Wednesday, January 15, 2014

2014 Chevrolet SS test drive review. Not what it first appears to be

The car you’re looking at here may be one of the biggest sleepers in America.  It looks like an oversized Chevy Cruze.  It doesn’t really have a name.  And it is one of the fastest, most potent full-sized sedans you can buy.  The 2014 Chevrolet SS is one of those cars that you need to experience to appreciate.  But not many people will get that chance.  In spite of being the face of Chevrolet’s NASCAR efforts, this car is a secret.  And it will probably remain a secret until someone looks back on them and realizes what they missed.

I spent a week driving this Phantom Black Chevrolet SS around the streets of Kansas City, and virtually no one seemed to notice it.  A couple of guys heard it running when I dropped off a donation at the Goodwill Store, and asked what it was.  I said it was a “Chevy SS.”  They countered with, “Impala SS?”  “No,” I said, “Just Chevy.”  This immediately brings to light why people are confused by this car.  SS is traditionally a trim level.  They still make the Camaro SS.  Why doesn’t this car have a name?   

It is easy to confuse this with the Impala (pictured).  They’re both new cars.  They’re both full-sized Chevrolets.  And the last time Chevrolet had a rear-wheel-drive V8 performance sedan was when they built the 1996 Impala SS.  But that’s where the similarities end.  The new Impala is a front-wheel-drive car.  This is a rear-driver.  The Impala is a thoroughly modern family sedan.  The SS is an old-school performance machine.  Other than the prominent bowtie in the center of the grille, they are not similar at all.  And while I really like new Impala, this SS is the kind of car that I would love to own.

The beauty of this car is in the 6.2-liter LS3 V8.  This is the same engine that was in a base 2013 Corvette, and it’s good for 415-hp and 415 pound-feet of torque.  This car is a beast, capable of hitting 60-mph from a dead stop in only five seconds.  Most people who ride in this car have no inclination of what it’s capable of—until you drop the hammer.  Once the SS starts clicking hard through the gears of that six-speed automatic, you realize that it is far from the Cruze that it appears.  Chevrolet is obviously famous for their small-block V8 performance, and this car encapsulates the best of their 59 years of experience.

So where did this car come from, and why are they building it?  Well, it is built in Australia by GM’s Holden division, and there have been versions of it being sold overseas for years.  It is a shorter, fancier version of the Caprice, which is only available in this country as a police vehicle.  Much of the platform and many of the mechanical bits are shared with the Camaro.  But we have seen a previous iteration of this car before.  If you recall the Pontiac G8 GXP (pictured), which went away when the brand was killed in 2010, you have basically seen the new SS.  This is the evolution of that car, with a revamped suspension and more aluminum in the structure, but if Pontiac were still around today, this car would have a split grille divided by an arrowhead.

The SS has a fairly hard ride, but it really handles.  Big Brembo brakes hide behind shiny 19-inch wheels wrapped in Bridgestone Potenza summer tires.  Those tires are amazing if you’re screaming around a hairpin turn on a warm day.  But for daily driver status, they are an incredibly weak link.  It was cold and snowy during the first part of my week, and those tires make the SS about as sure-footed as a pig on ice.  Even cold temperatures wreaked havoc on their usefulness.  Once the sun came out later in the week, the car was fantastic.  If I bought this car and planned to use it as a daily driver, those original tires would immediately go into storage, to be replaced by something a little more suitable to the real world.

The interior of the SS is just beautiful.  Everything is covered in finely stitched leather or suede, or there is some kind of brushed chrome trim.  Chevy’s MyLink infotainment system is one of the easier ones to use on the market today, and the head-up display keeps your eyes on the road.  Techno-gadgets range from automatic parking assist to rain-sensing windshield wipers.  This is one place where the SS really excels over the old G8, because this cabin has been thoroughly updated and improved.  This is more like a BMW than what you would traditionally think of in a Chevrolet.  Even the seats are attractive and supportive.  This interior is downright impressive.

Of course, with this kind of drivetrain and all this technology, the window sticker is more like a BMW than a Chevrolet as well.  The MSRP was $45,770, which includes a $1,300 gas-guzzler tax and a $995 destination fee.  There are only two options that could make it even more—a power sunroof and a full-sized spare.  But as much as the SS costs, and it is expensive, the argument could still be made that you’re getting what you pay for here.  For me personally, this car ticks so many of the right boxes that if I could afford it, I would definitely consider it.  The SS might not be for everybody, but if it’s for you, it’s really for you.

The media sheet that was delivered with the car has a little “fast fact” that the SS is Chevrolet’s first V8, rear-wheel-drive performance sedan since 1996, so every article you see about this car mentions that.  They’re referencing the old Caprice-based Impala SS (pictured).  I can speak to that, because I have personally owned two 1996 Impala SSs.  The spirit is similar, in that there is a torquey V8 twisting the rear tires, and they are both representative of the full-sized cars of their day.  As a huge, body-on-frame car, the ’96 still did business in a leisurely, comfortable manner, while the new SS has more of a hyper, high-strung personality.  But they both serve their purpose for their time.  18 years is a long time, and people have come to expect different things out of their cars since then.

Once the weather started cooperating, I had no desire to give up the keys to this 2014 Chevrolet SS test car.  It was one of my favorite things that I have ever driven.  But alas, it was not meant to be.  The car eventually had to be returned, and all we’re left with are a few photographs.  Check them out in the slideshow below, or click this link for a nicer version.


  1. Brent wuz here....

    Nice write up.

  2. Nice pics in the article...So what does this car weigh with all the gadgets ? more or less than the 1996 Imp SS ?
    -ALF out...

  3. Craig - Out of all the cars I've seen you drive, this is the one I would have loved to take a ride in (the GS Vette was another...). Hope all is well! ~Joel K.

    1. Thanks, Joel. Those were a couple of my favorites too!