The 2014 Chevrolet SS is about as close as you can get to buying a four-door Camaro, but with the added benefit of a high-quality interior and a decent-sized trunk.
When Americans are tasked with coming up with things that are uniquely Australian, a few things come to mind: Crocodile Dundee, Foster's beer, kangaroos — and maybe Outback Steakhouse, for those who are really unfamiliar. High-performance, rear-wheel-drive super-sedans don't usually show up on the list, but they should, as Australia has a long heritage of creating just such monsters. One on that list is the new 2014 Chevrolet SS, designed and built in Australia as the Holden Commodore but imported to the U.S. with slightly different styling, badges, and a bigger engine under the hood. It's the first rear-wheel-drive performance sedan Chevrolet has offered since the old Impala SS was discontinued in 1996, which means it has a pretty serious performance heritage to uphold.
This is not the first time a version of this sedan has been brought to the U.S. market; it appeared as the Pontiac G8 from 2006 to 2009, and a long-wheelbase version of the SS is sold strictly to police departments in the U.S. as the Caprice. The company wants to leverage its global reach and boost Chevy's performance chops — and, frankly, any excuse to bring a reasonably priced high-performance muscle car to our shores is a good reason to us. On paper, it definitely has the goods — a 415-horsepower, 6.2-liter V-8 engine that drives the rear wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission; big wheels and sticky tires; a sport suspension; bolstered seats; and more. But the market for super-sedans is small, and there are already some serious players in the U.S. market, including SRT versions of Dodge's Charger and Chrysler's 300 models. Can the new SS run with the big dogs in the muscle-sedan segment?
It looks good on paper, but in person the SS looks fairly generic. The Pontiac G8 had an angular muscularity to it, but those hard features have been softened considerably for the new SS, creating something of a melted Hyundai Genesis look. The familiar split Chevrolet grille is up front, flanked by headlights that look derivative of the old Suzuki Kizashi or Chrysler Sebring. Out back, two unremarkable taillights cap off a high tail. Overall, the look is plain, uninspiring and inoffensive. Pick one in the right color — like silver or greenish-gray — and the cops aren't likely to give you a second glance as you blow past them.
How It Drives
Thankfully, the SS is much more exciting to drive than it is to look at. Under the hood is GM's 6.2-liter, LS3 V-8 engine that makes 415 hp and 415 pounds-feet of torque. It's the same engine that's fitted to the current Camaro SS and the sixth-generation Corvette. It's good for a blast from zero to 60 mph in "about five seconds," says GM. That sounds rather vague, but it feels electrifying. Stomp the accelerator, and the whole car squats on its haunches and launches you forward with a throaty, bellowing roar that feels completely out of character based on its family-sedan roots. Unlike many new high-performance cars, the SS comes with only one suspension tune — no electrically adjustable dampers or steering here. Chevy has tuned it the way it wants it, and that's the car you'll get. GM dialed it in well, with a firmer than expected ride and excellent body control that make for outstanding cornering ability. Part of that prowess is due to the big, 19-inch Bridgestone ultra-high-performance summer tires, front and rear. The combination of a firm suspension and big summer tires was great on the smooth, flat asphalt roads of Palm Springs, Calif., where I drove the car, but one does wonder how that firm ride would do on broken pavement. The steering is a little numb on-center and doesn't provide as much feedback as I would have liked, due in part to its electrical power assist. It's accurate, but not terribly communicative.
The brakes are Brembo four-piston calipers up front with massive two-piece rotors, and they provide extraordinary levels of confidence in spirited driving: With immediate bite, firm feel and no visible fade (despite constant use in the twisty, desert-mountain roads I stormed through), the brakes are fantastic.
The same cannot be said about the fuel economy. The SS is rated 14/21/17 mpg city/highway/combined, so it gets slapped with a gas-guzzler tax of $1,300. That likely isn't much of an obstacle, however, as buyers of high-performance cars rarely place fuel economy very high in their consideration set. Want a fuel-efficient family sedan? Go buy a Cruze diesel. Want to scare the neighbor children every time your turn comes up in the carpool rotation? Stay right here.
The SS has familiar GM parts throughout and a design similar to that of the Impala in terms of shape and form. It's an attractive interior, but it looks as if it's trying a bit too hard to be special — perforated leather and faux suede on the dashboard, combined with two kinds of chrome trim and an embroidered SS badge, make it look a bit flashy. Shoppers who otherwise would be looking at a Camaro, though, will find it perfectly acceptable. The switches are all of the latest GM quality, which is to say quite good, and a touch-screen is within easy reach and is flanked by actual buttons for most functions.
