A hot new Corvette engine, a slick Borg-Warner six-speed manual gearbox and a few other critical refinements are just enough to nudge Chevrolet's sexy SSR pickup-convertible to five-star status -- at least as far as the male half of this writing team is concerned. We revisited the 2005 Chevrolet SSR this summer, after an initial encounter 18 months ago left Anita cold. Our test vehicle had a bottom line of $49,875.
SHE: Wow, talk about a polarizing vehicle. We're tooling along M-14 last weekend and I'm trying to carry on a conversation with you, but you're pretending you can't hear me because that new 6.0-liter V-8 is so loud. I pointed this out as a flaw, which you had no trouble hearing because you barked back that this was actually one of the SSR's attributes. I should point out that the retractable hardtop was still up at this point. So how do we describe that on our checklist of pros and cons? Selective hearing loss?
HE: I noticed that even as you were grousing about that gorgeous retro-chic pickup, you were drooling over a retro-chic bicycle at the local bike shop. Three hundred dollars later, you were still whining about the lack of space in the pickup bed while telling the poor bike-shop guy the best way to load your new wheels into the truck.
SHE: And there I was, arguing with two men about the relative merits of the SSR. When I commented to the young bike guy that the SSR wasn't much of a pickup, he replied, "That's because it's a convertible." And for the record, my bike barely fit in that tiny bed, and then only with the tailgate down. With a hard tonneau cover that only opens a few inches, I'm surprised we even managed to squeeze it in at all. This is what I'm talking about -- one compromise after another. Think about it. For less than $300, my beautiful new bike with the purple fenders and woodgrain trim makes a lot more economic sense as a retro-toy than a silly two-passenger truck that with an oversize engine and only one cup holder that still costs nearly $50,000.
HE: How can I even argue logic with a woman who buys a two-wheeler with purple fenders and woodgrain trim? Let's cut to the chase and talk about horsepower -- as in 390 ponies under the hood of the SSR. I'm so glad that Chevy finally is offering a six-speed Tremec gearbox as a no-cost option. You can now skip from zero to 60 in just over five seconds, which is considerably faster than last year's package, with the 300-horsepower 5.3-liter V-8 and four-speed automatic. The new powertrain combo really alters the personality of the SSR, which is still the sexiest truck on the planet. Now, it's also one of the quickest.
SHE: And one of the most female-unfriendly, with its huge turning circle, big doors and heavy tailgate. It's ridiculously impractical and screams male midlife crisis. And while we're on the subject, explain to me the wisdom of putting some of the engine gauges at calf level, and sticking the power window and lock switches on the center console, rather than on the doors. And how about that fuel economy, tiger? Thirteen miles per gallon in city driving? At least my toy has zero emissions and unlimited mileage.
HE: Details, details. You didn't seem to be complaining much when we took a lovely cruise one night with the top down. I was glad the weather cooled down that day because the air conditioner in our test vehicle seemed pretty weak in the knees. I'm also bothered by the fact that you can't get traction control with the manual transmission, and stability control is not available at all. That makes the SSR a seasonal vehicle at best because you sure don't want to be out on wintry roads with all that power going to the 20-inch low-profile Goodyears in the rear.
SHE: That power retractable hardtop is the SSR's strongest attribute, in my book, requiring a single pushbutton to operate. The top stows vertically in a very small space behind the cabin. But even with the top down, there are still some visibility problems from the thick pillars and the tall tonneau cover. I did like the fact that the truck has standard side air bags and antilock brakes.
HE: All that safety stuff is nice, but the bottom line here is entertainment value. When it comes to toys for boys, the SSR is a winner.
He drove, she drove Anita and Paul Lienert are partners in Lienert & Lienert, an Ann Arbor-based automotive information services company.
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'05 Chevrolet SSR
Type: Front-engine, rear-wheel drive, two-passenger pickup-convertible.
Price: Base, $43,180 (inc. $625 destination charge); as tested, $49,875.
Engine: 6.0-liter V-8; 390-hp; 405 lb-ft torque.
EPA fuel economy: 13 mpg city/20 mpg highway.
Where built: Lansing.
Key competitors: None.
12-month insurance cost, estimated by AAA Michigan: $1,718. (Rates may be higher or lower, depending on coverage and driving record.)
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Anita's rating: 3
Likes: Easy-to-operate power retractable hardtop. Fun to cruise with top down on a hot summer night. Pretty good ride quality for a truck. Standard side air bags and antilock brakes.
Dislikes: Feels claustrophobic with high beltline. Ridiculously expensive and impractical -- screams male midlife crisis. Window switches, door locks on center console. Can't haul tall items in tiny bed because hard tonneau cover only opens part way. Visibility issues with thick pillars, tall tonneau. Limited storage space in cabin. Only one cupholder.
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Paul's rating: 5
Likes: The sexiest truck on the planet. No competitors. Gorgeous cabin, trimmed in leather, bright metal and body-color plastic. Powerful Corvette-derived engine provides new quickness. Lovely Tremec six-speed gearbox is a no-cost option. Pleasant exhaust burble. Eye-catching wheel-tire combination, with 20-inch rims in the rear.
Dislikes: A/C didn't cool cabin very well. Lack of stability control makes this a seasonal vehicle in Michigan. No traction control with manual transmission. Abysmal fuel economy. Despite some improvements, still steers and handles like a truck. Bouncy ride on rough pavement.
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1. Unacceptable, 2. Subpar, 3. Acceptable, 4. Above average, 5. World class