2014 Chevrolet SS First Test
The Wolverine From Down Under Drops Its Claws
Hugh Jackman fans were heartened by his recent denial of the rumored $100-million deal to make four more “X-Men” installments. Enough already, Hugh. Your “Les Mis” and “Boy from Oz” performances have shown us you’re capable of so much more than ripped abs and ripping claws.
The same, it turns out, can be said of Oz’s rip-snorting automotive action hero, the Holden Commodore. In its star turn as the Pontiac G8, it was all falsie hood scoops and diffusers, fat tires and wheelspin, with an interior as foreign and hard to operate as a boomerang. Its revival/reboot as the Chevrolet SS really demonstrates the range of these Down Under-developed Zeta bones.
As mid-cycle enhancements go, the transition from VE to VF-generation Commodore was a doozy. The major hard points, doors, roof, and glass carry over, but expensive things such as the aluminum lower control arms, hood, and trunk are new, and an all-new vehicle electrical architecture supports standard features including MyLink infotainment and telematics, collision and lane-departure warnings, self-parking, and a full-color head-up display that remains visible viewed through polarized glasses(!). The aluminum bits, plus a switch to composite material for the trunk floor/spare-tire well, and other trimmings more than offset the car’s added features and increased sound deadening, particularly on the firewall, allowing this SS to weigh in 69 pounds lighter than our last similarly spec’d G8 GXP. The lightening efforts at the rear result in a 53/47 front/rear weight bias, while all G8 test cars carried 48 or 49 percent on the tail.
That GXP spec is now the only way you can get an SS -- with a 415-hp, 415-lb-ft LS3 V-8 bolted to a paddle-shifted 6L80 automatic (sorry, no more row-your-own option), four-piston Brembo front brakes, performance shocks, and rack-mounted electric power steering. There’s no engineering reason the SS should be any slower than our GXP automatic -- it’s lighter, and has the same power, torque, and gearing. So why did it take me 4.9 seconds to hit 60 mph and 13.3 seconds to cross the quarter, when the Pontiac managed 4.5 and 13-flat? The SS was only available in Michigan during 40-degree weather.
Denser air is great for engines, but crappy for Bridgestone Potenza friction quotients. Our weather correction actually slows the car down 6 percent, while the hapless summer-spec rear tires (which chief engineer Dave Leone says are functionally identical to those on a Ferrari California) just couldn’t hook up with any sort of revs -- and hence meaningful torque -- dialed up. The swiftest runs started with slight brake torquing to just off idle (about 1800 rpm), then gradually progressed to wide-open throttle. The quarter-mile trap speed of 107.6 mph attests to the SS’ essential capability being the same (the GXP hit 108.5).
Also attesting to the car’s strength is our impressive figure-eight performance. Perhaps the cold air helped the tires achieve and maintain a more optimal temperature (and its beneficial effect on engine performance is not corrected for mathematically in this test), because the sixth of ten laps -- with all stability systems switched off -- registered a blistering 25.2 seconds at an average of 0.74 total g with steady-state lateral acceleration averaging 0.96 g. That equals the E63 AMG/CTS-V warm weather performance (besting the G8 GXP by 1.2 seconds and 0.04 g) -- just remember that weather caveat.
The first four laps in the Stabilitrak’s Competitive mode were slowed by interventions that were still too aggressive, and the last two with all systems on were slower still.
The Brembo brakes are very strong, and the car transitions nicely from trail braking to neutral cornering at reasonable, controllable slip angles. The rack-mounted electric steering even provides reasonable feedback regarding the state of front-end grip. Toward the end of the session, however, the brakes were pulsing a bit from heat warpage.
What’s most impressive about the SS is how much more grown-up it feels inside and out. There’s supple leather with convincing suede flourishes, cut-and-sew materials on the doors and dash, and that spiffy high-res color HUD with multiple screen options, including ones that indicate lateral g (remembering peaks for a moment so you can check them after a corner) and help tell you when to flick the paddle for an upshift. The huge back seat offers limo-like comfort (and even some lateral support), but no 12-volt or USB charge points.
The levels of road and wind noise are more in keeping with the car’s mass-market roots, but the shocks are (mercifully) softened from their Aussie-market Commodore SS V-series Redline spec to better cushion Michigan’s frost-heaved potholes while still offering laudable sport-sedan body-motion control. We’d love to try the magnetic setup top-spec HSV Gen-F GTS models get in Oz, but Leone cautions against expecting the Chevy SS to get that car’s hotter supercharged LSA engine, or the Z/28’s LS7, or even the current Corvette’s more efficient but pricier LT1, any of which would bolt in easily. “We are enthused and excited about the car, but we’re not planning on dropping in three new engines.”
That’s in part because while the car is not capacity constrained, Chevy can’t really afford to sell tens of thousands of SSs when each one gets socked with a $1300 gas-guzzler tax (rated 14/21 mpg, it’s even thirstier than a five-speed Charger SRT8). This sad CAFE reality means there’s less incentive to stir the pot with new variants. But to those rear-drive Impala SS enthusiasts overdue for a new car to tune, tweak, and bracket-race (and make big, smoky burnouts in such as the one our art department insisted we snap, though that’s no longer this car’s principle raison d’etre), Leone assures, “We will support the car in accessories. Holden has a reasonable aftermarket portfolio, and a lot of Camaro equipment will bolt on.”
The least-impressive element of the car is styling that lacks the movie-star appeal of its Mopar rivals. But please, Chevy, if addressing this, don't add any adamantium flourishes.
|2014 Chevrolet SS|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$46,670|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, RWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan|
|ENGINE||6.2L/415-hp*/415-lb-ft* OHV 16-valve V-8|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3974 lb (53/47%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||195.5 x 74.7 x 57.9 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.9 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||13.3 sec @ 107.6 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||107 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.96 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||25.2 sec @ 0.74 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON||14/21 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||241/160 kW-hrs/100 mi|
|CO2 EMISSIONS||1.18 lb/mi|