The Chevrolet SS is a full-size four-door sports sedan with one engine, a huge 6.2-liter V8. There’s really only one competitor to the SS, and it’s a worthy one, a Dodge Challenger with a 392 cubic-inch Hemi. There is also the 707-horsepower supercharged Challenger Hellcat, but that’s in a tire-smoking world of its own.
The SS is Chevrolet’s first rear-wheel-drive sedan since the 1996 Impala, which lives today as a front-wheel-drive car. But it’s not the Impala that the SS has evolved from, it’s the 2008 Pontiac G8 that was developed Down Under. GM sent engineers from Detroit there to work on that car.
In Australia, GM calls itself Holden. There, the throaty Commodore SS is seen as the last muscle car, prestigious and high profile on those long flat highways. Despite the lack of corners, and the low speed limits enforced around the cities by Big Brother cameras, the Australian-built cars have always handled better than the American-built ones (just as the Australian V8 Supercar Series blows NASCAR off the track when it comes to road course execution and excitement). The SS benefits from its Australian experience, mainly in the excellent balance from 52/48 weight distribution, and carefully developed multi-link rear suspension.
Another thing about the SS: it’s a cop car. It’s refined, and it has style, but a strip search will uncover a Chevrolet Caprice PPV (Police Patrol Vehicle). The Blues Brothers never had it so good.
With only the big V8 engine, the SS isn’t intended to be a big seller. Chevrolet appears to build it just because it can, and to keep its tradition alive. Also to keep enthusiasts happy (as if they couldn’t be happy with the stunning Corvette and dazzling Camaro SS). And perhaps to make the folks at Chevrolet happy, to see it here.
That V8 is a 415-horsepower version of the previous-generation Corvette LS3 engine (70 horsepower less than the Hemi engine in the Dodge Challenger). It comes with a solid 6-speed manual transmission (truly old school in a full-size sedan), or a 6-speed automatic that unfortunately isn’t up to the task. It accelerates from zero to sixty in 4.7 seconds, and sounds nice doing so, a burble at zero and bark at sixty. Beefy Brembo brakes, Magnetic Ride Control dampers, and 19-inch forged aluminum wheels with Z-rated tires are standard. Cops need that stuff.
The SS hasn’t been crash tested, because it is low volume. It gets an EPA-rated 17 miles per gallon Combined city and highway driving, with either the manual or automatic transmission; that’s 15/21 mpg City/Highway with manual, 14/21 mpg City/Highway with automatic. However, the manual avoids the $1300 gas guzzler tax, don’t ask us why.
Nice changes for 2016 include a revised front fascia with vertical ducts at the outer edges, LED front running lights, hood vents, alloy wheels with painted pockets, and standard navigation.
The 2016 Chevrolet SS ($46,575) comes standard with leather upholstery, heated and ventilated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, remote entry and remote start, head-up display, Bose audio, eight-inch color touchscreen with Chevrolet MyLink, which does infotainment apps through a smartphone and 4G LTE connectivity that can become a WiFi hotspot for a monthly fee.
Safety features include a rearview camera, forward collision alert, lane departure warning, side blind-zone alert, and rear cross traffic alert, plus eight airbags, including knee bags for the driver and front passenger, and Automatic Parking Assist, even with the manual transmission. There are few options, other than a sunroof ($900) and full-size spare tire ($500).
Although true to its character, the SS loses some distinction by looking throwbackish and less contemporary than its rivals. Although we wonder who they might be, so let’s say less contemporary than many other full-size sedans. However, when you describe its features, it certainly sounds contemporary.
The Chevy SS is low. It’s got some wedge to it. It’s got a tapered greenhouse with hints of teardrop. Its wheels are staggered. Angled HID headlamps. Still, it does look like it might be a muscle car. Mostly, it looks like a Chevrolet, with its big bow-tie grille.
Inside the cabin, the SS feels more like a cockpit than other Chevy models. It’s got all the right stuff. Ice blue lighting. Nice leather. The front sports seats are quite comfortable, with ample bolstering that’s nicely supportive.
Given the hydraulic damped suspension bushings, and rubber isolation in the rear, we expected the cabin to be quieter than it was. We became quite aware of road noise on a long highway trip.
We wouldn’t enter the Chevy SS in an Australian V8 Supercar race, but the Aussie and visiting Detroit engineers did a true-blue fair dinkum job in building a chassis that’s a cut above the standard. It’s not easy to get cornering balance out of a rear-wheel-drive car with a big heavy engine in front (although Cadillac engineers did it, without Australian help, in the CTS-V).
The third generation of Magnetic Ride Control suspension, standard on the SS, has much to do with this. There are three modes: Tour, Sport and Performance. Tour is a bit firm, but still does a good job of burying the bumps around town, so the casual city ride is comfortable. Sport mode not only stiffens the dampers, but also makes the steering quicker, enhancing an already excellent response. It’s firm and quick enough for the most spirited street driving. Performance mode is for track days.
We’re disappointed in the 6-speed automatic transmission, that’s lazy and delayed in Drive and still not quick or sharp enough in Sport mode. If only the automatic transmission were the brilliant GM-designed 8-speed automatic that’s in the Cadillac CTS-V. It must be a money thing. We wish it were an option.
The 6-speed manual gearbox is available at no extra cost, and it’s a better choice, but still not easy. We’re going to assume the clutch was adjusted correctly in our test car, where we found that the engagement for changing gears came high on the travel of the pedal, so quick shifts were challenging. It was difficult to shift smoothly and easy to stall. But at least the throw of the lever was short and smooth.
If you want a 21st century muscle car, and you’re not a MoPar man, the Chevy SS is all there is. That’s not bad. But go for the manual transmission, and work with it. Stay true to the dream.