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Australia has a lot of things going for it -- beaches, beer, marsupials -- but from a car-lover's perspective, one the primary draws of the Land Down Under comes from its performance sedans. The continental country has an obsession with big cars with big power routed through the rear wheels. It's as if the muscle car era never ended down there, and that's a beautiful thing.
Every now and again one of these cars gets officially imported to American shores, and the Chevy SS is the latest to make the trip up over. Picking up where the Pontiac G8 left off, the Chevy SS is a re-branded and visually refreshed Holden Commodore. That means it's a 4,000-pound, four-door, rear-wheel-drive sedan with sporting intentions and luxury accommodations. It's also a car that will cost you $45,745. (All prices are in US dollars. The SS is not available internationally but Australian readers can get a similarly equipped Holden Commodore SS for AU$47,366.) That's about $5,000 more than a Dodge Charger R/T Scat Pack, despite offering only 415 horsepower compared to the Dodge's 485.
Only in these halcyon days of outrageous outputs can we use the word "only" before a figure like 415 horsepower, but keep in mind this is a big car we're talking about. That's a lot of mass to get moving down the track, and while performance in the SS is good, it isn't neck-snapping. You will need to drop down a gear (or two) to get the most out of the 6.2-liter V-8 slung under the hood -- and sadly covered by an ugly plastic housing.
Thankfully, you can row your own gears, with Chevrolet offering your choice of a Tremec six-speed manual or a Hydra-Matic auto. I was happy to sample the former of the two, and it offers a solid, positive feel. The clutch, however, was a bit more finicky, a long throw and a sharp engagement point making smooth shifts a challenge. Launches at the strip, however, will be a treat. (Just make sure you turn off the traction control. It cuts in early and often.)
The car also offers GM's Magnetic Ride Control, with a dedicated knob situated between the seats toggling between Tour, Sport and Performance modes. Each step makes the car progressively firmer, going from very plush and comfortable to downright stiff and abusive. You won't want the hardest mode for cruising down the highway, but in the twisties it does feel quite well posed -- for a 4,000 pound car, at least. It does, however, have a tendency of getting somewhat nervous in the rear when hitting a bump while cornering hard.
It's debatable how often SS owners will actually be cornering hard, but should they choose to head to a track with twists and turns they'll find the beefy Brembo brakes more than capable. The seats, however, are somewhat lacking in lateral support for too much track play. They're also a bit too firm for comfortable highway cruising.
Beyond that, the interior is a nice place to be. Headroom with the $900 optional sunroof is surprisingly limited, but in every other dimension there's plenty of room to stretch out. The rear seats are particularly spacious. And comfy, too. In fact, after an extended highway session in the front seats I found myself wishing I could drive from the back. I was also wishing I had some ear plugs thanks to excessive road noise from the low-profile 19-inch tires.
There are a few cheap plastics about, and an excessive use of chrome trim, but otherwise the materials, fit and finish are generally good. However, the 8-inch MyLink infotainment system is not. The interface feels sluggish, looks dated and the navigation aspect in particular is not something you'll want to rely on. In driving from Detroit to Indianapolis, for example, the system kindly alerted me to a highway closure due to an accident. However, it refused to route me around that closure, leaving me reaching for my smartphone. Android Auto and CarPlay can't get here soon enough.
There's something of a lack of driver assists, too. While the car will beep at you should you wander out of the lane, it won't attempt to steer itself back in. There's also no adaptive cruise control. Instead, the car offers a warning in the color HUD should you get too close to another car. In all conditions I found the graphic projected there to be far less visible than the actual, physical car the system was trying to warn me about.
And then there's the exterior, which is sophisticated but somewhat forgettable, particularly in black. I continually found myself walking up to Impalas and Malibus in parking lots, expecting them to unlock. The big, chrome wheels and fender vents help, but overall the car's sporting pretensions don't translate into much of a visual statement. If you're looking for a sophisticated sleeper, that may be a good thing.
It does, however, make a nice auditory statement. That 6.2-liter V-8 sounds quite good. It's sedate most of the time, but step on it and you're rewarded with a lovely tone and a rich, burbly over-run. It's enough to make you tickle the go pedal while sitting at traffic lights. Just don't do that too frequently, because the car is only rated for 15 MPG in the city with the manual, 14 with an automatic. On the highway you'll see 21.
The SS, really, is all about contrasts. It looks tame but sounds mean. It's big and spaceous but not particularly comfortable. It gobbles up the highway miles but is too thirsty to go far. Not the most sensible car, pehraps, but, despite its understated looks it does make quite an impression from behind the wheel, and the combination of big car with a big motor connected to a proper transmission is something that should be enjoyed while it lasts.
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