Look at the marketing and the name and you'd think the Chevy SS is nothing but a Corvette-engined mulletmobile good for nothing but burnouts. As it turns out, that's not what the car is like at all. It's something more endearing than that.
I expected the SS to be a car for a total hoon - it's from Australia, it's got a Corvette engine, and Chevy decided to give it the company's muscle car nameplate. Sit in the car and the first thing you notice is the Nascar-jacket 'SS' embroidery on the fake-suede interior. You think of the Nascar-template marketing push and you expect the car to smoke its tires great and suck at everything else.
And you'll be disappointed.
(Full disclosure: Chevy wanted me to drive the SS so much they put me up in a surprisingly nice hotel in Greensboro, NC, took me on a tour of Hendrick Motorsports' car-building facilities, and got me a ticket to the Nascar race at Martinsville. Full stories on Hendrick and watching 900 horsepower stock cars racing short track are coming.)
The problem is that the traction control never totally goes off. Don't get me wrong, you can still do a burnout in one, and you can still do donuts in the parking lot in front of an elementary school (ask me how I know), but you can tell the car doesn't want you to. Right when you're getting into the meat of your tire destruction, the car starts to cut power to the rear, so there you are, whirling around in front of some principal's office, foot to the floor, and you can hear the car varying the amount of power going to the spinning back wheels. Even worse, if you're powersliding the car in a rural area about a half hour south of Greensboro, North Carolina, the car will start to judder the back end into line right when you get to the most deeply soul-satisfying angle of opposite lock (don't ask me how I know).
And the muscle car creds keep crumbling away from there. Sure it's got a big V8, but it's not as loud as you'd think, even at full throttle all the way through a gear. Sure it's got 415 horsepower, 415 lb-ft from the ex-Corvette LS3, but it doesn't pin you back in your seat from a stop sign.
Worse still, the car doesn't work particularly well as an all-out luxury sedan either, at least not as well as you'd expect from an automatic-only fullsizer that starts at around forty-six grand. The ride isn't as smooth as you might imagine, and the Chevy isn't as comfortable as, say, a 1993 Lexus ES you can buy for $600 (you can ask me how I know that, too).
The SS doesn't really meet any of your expectations as a limited-run V8 American sedan, but it does work as something else entirely, a really, really nice ordinary family sedan. Let me explain what I mean.
I had gone out in the SS after lunch and I had driven out into the tightest little backroads I could find outside of Greensboro. If you're looking for rusted old cars sitting in people's front lawns, it was a good place to go. I stopped for a bathroom break at a turnaround by the intersection of Old Red Cross and Harold Meadow Road, and I happened upon two dead deer: one just a skeleton and one decomposing in a trash bag. It was that kind of area.
Strangely, I felt like there was some kind of affinity between the poor, discarded deer and the somewhat orphaned SS, but I'm getting ahead of myself.
On those damp, empty, rural roads I had gotten all of the donuts and burnouts and half-assed powerslides I needed out of my system. And then I realized I was going to be late.
I was specifically told that I needed to be back at the hotel by four, before the whole press trip hopped onto a motor coach and visited Richard Childress's not-so-nearby winery. I checked the GPS and I was 22 miles away from the hotel, with a series of winding 55-limit two-lanes and a 65-limit highway. It was 3:38.
I was at the hotel at 4:02.
For stealth performance, it's hard to think of a car better than the SS. Something like a BMW, a Mercedes, an SRT8 wouldn't have been faster on the trip, but they'd definitely have turned a lot more heads. When you're skirting that range between everyday speeding and what you get pulled over for, that's not a good thing.
You can talk down the SS on specs, but out in the real world where you have to worry about cops, it's easy to see the Chevy as the faster vehicle.
I'm not saying the Chevy drove like a fantastic sports sedan — you have to judge your speed into corners with your eyes since the electric steering has no feel, and you end up looking around the a-pillar in tight turns since the car is so big. But it is calm, composed and very, very fast in the mid-range. If you happen to find yourself veering into triple digits, which is way too easy, the brakes haul you down to legal speeds with reassuring authority.
In the end, the SS isn't the brash muscle car you might imagine from its Nascar tie-in and big engine. The SS isn't the big-name luxury sports sedan you might expect from its German-grade pricing and specs. You can sense that everyone looking for a muscle car will end up in an SRT whatever and everyone looking for a sports sedan will almost certainly end up in an Audi, Mercedes, or BMW.
So it's easy to see the SS as a car that falls between the cracks for a prospective buyer. It's not brash enough for the muscle crowd, it's not cheap enough for the budget crowd, and it's not prestigious enough for the sports sedan crowd. Even Chevy admits that next to nobody is going to like this car.
But when you drive, you start to fall for its charms. It's a full size car that gives you a lot to enjoy, but doesn't let the rest of the world know about it. You get the performance, you get the V8 rumble at idle, you get the space, but everyone else just thinks you're driving a Malibu.
Are you the kind of person who likes a Q-ship?
UPDATE: It appears that the traction control can be fully disabled by holding down the button extra extra long. This is good to know and I will take another look at the powersliding potential of this car in a few weeks. For now, my position still stands that the car is not quite the muscle car you might imagine it to be. It is still an oddly endearing car. What can I say, it grows on you.
Photo Credits: Raphael Orlove