet HHR with other vehicles in its class to give you the best advice--even when other reviews present conflicting opinions.

The Chevy HHR was introduced in 2006. Some saw it as an "answer" to Chrysler's successful retro-styled PT Cruiser. Whether this compact crossover was indeed a response to the Chrysler PT matters not a whit, as the 2008 Chevrolet HHR stands on its own just fine. For the record, the HHR shares its basic architecture with the mostly unloved Chevy Cobalt (available in coupe and sedan body styles). Thankfully, those roots don't seem to be holding the HHR back, as this tall-roofed crossover is a pretty pleasant piece of work.

In base form, the 2008 Chevrolet HHR gets a 149-horsepower 2.2-liter inline-four engine, with a 2.4-liter version that nets 172 horses available on higher trim levels. Either of these rate only moderate in performance and in noise control. Both engines drive the front wheels via either a standard five-speed manual gearbox or an optional four-speed automatic; the latter version includes a remote-start feature. A sport suspension is included on the LT model for more responsive handling. A flexible cargo management system includes flat-folding rear and front passenger seatbacks, various storage bins, and a height-adjustable cargo panel.

New features for 2008 add to HHR's safety. StabiliTrak stability control, tire pressure monitoring, and OnStar are now standard on all models. Other minor changes include new 16-inch wheels the availability of a new, solid rear quarter panel option that gives the customized look of the unique HHR Panel edition but with a full, five-passenger interior environment. The LT Panel version is intended for use as a nimble cargo delivery vehicle. Cargo carrying is the HHR's forte; the front seats are a little cramped, as are the backseats, but with the second row folded down, the Chevy HHR hauls an amazing amount of cargo.

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Enthusiasts have been waiting for the arrival of the 2008 Chevrolet HHR SS. Unlike some recent Chevys with "SS" decals but no guts, the HHR SS has big muscles;
its turbocharged 2.0-liter Ecotec four-cylinder makes 260 horsepower that is channeled to the front wheels through a five-speed manual transmission. A four-speed automatic is optional. What little torque steer there is makes the HHR SS more entertaining to drive.

Safety features include four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock control, plus the HHR's usual assortment of airbags. Stability control is also standard, while side airbags are an option.

The sharpened HHR SS profile includes new front and rear end treatments, a new grille and rear spoiler, those bigger 18-inch wheels, and specific SS badging. Inside, three different color treatments are available, along with sueded seat trim, a boost gauge, a new steering wheel, and a teeny-tiny 140-mph speedometer.

The 2008 Chevy HHR most directly aligns with the Chrysler PT Cruiser. Both are versatile people/cargo haulers, but the HHR is more refined and offers performance with the SS edition that the Cruiser can't match.

The Dodge Caliber is another alternative. The Caliber's styling is angular, and when parked next to HHR, the Chevrolet seems dated. The Caliber SRT4, a high-performance version, is more than a match for the HHR SS. The Jeep Compass shares many of the underbody components found on the Dodge, and both of these competitors offer all-wheel drive. The HHR does not.

The Mazda3 and Scion xB are two other potential Chevrolet HHR competitors. The Mazda3's wagon body style is practical, and its general driving attitude is very sporty. The xB is a funky box on wheels that has been recently improved. Of all the vehicles noted here, it is the only one to best the HHR for cargo carrying and passenger volume.

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2008 Chevrolet HHR

Styling

Nostalgia buffs will enjoy being seen in the 2008 Chevrolet HHR—if they haven’t already been seen in a PT Cruiser.

The 2008 Chevrolet HHR features some very appealing retro styling that’s also very familiar.

Edmunds calls the Chevrolet HHR "a modern take on the expressive, big-fendered American vehicles of the late 1940s”—specifically, “Chevrolet claims is inspired by the '49 Suburban.” Car and Driver likes its “pleasing exterior curves,” while the Detroit News gives good marks to its “playful retro design inside and out.” However, the News and many other outlets point out that the more recent HHR “looks like such a blatant copy of the well-received, 5-year-old Chrysler PT Cruiser.”

A special HHR SS version made its debut this year, and it gets special design cues to highlight its high-performance drivetrain. Cars.com says "the [Chevrolet] HHR SS is a stylish one from many angles...helping its cause are a number of SS-specific cues, like a black mesh grille that replaces the horizontal silver bars on regular Chevrolet HHR 2008s." Autoblog notes "some changes with the Chevrolet HHR 2008 SS, but the car is still instantly recognizable as a Heritage High Roof," adding that "the wheels fill up the bulbous fenders much nicer with the SS package's 18-inch rims."

The retro styling ends once one is inside, however. Edmunds says the Chevrolet HHR 2008 interior is "attractive and functional...the 2008 Chevrolet HHR's cabin has handsome bright-ringed gauges." Kelley Blue Book reports that "the 2008 Chevrolet HHR features thoroughly modern interior styling...tasteful chrome rings and accents combine with pleasing buttons and knobs in a contemporary interior that looks and feels like nothing from the automaker's past." Automobile divulges "inside [2008 Chevrolet HHR], there are nice, suede-like inserts on the seats."

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2008 Chevrolet HHR

Performance

TheCarConnection.com advises drivers to have realistic expectations about the 2008 Chevrolet HHR's performance capabilities.

The 2008 Chevrolet HHR is reasonably fast and economical, but reviews examined by TheCarConnection.com note that it's not especially sporty.

In base form, the 2008 Chevrolet HHR gets a 149-horsepower 2.2-liter inline-four engine, with a 2.4-liter version that nets 172 horses available on higher trim levels. Neither inspires confidence in passing or merging—or in stoplight drag races. Most reviewers sampled the larger four-cylinder, which Edmunds calls “a worthwhile upgrade.” ConsumerGuide reports that Chevrolet HHR 2008 "2.4-liter models have decent around-town go, but highway passing and hill climbs can feel labored," adding that the "automatic transmission is responsive [and] quick to downshift." Even with this more powerful engine, the Detroit News observes, “The Chevy's powertrain was unable to inspire much confidence, especially during merging and passing.” Edmunds also refers to the “lack of low-end pull and refinement from the 2.4-liter engine.”

Both engines drive the front wheels via either a standard five-speed manual gearbox or an optional four-speed automatic. “Significantly, the HHR is available only with front-wheel drive,” Edmunds reports, “while several competitors offer all-wheel drive for enhanced foul-weather capability.”

Enthusiasts have been waiting for the arrival of the 2008 Chevrolet HHR SS. This version offers “spirited performance,” Edmunds says; its turbocharged 2.0-liter Ecotec four-cylinder makes 260 horsepower that is channeled to the front wheels through a five-speed manual transmission. Autoblog reports the SS has the same engine as “the Solstice GXP and Saturn Sky Redline," and that the "HHR packs an impressive 130 horsepower per liter." Cars.com adds more details: "the foundation of the HHR SS is a 260-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder (235 hp with the optional four-speed automatic),” which “pulls the HHR SS with satisfying strength." Autoblog notes that "the automatic loses out on power by a few dozen horses and offers a more sedate driving experience" and recommends that you "stick to the manual so you don't miss out on the awesomeness that is the launch control and no-lift shifting." ConsumerGuide says the manual transmission "has smooth shift and clutch action, unlike other manual HHRs, which suffer from long throws and crude movement."

The Chevrolet HHR 2008 is frugal with fuel. Autoblog recommends that one should "hold off the throttle pedal a bit and you'll be able to get near 30 miles per gallon on the highway, according to the EPA." EPA estimates range from 19/28 mpg to 22/30 mpg. ConsumerGuide reports "Chevrolet recommends premium-grade gas for SS and 2.4-liter models, regular otherwise."

ConsumerGuide says the Chevrolet HHR 2008 is "composed overall, though the ride can get bouncy over sharp bumps." Edmunds advises that "it's best to maintain an easygoing pace, as the suspension and steering just can't keep up with overly aggressive driving... the electric-assisted steering is slow to respond and numb in feel, [and] the HHR exhibits a loss of straight-line stability during maximum braking." Car and Driver proclaims the HHR has “Rubbery steering, bobby suspension, and imprecise control,” though it notes a “smooth ride.”

The SS version is a different beast entirely; it has “stronger braking and buttoned-down handling,” Edmunds says.

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2008 Chevrolet HHR

Comfort & Quality

The 2008 Chevrolet HHR is far less primitive than its ancestor of 60-plus years ago, while providing the same functionality--but don't look for luxury here.

What the 2008 Chevrolet HHR lacks in top-rated comfort it makes up for in cargo and storage space.

In terms of passenger comfort, theCarConnection.com feels as if GM has dropped the ball; Automobile notes that "only the driver gets the more supportive, sport bucket seat (the non-matching, standard-style passenger seat preserves the fold-flat function)." Edmunds says that Chevrolet HHR 2008 "standard cloth buckets are not as comfortable as we'd like, but the optional leather seats are better cushioned and more supportive." Cars.com expresses the "wish [that] the HHR had a telescoping steering column so [one] could pull the wheel closer," adding "backseat comfort is only marginal...bench seat's bottom and backrest cushions are hard and the space is legroom-challenged." Car and Driver, conversely, praises the HHR’s “sofa-like rear seat.”

