Chevrolet SS: The bruiser from the land of Oz

Frank Sinatra’s house in Palm Springs, California, sits in the middle of a nondescript neighbourhood of split-level ranch homes. It was in the desert-oasis city that Chevrolet recently convened journalists to sample its SS full-size performance sedan.

In Old Blue Eyes’ heyday, rear-wheel-drive American machines like the SS were the cars to drive. They had style, power and comfort that attracted all walks of life, including the likes of Sinatra and his snappy cohort. The Dodge Charger is among the few remaining contenders against the likes of the SS, but where that brutish lug has traditionally appealed to nostalgists and law enforcement professionals, the SS is possessed of a contemporary cool that could win over modern-day Rat Packers.

Vital Stats

2014 Chevrolet SS

  • Base price: $45,770, inclusive of $900 destination and $1,300 gas-guzzler tax
  • Price as tested: $46,670
  • EPA fuel economy: 14mpg city, 21mpg highway
  • Powertrain: 415hp, 415lb-ft 6.2-litre V8 engine, six-speed automatic transmission, rear-wheel drive
  • Standard equipment: Collision warning systems, HID headlights, 19in aluminium wheels, Brembo brakes, 220w nine-speaker Bose audio system, remote start, leather, GPS navigation
  • Major options: Sunroof

The SS resembles the Pontiac G8 sedan, a performance machine sold by the General Motors (GM) brand discontinued in 2010. The heredity stretches quite farther than that, as both the G8 and SS are derived from the Holden VF Commodore, produced by GM’s Australian subsidiary. The Holden-derived SS can be read, in essence, as a next-generation G8.

The SS’s big 6.2-litre V8 engine is rated at 415 horsepower and 415lb-ft of torque, enough to launch the car from a standstill to 60mph in a manufacturer-estimated 5 seconds. Wondrous chassis hardware keeps all that power under control, while driver and full-size adult passengers are coddled in a cabin that feels Cadillac-premium.

And this sense of refinement isn’t just for options-sheet gluttons: all SSs come fully loaded. The only tickable options, in fact, are a full-size spare and a sunroof. Consider what comes standard: Brembo brakes, 19in forged aluminium wheels, high-performance Bridgestone tires (front rubber is the very same found on the front of the Ferrari California), high-intensity discharge headlights and a raft of safety gadgets such as colour head-up display, automatic park assist – which steers the car into either a parallel or perpendicular space – forward collision warning, lane departure warning, blind spot warning, rear cross traffic warning and a back-up camera.

Combined with the 415hp small-block V8 and standard six-speed automatic transmission, the $45,770 price represents a tremendous bargain, though a buyer should expect steep gasoline bills given the SS’s deep thirst. (A $1,300 gas-guzzler tax lands square on the grille’s bowtie.) Disappointing for some drivers, no manual transmission is available.

The leather-lined cabin arrives in black only, though five exterior colours are available. The car shows off its musculature nicely in both black paint and white, and while ticket-me red is an enticing hue, it could prove costly to live with. Plus, it carries the implication that the driver is trying too hard, which diminishes the appeal of the SS as a stealth performer. On the opposite end of the spectrum, silver and dark green smother the sedan’s conservatively slippery lines, leaving the SS all but invisible.

The SS carries on the tradition of the big American sedan by providing a refined highway demeanor and effortless passing power. Unlike those old boats, though, the SS wears ultra-low-profile high performance tires whose short sidewalls transmit road shocks to the car with more directness than the old balloon-tired traditionalists.

Such a ride is typical for a German performance sedan, though not for an American car descended from cushy boulevard cruisers. The pleasing breaks with tradition continue in the curves, as the SS slices the corner almost as well as its German counterparts – which is to say, in a way few American V8-powered sedans would dare approach. Credit is partially due to the steering rack, which is lighter and more accurate than that of the Dodge Charger or Chrysler 300 SRT8. Target an apex and the SS hits it effortlessly. Even on challenging mountain blacktop above Palm Springs, the SS worked the bends with impressive ease and no tire squeal.

Alas, recent business moves by GM, which announced its intention to close Holden’s manufacturing facilities in 2017, mean that the SS faces a muddled  future. Executives have yet to state definitively whether the SS would survive the wind-down, or whether it might be picked up by one of GM’s North American facilities.

If  it doesn’t survive the upheaval, consider the SS a shooting star, like some of those who briefly lit up Sinatra’s Palm Springs house at parties decades ago. The SS offers Rat Pack joie de vivre minus the price tag and pretense of the cars typically parked outside today’s garish McMansions.