Just like the suspension, the seats are firmer than one would expect, with thick bolsters and decorative trim that wants to suggest they're competition-ready racing seats (they're not). They are, however, comfortable and supportive and they assist in keeping occupants in place when flogging the SS around a road course (or the Safeway parking lot). Given that both the seats and the suspension are quite firm, I doubt I would have the same kind of praise driving over Michigan's potholes and frost heaves. Visibility from the driver's seat is acceptable, with the typically thick windshield pillars of today's modern cars no better or worse here than in competitors. Backseat room is not as large as one might expect given the length of the car. Foot room is cramped, and despite not having a sunroof in my test car, my head hit the unusually sculpted headliner. It's OK for a family with children or for occasional short trips for adults, but you wouldn't want to ride cross-country back there. For a performance enthusiast seeking Camaro abilities with Malibu utility, it's perfect.
Ergonomics & Electronics
Standard in the SS is Chevrolet's MyLink navigation-equipped touch-screen, and just like in other Chevys, it works quite well here. All switches and gauges are the new global GM style, which means they no longer feel flimsy and plasticky; nothing feels cheap in the SS interior. It's pretty remarkable how far GM has come in terms of material quality in the past decade. Bluetooth streaming audio is standard, as are keyless entry and push-button start. In fact, the SS comes extremely well-equipped, featuring a color head-up display, power heated and cooled front seats, dual-zone climate control, remote vehicle start, automatic parking assist and more. There are only two options for the SS: a moonroof and a full-size spare tire.
Cargo & Storage
This being a full-size sedan, trunk storage is quite good, featuring a deep well and relatively low lift-over height. Storage in the passenger compartment is decent; Chevrolet made a point to mention that the cupholders up front are "oversized," presumably to make it easier to secure beverages too large for wimpier sedans.
The SS is too new to have been crash-tested.
The SS features all of GM's latest electronic safety enhancements, including forward collision alert, blind spot warning and lane keep assist, plus eight airbags. Check out all the SS safety features here.
Value in Its Class
Price is really where the Chevrolet SS gets interesting because it comes only one way: loaded. Your only two options are the previously mentioned $500 full-size spare tire and the $900 moonroof. Other than that, you get to pay $45,770 for a new SS, which includes the $1,300 gas-guzzler tax and $995 destination charge. It comes in one of five exterior colors and only one interior shade, ebony. This keeps complexity down for GM, as importing these monsters from Australia cannot be a cheap proposition, and building them locally would be prohibitive as GM expects to sell only around 4,000 a year. With only around 3,000 Chevy dealers nationwide, that means the likelihood of seeing two at a dealer near you is slim. Option one out for yourself here.
The market for expensive super-performance sedans isn't huge, but there are some notable competitors. In terms of price and capabilities, the Dodge Charger SRT8 and Chrysler 300 SRT8 come within a couple hundred dollars of the SS but offer significantly different equipment. It starts with the engines: The Chryslers offer a 470-hp, 6.4-liter V-8, up nearly 60 hp from the SS, with zero-to-60 mph times of just more than 4 seconds, versus the SS' 5. The Chryslers make do with an older five-speed automatic transmission instead of the SS' updated six-speed, but the Chryslers also have superior highway fuel economy. The SRT models and the SS weigh about the same and have almost the same interior passenger volume, but Chrysler includes special SRT-focused apps as part of its touch-screen Uconnect system. The Chryslers look more aggressive, as well, with more significant road presence, but the invisibility of the SS may be more appealing to some. It's also possible to option up the SRT models to well over $55,000 if one includes special leather interiors and trim packages.
Over at Ford, the only four-door that even comes close to what the SS can do is the Taurus SHO. It chimes in at a few grand less than the Chevy, but its twin-turbo V-6 comes up well short of the SS' power: 365 hp versus 415 hp. It does feature all-wheel-drive, however — a benefit in climates unfriendly to performance cars. It also boasts superior fuel economy. No Japanese mainstream brand has a car that can touch the SS, but believe it or not a Korean one does: The Hyundai Genesis 5.0 R-Spec has a more powerful V-8 than the SS and two extra gears in its transmission, and it's technically considered a luxury car, but it weighs more, costs more, and doesn't have anywhere near the SS' handling panache. Compare them all for yourself here.
The Chevy SS will not appeal to everyone, but it's not meant to. It's meant for the guy or gal who really wants a big V-8 in a Camaro or Corvette but also needs to haul around people or stuff now and then. For them, it's perfect — until the next Dodge Charger SRT8 arrives to shake things up.