Where the 2008 Chevrolet HHR really shines, however, is in terms of storage and cargo capacity. "Considering its small exterior size, the HHR SS can swallow quite a bit of cargo," says Cars.com. “The boxy shape makes it roomy inside,” Car and Driver notes. ConsumerGuide reports "versatile storage space," remarking "it's easy to fold the 60/40 split rear seatbacks to create a flat load floor, but front seatbacks must be far forward for headrests to clear." Edmunds comments that "maximum cargo capacity is among the class leaders at 63 cubic feet."

The Chevrolet HHR won’t be lauded for its interior quality, though it fares better than some compact cars. "Most surfaces are textured enough to where they don't look especially cheap. SS models have slightly sportier trim that neither enhances nor detracts from the overall ambiance," according to Cars.com. On the other hand, Edmunds notes that "window buttons are awkwardly mounted behind the shifter, and some of the interior plastics are of mediocre quality." Edmunds also says, “Interior quality is among the best we've seen from General Motors, although it remains short of the caliber found in competing import vehicles.”

Sound levels are also a mixed bag, according to ConsumerGuide: "wind rush is well controlled, but engine buzz intrudes during acceleration. The turbo 4-cylinder whines, even under light throttle conditions. All [Chevrolet HHR] models suffer from noticeable coarse-surface tire thrum."

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2008 Chevrolet HHR

Safety

The 2008 Chevrolet HHR has good crash-test scores, but some versions don’t provide all the latest safety gear.

The 2008 Chevrolet HHR gets better-than-average crash-test scores and comes with a good list of standard safety equipment.

Although the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) did not run the 2008 Chevrolet HHR through its own crash tests, the vehicle performed admirably in the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) crash tests, earning five stars for impact protection and four for rollover resistance.

Stability control and OnStar are now standard on all Chevy HHRs, Car and Driver reports. According to Cars.com, "standard SS safety features include antilock brakes and an electronic stability system," while "side curtain airbags are optional."

Edmunds reports higher trim levels offer more options: "traction control is included with ABS when ordered with an automatic transmission, and is standard on all 2LT vehicles, as is this year's new addition of stability control."

We note some disagreement on Chevrolet HHR 2008 visibility issues, however. While Edmunds commends the "impressive outward visibility for the regular wagon models," Cars.com says "something HHR drivers battle that isn't an issue in many other cars is forward visibility. This wagon's unique shape dictates a relatively short windshield, which in turn leads to windshield pillars -- which are wide to begin with -- that get in the way when checking for cross traffic or pedestrians." This source does note that Chevrolet HHR 2008 "rear- and over-shoulder visibility, however, is good." The panel-wagon version, which omits rear side windows, has terrible rearward visibility and is intended as a work vehicle.

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2008 Chevrolet HHR

Features

The 2008 Chevrolet HHR offers a decent palette of features, but the latest advanced features aren’t available.

The 2008 Chevrolet HHR comes in fairly stripped base versions, while SS editions have a longer list of features. Still, some advanced tech options like Bluetooth remain off the options list.

Edmunds reports that "the regular [Chevrolet HHR 2008] wagon comes in two main trim levels: LS and LT." ConsumerGuide says Chevrolet HHR 2008 "features availability are competitive."

According to Kelley Blue Book, the Chevrolet HHR base trim includes "five-speed manual transmission, air conditioning, AM/FM/CD sound system with auxiliary input jack, power windows/locks/mirrors, remote keyless entry, cruise control, 16-inch wheel covers, trip computer [and] OnStar." They say one of their favorite features is a "front-mounted auxiliary input jack [that] makes it easy to connect any MP3 player or other audio source to the HHR's sound system."

Edmunds reports "major options for the LT include remote vehicle starting (included with the 2008 Chevrolet HHR automatic transmission), leather seating with heated front seats, in-dash CD changer, satellite radio and a sunroof." Kelley Blue Book tells us that Chevrolet HHR "features that will take you beyond base sticker price include a more powerful 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, four-speed automatic transmission, leather seating, heated front seats, power driver's seat, stiffer suspension, power moonroof, 260-watt sound system with subwoofer, in-dash six-disc changer, MP3 compatibility [and] XM Satellite Radio."

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