Idling at a red light, the 2017 Chevrolet SS writhes under my seat, the power of its 6.2-liter V8 shimmying this sedan like it wants to tear out of here in a cloud of tire smoke. The average person walking down the street doesn't look twice, however, as the SS is a bonafide sleeper.
When the light turns green, those nearby pedestrians get treated to a deep-throated roar from the exhaust, although I refrain from burning up the tires.
The SS is the kind of car that aficionados love; not flashy but amped up with old school power. Leave the Camaro for the baseball cap and goatee crowd, the SS shows off true muscle car heritage. And not just typical American muscle, as the SS actually comes from our brothers down under, Australia, which boasts a similarly rich history of car enthusiasts.
Chevrolet imports the SS from GM's Holden factory in Australia, where it is known as the VF Commodore. Despite these origins, the steering wheel is on the right side, by which I mean the left side, and the speedometer shows miles-per-hour. Also familiar to me was the inclusion of GM's standard technology load, encompassing driver assistance and dashboard electronics. The American-ness of the SS didn't surprise me terribly, as I'd driven a Holden Calais-V Sportwagon in Australia two years ago, which showed how GM globalized its technology.
The SS muscles in between the Malibu and Impala in Chevy's sedan line-up, but fills an entirely different niche than its economical siblings. Along with its big V8 engine, the SS comes with a magnetic adaptive suspension, adjusting the damping rate depending on sensor data to keep the car level in the turns and improve handling, along with rear-wheel-drive. And its optional six speed manual transmission is something you won't find amongst its sedan brethren.
The body design doesn't show much in the way of bravado, and most people will likely confuse it with a Malibu, given the similar grille styling. But some performance cues stand out, such as hood and fender vents, and the bright red Brembo brake calipers peeking out from the wheel spokes.
I found the cabin roomy and comfortable, the sports seats' bolsters not too prominent to prevent easy access. A mix of leather and soft touch materials cover seats and door panels, red stitching adding to the look along with SS badges on seat backs and dashboard.
Familiar to me from past Chevrolet models, an 8-inch touchscreen centered in the dash shows the MyLink infotainment system, standard for the SS with navigation, stereo, hands-free phone and OnStar telematics. However, after plugging my iPhone into one of the car's two USB ports, I was disappointed to find it lacked Apple CarPlay, indicating a past generation of MyLink that would not support Android Auto, either.
Although not the latest version of MyLink, its navigation remains usable, with colorful and easy-to-read maps showing live traffic information. As destination entry lacks one-box input, I was left with the clunky method of entering city, then street, then street number for addresses, or figuring out a category for points of interest. It locks out more involved destination entry while underway, too, so I had to pull over to get navigation going.
Its audio sources include the typical, such as Bluetooth, USB and radio, but also add app integration for Pandora and Stitcher. The Bose 220-watt nine-speaker stereo could use more bass to compete with the engine sound, but overall it was enjoyable.
The SS really surprised and impressed me with how easy it drove. Faced with a manual transmission and a big V8, I expected something that would be a pain to drive in everyday traffic, but rolling out of the parking garage I noted the smooth action of the manual transmission shifter and the accelerator's well-controlled modulation. I could make it putt along at 3 mph, when necessary, without surging and leaping.
That six-speed shifter feels good going up through the gears, although it does employ GM's often-hated gear skipping, pushing the linkage from first to fourth instead of second as a means of saving gas.
Behind the wheel, the throbbing engine makes the SS feel big and brutish. When I could open up the throttle, the exhaust note proved classically satisfying. Chevy claims a respectable 4.7 seconds to 60 mph, not supercar fast but good enough. By the numbers, though, the SS won't offer much in the way of bragging rights. That 6.2-liter engine, lacking forced induction or even direct injection, only makes 415 horsepower and 415 pound-feet of torque.
And with the manual transmission, fuel economy comes in at an EPA-rated 16 mpg city and 22 mpg highway, putting it in Gas Guzzler tax territory. I averaged 16.6 mpg with plenty of highway driving, so expect to add a significant line item to your monthly fuel budget.
Electric power steering gives a nice, linear response, and contributes to the SS' decent handling. But the front-end doesn't snap around like in a dedicated sports car -- it's more of a modern muscle car feel. With a dial on the console, I could run the suspension through three settings: Touring, Sport and Performance. Ride quality doesn't suffer too much in Performance, so I could run it in that stiffest mode for miles on mountain highways.
As further modernization of the muscle car, Chevy gave the SS a few driver-assistance features, such as a forward-facing camera enabling a collision-prevention system and lane-departure warning. Missing from the package is adaptive cruise control, although with the SS' fuel economy, it wouldn't be my choice for longer highway drives.
Dodge pretty much owns the muscle car segment with its Charger and Challenger models, available in more variations than the number of baseball hats on display at Lids, but the SS gives Chevy something to show, especially with its manual transmission option. And it also gives muscle car fans devoted to the bow tie a sedan option to the Camaro. Its brutally low fuel economy is a typical sacrifice for muscle car ownership, but the horsepower and torque ratings make it hard to defend at a cars and coffee meet up.
The SS doesn't present much of a challenge to the buyer, as Chevy only offers it in one well-equipped trim. Navigation and driver assistance comes standard, leaving the main choice between six-speed automatic or manual, either a reasonable choice.
Collectors and procrastinators take note that, as the Australian automobile industry crumbles, this makes the last year for the SS, and will leave Chevrolet without a sedan counterpart to the Camaro.