2008 Chevrolet HHR SS

The copycat game between Chrysler and GM continues - the HHR and PT Cruiser are practically indistinguishable to some. But just as the rumors started flying about Chrysler dropping the turbocharged PT Cruiser GT, Chevy announces that it, too, is shoving a turbocharged four-cylinder under the hood of its retro-styled vanlet. Not just a big-motor-in-a-little-van, though, the Chevy's getting some serious suspension and steering tweaks to match its newfound power.

The HHR SS isn't the first recent GM product to wear the SS badge, but it's the first time that the GM Performance Division was directly responsible for the project, so it won't be another all-about-the-wheelspin Monte Carlo SS. In fact, the HHR SS was tuned on the Nrburgring, and in addition to a 0-60 time (6.3 seconds), GM is quoting a Nordschleife lap time: 8:43.52, if you must know.

The SS's engine is the familiar 2.0-liter direct-injected Ecotec four-cylinder that we know and love from the Pontiac Solstice GXP and Saturn Sky Red Line. In the five-speed manual HHR, it makes 260 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque, but is de-tuned to 235 hp when mated to the SS's optional four-speed automatic. The manual transmission's shift throws have been reduced by thirty percent, and the shifter has been raised. In addition to having an optional limited-slip differential, manual cars also have a "no-lift shift" feature that talks the engine computer into allowing full-throttle upshifts without the driver taking his right foot off the floor.

The SS uses a unique suspension consisting of gas-charged dampers, unique steering knuckles, and stiffer anti-roll bars and bushings. Behind each eighteen-inch aluminum wheel is a disc brake - 11.65 inches and vented up front, 9.84 inches and solid in back. The steering ratio is twenty percent quicker than regular HHR models.

The HHR SS is immediately distinguishable from lesser HHR models outside thanks to new fascias, rockers, and a rear spoiler - not to mention the side rockers and big, single exhaust. Inside, the SS has sport seats with ultrasuede inserts, a new shifter surround, exclusive gauges, including an A-pillar boost gauge to show off the Ecotec's 20 psi of boost.

The HHR SS goes on sale late this year, and while we're not entirely convinced the world needs a 260-hp HHR, this little van - and its well-meaning chassis improvements - marks a turning point for the SS badge. And if that means no more Monte Carlo SS, we'll welcome as many turbocharged little vans as the General can send our way.

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