Chevy SSR's style pleases, but ride falls short

Chevrolet calls the SSR "the ultimate boulevard cruiser." In other words, the perfect ride for an event like August's Woodward Dream Cruise. So here we were, in the middle of a brutal Michigan January, putting the two-seat convertible pickup truck through its paces.

Paul loved the SSR because it just looks so cool with its sculpted hood, flared fenders and retro profile. Anita, on the other hand, found she couldn't really relate to it,and would rather opt for something along the lines of a sleeker Mazda Miata, if she were in the market for a convertible.

Our test SSR had a base price of $41,995 and a single option, an $895 cargo compartment trimmed with wood.

HE: So I guess we add the SSR to the list of things you "can't relate to", like chili, football and the Dixie Chicks. You're such a girl.

SHE: Same goes for why you don't attend craft shows and quilting conventions with me. We're the perfect couple, my big fat obnoxious writing partner.

HE: Time to talk nuts and bolts, baby. I loved the SSR from the minute I saw it at the auto show, and couldn't wait to drive it. My first hands-on experience was in a very rough, early prototype about 18 months ago. When we finally landed a test vehicle for a week in early January, it turned out to be an early production unit. It also arrived about 36 hours before the big snow storm, so we didn't get to spend a lot of time on the road. It was just enough, however, to satisfy my driving lust, but also to confirm some of our concerns about the vehicle.

SHE: Funny thing. When I first saw the SSR at the show, I didn't like it. And when I saw the $42,890 price tag on our test vehicle, I liked it even less. The SSR is a toy, for guys with a lot of money. It's adorable, but impractical. Granted, the SSR has a jaunty personality, along the lines of the New Beetle. Like the Volkswagen, the SSR carries the exterior color and trim into the cabin. But I had problems with the cabin. It doesn't have a lot of room, and the visibility is not good with the top up. Unlike you, I actually tried to put the top down, after chipping away the snow and ice. But I couldn't get it down.

HE: Jeez, it was about two degrees outside. And they say guys are goofy.

SHE: Turns out Chevy knows about the problem with lowering the top in cold weather. They just amended the owner's manual to point this out to customers, saying, "When operating the top in low temperatures, e.g., below 32 F, the time needed to cycle the top will increase. This may cause the top movement to stop and the 'Roof Cycle Timeout' message to appear." That's exactly what happened when I tried it, 10 times, before giving up.

HE: Serves you right. I just wanted to go cruising in the SSR the minute it showed up in our driveway. The truck is built on the chassis of a Chevrolet TrailBlazer sport utility vehicle, w hich means it's rear-wheel drive, with a pushrod 5.3-liter V-8 under the hood. The engine makes 300 horsepower, but the truck also weighs nearly 5,000 pounds, so it is not exactly lightning-quick, if you catch my drift. The V-8 is also mated to a four-speed automatic, and the fuel economy is a mediocre 15 miles per gallon in city driving and 19 on the highway. So forget about winning any stoplight drag races with a Dodge Hemi truck.

SHE: I was puzzled by the lack of a manual transmission. Isn't this supposed to be a fun vehicle? And you were griping about the handling when we had our only "date" in the SSR.

HE: Handling is definitely not this truck's strong suit. Nor is the ride especially cushy. But that's not what the SSR is all about. If you want a sports car that you can toss around and dive into tight curves, go buy that Miata. Just don't try those maneuvers in an SSR, which really is more of a boulevard cruiser.

SHE: Let's see. The SSR does'.t go ery fast, it doesn't get good gas mileage, it doesn't ride or handle well, it doesn't have much room, and you can't see out of it well with the top up. Tell me again why I should spend 40 grand on this truck.

HE: Maybe I can explain it better over a bowl of chili at halftime during the Super Bowl.