Review: 2016 Chevrolet SS

By Andrew Ganz
Monday, Jan 27th, 2014 @ 5:09 pm

Call it the four-door Camaro if you so choose. The Chevrolet SS is a most unexpected vehicle from General Motors - a rear-wheel-drive, V8-powered high performance sedan that emphasizes going fast even around corners rather than does sipping fuel and coddling passengers.

As automakers continue to downsize engines and upsize fuel economy, the SS might seem like an anachronism. And, frankly, it its. After all, the virtues listed above seem right out of GM's 1965 playbook.

But the SS is, mostly, a super sedan for the 21st century. It exists only for the cognoscenti, a limited production companion to the more plebeian (and fuel efficient) Chevrolet Impala. Although both are full-size sedans, they couldn't go about things much differently. For today's Chevrolet, that's apparently just fine - they can both exist.

What is it?

Assembled down under by GM's Holden subsidiary in Australia, the SS rides on the same platform that underpins the company's Camaro. Australians can buy a variant of the SS in a variety of flavors - soft V6-powered sedans, hot rod station wagons and quirky 'utes (think of the Chevy El Camino and you're on the right track). All are badged as Holdens.

For American consumers, just one model is offered - the Chevrolet SS - and it's more of a replacement for the dearly-departed (but hardly strong-selling) Pontiac G8. Fitted exclusively with a 6.2-liter V8 lifted more or less from the circa-2012 Corvette, the SS boasts 420 horsepower and 415 lb-ft. of torque. A six-speed automatic gearbox with paddle shifters is the only transmission on offer, meaning buyers need only select a color and whether or not they want a sunroof or a spare tire to be included.

Easy to order by design, the SS is intended to be a limited-production model. In short, you either "get it" or you don't.

Oh, and should you choose to outrun the fuzz in an SS, think again. An extended wheelbase version of the SS is sold to police as the Chevrolet Caprice PPV.

What's it up against?

With 420 ponies, the SS splits the difference between Chrysler's rear-drive performance sedans: The Dodge Charger R/T (and its Chrysler 300C V8 sibling) and the Charger SRT8 (plus 300C SRT8). Also worthy of consideration is the Hyundai Genesis.

What's it look like?

Up against the swoopy and vastly more stylized Impala, the SS is something of a non-event to look at. There's nothing inherently offensive here, but there's also not much that will stop pedestrians in their tracks. If it's high-performance incognito you're after, the SS delivers. Especially in our tester's subtle Mystic Green paint scheme, which seemed more 2004 Camry than V8 rocketship.

Look closely and the SS brims with performance bits. Its chrome 19-inch wheels are wrapped in performance tire and, peeking through the spokes, you'll find Brembo brakes up front. A tiny spoiler sits on the rear decklid to improve downforce. Look below the rear bumper and you can't miss a pair of big chrome exhaust pipes.

Muscular? Yes, but in a subtle and slightly dated way.

And on the inside?

Once again, it's hard not to compare the SS to the Impala - especially since the latter's interior is one of GM's best, regardless of price. Here, the SS follows its sibling's general design theme with a vaguely dual cowl dashboard, a big central touchscreen and a waterfall-esque center stack. Much of the switchgear is shared between the two, although buttons are about the only things these cars have in common.

Controls are generally conveniently located, although we thought the stretch to the audio system's screen was a bit too much. On the roominess front, the SS delivers acres of space for five passengers plus a nicely-finished trunk.

Sporty bolt-ons include a pair of nicely but not outrageously bolstered front thrones (heated, air conditioned and leather/synthetic suede-wrapped, mind), a meaty three-spoke flat-bottomed steering wheel and pockets of synthetic suede scattered about the dash and door panels. The look is convincingly enthusiast-oriented; it's almost as if a Leftlane commenter designed it.

But one place where the SS falls short against the Impala is in its materials selection. Soft touch plastics are tough to come by, meaning this interior feels more like what we'd expect to see at about half the price.

Clearly, your $46,670 buys you an engine, a transmission and a suspension, and not a luxurious interior. We're OK with that.

But does it go?

Checking in at about 4,000 lbs., the SS is something of a lightweight given its size and what's underhood. Power comes on quickly but in a remarkably refined manner, something we didn't necessarily say about the SS' Pontiac predecessor. In fact, aside from a faint growl under the hood and a distant snarl from the exhaust, the SS could masquerade as a luxury car.

Until its throttle pedal is mashed to the floor, that is. What the aforementioned pushrod 6.2-liter V8 lacks in high-tech features it more than makes up for in grunt. All 420 ponies come to life in an instant, eagerly shredding the wide 275/35-19 rear Bridgestone rubber.

Yet this is no one-trick muscle car. Hustled down a curvy road, the SS really comes to life. That relatively low curb weight combines with the sedan's taut but not punishing suspension and fast-acting electric power steering setup to deliver a more deft handling experience than we expected. Immediate and engaging in its reflexes, the SS inspires confidence even when pushed to the limit. A less grippy rubber setup would probably make it too easy to coax into a slide, however; that's a lot of power going to just the rear wheels. When called upon, the SS' big brakes reel things in with a quickness.

Up against its competition, the SS makes the Charger feel like a big boat.

One thing we lament is the relative lack of driver adjustability. No "sport" mode is offered for the gearbox, steering or throttle tuning. Instead, drivers only have the option of putting the stability control in less-obtrusive track mode or, for the unintimidated, turning it off entirely.

Fortunately, that gentle tuning makes the SS a perfectly manageable daily driver, assuming you want to be on a first name basis with the Shell station down the block. Qualifying for the federal government's Gas Guzzler tax, the SS checks in at 14/21 mpg (17 mpg combined). We actually saw closer to 22 mpg on a long road trip, but that's faint praise for what's ultimately a very thirsty machine. Given that it's a piece of cake to get nearly 30 mpg out of a Corvette, the SS disappoints in this regard.

On the other hand, fuel economy is more the Impala's game. Good thing Chevy buyers have choices.

Leftlane's bottom line

Critics could call the SS entirely out of touch with 21st century needs and demands, but that's not what this big four-door is about. It's a nod to enthusiasts, who represent a small swath of the buying population and are increasingly ignored by automakers.

Though it might look like a dull Malibu, the SS is a heck of a machine worthy of any car nut's attention.

2014 Chevrolet SS base price, $43,475. As tested, $46,670.

Power moonroof, $900; Gas Guzzler Tax, $1,300; Destination, $995.

Photos by Andrew Ganz.

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