A wide range of reviews surveyed by TheCarConnection.com indicates that while performance from the sporty 2009 Chevrolet HHR SS might be quite satisfying, performance from standard versions of the HHR is only adequate—albeit economical.
The standard engine in the 2009 Chevrolet HHR receives variable valve timing in the 2.2-liter inline-four Ecotec engine, which bumps horsepower from 149 horsepower to 155 and improves fuel efficiency. The 2.4-liter version nets 172 horses and is available on higher trim levels. Both of these powerplants are E85 Flex Fuel compatible. Neither inspires confidence in passing or merging—or in stoplight drag races—according to the reviews read by or in the experience of TheCarConnection.com editors.
Although most reviewers have some gripes about the available power from either base four-cylinder engines, Edmunds calls the 2.4-liter engine “a worthwhile upgrade.” ConsumerGuide reports that Chevrolet HHR "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." But the message is clear through reviews that the 2.4-liter versions still don't feel perky or particularly smooth. “The Chevy's powertrain was unable to inspire much confidence, especially during merging and passing,” says the Detroit News, and Edmunds refers to the “lack of low-end pull and refinement from the 2.4-liter engine.”
With either engine choice, the HHR is front-wheel drive and comes with a five-speed manual gearbox or an optional four-speed automatic. Edmunds underscores that the HHR lacks an all-wheel-drive option “for enhanced foul-weather capability.”
The aforementioned 2009 Chevrolet HHR SS and the new Panel SS, however, are hits with the automotive press. This version offers “spirited performance,” Edmunds says; its turbocharged 2.0-liter Ecotec four-cylinder makes 260 horsepower 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," and Cars.com declares that the turbo engine “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"—a pretty significant penalty for those who don’t want to do the shifting themselves—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." Apparently, the SS gets a slicker manual gearbox, which is another incentive; ConsumerGuide reports it "has smooth shift and clutch action, unlike other manual HHRs, which suffer from long throws and crude movement."
The Chevrolet HHR 2009 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 up to a rated 30 mpg highway, with the 2.2-liter engine and manual transmission. ConsumerGuide notes that "Chevrolet recommends premium-grade gas for SS and 2.4-liter models, regular otherwise."
If you expect to hustle the HHR along twisty roads on a regular basis, you probably should cross off all trims except the SS. The HHR has “rubbery steering, bobby suspension, and imprecise control,” says Car and Driver, though it notes a “smooth ride.” ConsumerGuide considers the Chevrolet HHR "composed overall, though the ride can get bouncy over sharp bumps," and 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."
Several sources have positive things to say regarding the way the SS handles. The SS version is a different beast entirely; it has “stronger braking and buttoned-down handling,” Edmunds says. Autoblog takes the HHR out on the track and raves, “We flung the little SS around with no mercy and were quite impressed by how rewarding driving the tall wagon proved to be.”