2017 Chevrolet SS Is an Aging Aussie Turned American Hero
Chevy's soon-to-be-departed sport sedan is the car version of Hugh Jackman in "Logan." (Yes, we know Wolverine is actually Canadian. Deal with it.)
The 2017 Chevrolet SS represents, among other things, the quiet end of a dream. After the loss of all of General Motors's non-Cadillac rear-wheel-drive sedans in the 1990s, gearheads with a love for reasonably-priced RWD cars with powerful V8s began looking to Down Under, where GM's Holden division continued to sell such a vehicle in the form of the Commodore and Monaro. Eventually, these fans—a group that included quite a few people in the noisy fraternity of car writers—lobbied the General hard enough to convince it to bring the rear-wheel-drive Holdens Stateside not once, not twice, but thrice.
The first go-around, converting the Monaro into the Pontiac GTO, was less than successful; the jelly-bean styling was already dated by the time the car landed in 2004, and the rising Aussie dollar meant the car's base price was higher than buyers expected. As a result, in spite of its decent performance—the 400-horsepower model could rip from 0-60 miles per hour in 4.8 seconds and knock out the quarter-mile in 13 seconds flat—the nouveau Goat quietly faded away in mid-2006.
One year later, Pontiac tried again, this time converting the Commodore into the G8. That car also suffered on the American market, never achieving much in the way of sales success. Still, it managed to hang on long enough to die not due to its own failure, but rather, to go extinct along with the rest of Pontiac when the asteroid impact of bankruptcy hit GM in 2009.
In 2013, GM tried once more, transforming the Commodore into the Chevrolet SS. Apart from a somewhat awkward name (especially for black cars with silver trim, if you know what we mean), the SS was every bit the four-door Corvette the General promised—all the way down to the 415-hp LS3 small block shared with the C6 'Vette. It got even better in 2014, when Chevy added the availability of a six-speed manual and made the blissfully versatile Magneride suspension standard.
Since then, GM has more or less seen fit to let the Chevy SS exist in relative peace, constraining its updates to new colors and...well, pretty much just that. While it only sold in limited numbers, the American Commodore had finally found a nice niche in Chevrolet's performance lineup.
Until last month, when the General announced the SS would be quietly put to sleep when the current RWD Commodore dies later this year.
So this, then, is the last gasp of the Chevrolet SS. And unless GM decides to take the Alpha platform and build the four-door Camaro The Drive would love to see...it could well be the last rear-wheel-drive Chevy sedan ever sold, period.
WHO IS IT FOR? Automotive journalists and any family members who will listen to them.
WHERE DID WE TEST IT? From Brooklyn to Manhattan to Asbury Park, New Jersey.
THE FIRST THING YOU NOTICE IS: The SS is a handsome car...but it'd be even better without all that chrome. Perhaps afraid that American buyers wouldn't drop $45,000 on an understated Chevy four-door, GM saw fit to slather on shiny trim in the process of converting this Holden into a car for the Bowtie brand. The result looks a bit too much like a Pep Boys special for our tastes.
THING THEY DON’T WANT YOU TO NOTICE, BUT YOU DO ANYWAY: The interior looks like a vestige from the pre-bailout GM era. Chevy has ironed on leather and Alcantara here and there to class up the joint, but there's still hard plastics and cheap trim a-plenty. We'd rather the carmaker spend the money on performance parts than fancy interior bits on a car like this...but at the same time, it'd be nice if this $47,000 Chevy had a nicer interior than a $24,000 Chevy.
CAR IS GOOD AT: Sounding great, going fast, cruising along, laying rubber, feeling 'Murican.
CAR IS BAD AT: Continuing to exist.
- PERFORMANCE: 4/5
- COMFORT: 4/5
- LUXURY: 3/5
- HAULING PEOPLE: 3/5
- HAULING STUFF: 3/5
- CURB APPEAL: 4/5
- “WOW” FACTOR: 2/5
- OVERALL: 4/5
WOULD YOU BUY IT? Absolutely. Then again, I'm kind of the target audience. The Chevy SS is one of those rare cars that's less about superlatives and more about achieving joy through balance. It's not the fastest, the sharpest-edged, the best-looking, or the most utilitarian car—but it finds such wonderful equilibrium between all those traits that it's hard to imagine another vehicle that could check all those boxes, especially for less than $50,000. And especially if you have a soft spot for the instant power and baritone burble of a GM smallblock.
Even saddled with the optional six-speed automatic transmission, as my test car was, the SS never feels wanting for power; delightfully, it rolls on with naturally-aspirated elegance, gently ramping up with every millimeter of throttle travel. The Magneride suspension works every bit as much magic here as it does in Cadillacs or Ferraris, delivering both a supple ride and dynamite handling. The Brembos bite quickly and grab hard. The sport bucket seats are comfortable in the long haul, but still hold you well through the turns. (Though the silver trim pieces seemingly meant to suggest where a four-point harness would be rigged up are a bit cheesy.)
DEEP THOUGHTS: It's easy enough to bandy terms like "dinosaur" and "Neanderthal" around when discussing mainstream sedans with V8 engines and rear-wheel-drive layouts. But more than anything else right now, the Chevy SS reminds me of Hugh Jackman's blade-fisted superhero Logan—better known, of course, as the X-Men's Wolverine. (The fact that the film Logan is coming out next week and thus likely to soon be trending on Google is, of course, completely coincidental.)
Much like Jackman, the SS hails from Oz, but it acts as American as the next car in the Chevy lineup. It's getting a little long in the tooth; seeing it next to newer models leaves it looking a tad old. But it still kicks plenty of ass. Like Wolverine's adamantium claws, the smallblock V8 is as strong and sharp as it was on day one. And between the music that flows from the exhaust pipes and the taut handling brought about by the chassis, tires, and suspension, this Aussie-turned-American can sing and dance as well as The Man Who Played The Boy From Oz. And just as 2017 marks the end of the road for the Chevy SS, it's also likely the last time we'll see High Jackman don his fake claws as Wolverine.
So long, mates. It's been fun.
- Price (as tested): $48,920 ($48,920)
- Powertrain: 6.2-liter V8, 415 horsepower, 415 pound-feet of torque; rear-wheel-drive; six-speed automatic
- Fuel Economy: 14 city, 22 highway
- 0-60: 4.7 seconds (manufacturer figure)
- Quarter-Mile: 13.0 seconds at 111 mph (Car and Driver)
- Number of knowing looks from passers-by: 2
Check out our Facebook live drive of the 2017 Chevy SS below: