2015 Chevrolet SS Manual First Test
An Australian Love Letter to the U.S.
When Pontiac was axed in 2009, the U.S. car market lost its only link to the parallel muscle car universe that is Australia. The Holden Commodore, known here briefly as the G8, again became forbidden fruit. But Americans were given a second chance at GM Australia's flagship model last year when Chevrolet launched the SS sedan. For 2015, the SS offers a six-speed manual transmission, allowing it to pick up where the dearly departed V-8-powered G8 GXP left off.
For its second model year, the Chevy SS gets GM's Magnetic Ride Control suspension system standard, rear Brembo brakes to join the previously standard fronts, and a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hot spot through the OnStar system. But the biggest news for enthusiasts is the availability of the aforementioned manual transmission as a no-cost option. All SS models are still powered by a 6.2-liter LS3 V-8 that makes 415 hp and 415 lb-ft of torque.
Manual-equipped cars get a 3.70:1 rear axle to offset the taller -- but closer-spaced -- ratios. Manual SS sedans also get GM's skip-shift feature, which is as annoying as ever but easy to avoid triggering once you've driven the car for a while. The shifter feels like it was transplanted directly from a Camaro SS, with short throws and relatively tight gate spacing. The shifter is on the notchy side and doesn't like to be hustled, but other than that, how can you complain when you have a manual gearbox in something that's rear-drive, has generous amounts of power, and has four doors? Once you get used to the slightly heavy clutch, the manual is great for everyday driving. A very clear engagement point and a communicative pedal make the SS easy to drive around town.
The manual not only improves the driving experience but also helps performance. In our acceleration tests, the SS manual's 4.5-second time was a 10th quicker to 60 mph than the last SS automatic we tested. The row-your-own gearbox also shaved a 10th off the SS' quarter-mile time, which decreased to 12.9 seconds at a slightly faster trap speed of 110.8 mph. That run is identical to the 2014 Chrysler 300 SRT we previously compared against the 2014 SS automatic, and the 4.5-second 0-60 closes the gap between the heavier but more powerful SRT. The numbers are also a near mirror image of the last manual-equipped Pontiac G8 GXP we tested, which isn't surprising considering the SS is essentially the G8 GXP one refresh removed. The SS also doesn't give up much in acceleration to the Chevy Camaro SS, its Zeta-based two-door cousin. A 2015 Camaro 1LE we tested hit 60 in 4.4 seconds and completed the quarter in the same 12.9 seconds. Many have also compared the SS to the E39-generation BMW M5, and now that the Chevy gets a manual transmission, we have a more apples-to-apples comparison. A 2000 BMW M5 we tested with the 400-hp, 395-lb-ft 5.0-liter V-8 and six-speed manual sprinted to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds and onto the quarter in 13.2 seconds at 107.4 mph. Pretty close.
Despite the new rear Brembos, 60-0 mph braking increased slightly to 110 feet, up 5 feet from our last test. The magnetorheological damper setup, a feature offered in Australia on the Holden Commodore HSV, worked great in the real world but didn't yield huge gains in our handling tests. The 2015 SS manual completed our figure eight in 24.9 seconds at an average of 0.81 g, no better than the 2014 automatic with conventional shocks and struts, which did the deed in 24.8 seconds at an average of 0.80 g. But from behind the wheel on the figure-eight course, the SS feels controlled and precise as it carves through the turns. You definitely feel the weight, but body motion is much less pronounced than you might expect. The front end pushes slightly, but the rear is always ready and waiting for you to give the go-ahead to step out and have some fun. Once you do, the SS will drift all day long, or at least until you burn through the stock Bridgestone Potenza RE050A performance summer tires. But as with the 2014, we wish Chevy would offer more supportive seats to make that exercise more enjoyable.
The magnetic dampers really show their worth on the road. On a weekend road trip, the SS' suspension ate up the roughly 370 miles between Los Angeles and Phoenix, Arizona, offering a luxury car-smooth ride the entire way. The ride quality is matched by the upscale interior, which boasts faux-suede inserts on the dash and door panels, leather front seats with the SS logo embroidered on the seatbacks, and a tidy-looking center stack. The leather treatment also extends to the rear seats, which offer ample space for adults. The standard 4G LTE Wi-Fi hot spot works surprisingly well. All it took was a push of the OnStar button and a short chat with a representative to get my network set up, and I was ready to start surfing. The connection was fast even with two devices sapping bandwidth. The hot spot is active as long as the car is on, though leaving the engine running is recommended as it uses a lot of juice.
On the way to Arizona, I appreciated the standard head-up display with its large, easy-to-see numbers. It helped me manage my speed through the long two-lane stretches of Interstate 10, which is notorious for speed traps. But more than a few times, my restraint lapsed and I just had to let the SS stretch its legs, dropping down a gear or two, mashing the right pedal, and eagerly awaiting the cathartic pops and burbles of the exhaust as I lifted off the throttle. The great thing is that other than that V-8 exhaust note and the SS badge on the rear, this car flies completely under the radar. Rarely was the sedan given a second glance by passersby, and even I had a hard time telling which one was the high-performance Chevy when the SS was parked next to a new Malibu. Senior features editor Jonny Lieberman said the SS "looks like something you'd thoughtlessly rent at Enterprise," which is perfect for anyone wanting a sleeper. But for those who want their ride to be at least a little bit conspicuous, it's not the ideal look. Many staffers took issue with the amount of chrome on the exterior. Even the wheels feature a gaudy chrome finish. Since there are currently no other factory wheel options, a set of less-shiny rims would be the first item on my to-do list if I bought a Chevy SS.
But driving something that looks like your grandpa's Impala has its perks. Had it not been for this tester's red paintjob, I wouldn't have worried one bit about drawing attention from the law. One thing I really didn't have to worry about was refueling. The SS' 18.8-gallon tank grants it an America-sized fuel range (or perhaps we should say Australian Outback-sized). The SS manual is EPA-rated at 15/21 mpg city/highway, an improvement of 1 mpg in the city over the six-speed auto. On my trip, I averaged between 19 and 22 mpg each fill-up. Not terrible for a car with a V-8 and a near-4,000-pound curb weight.
Since the Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat is a thing, you'd think a higher-performance SS would be a no-brainer — especially seeing that a supercharged Commodore version already exists in Australia. But with just 2,386 examples of the SS sold in 2014 through November and GM vehicle production in Australia ending in 2017, the prospect of an even hotter Chevy sport sedan is fading fast. The 2015 Chevrolet SS manual is our consolation prize. Just the fact that a large, rear-drive, V-8-powered sedan with a manual transmission exists in this age of CAFE-dictated product lineups is reason enough to celebrate, but this car happens to be a pretty darn good one to boot. Sure, it can't lay waste to rear tires like the Hellcat can, but it's equally in its element on a winding racetrack as it is on the open road. It also offers the one thing Chrysler has denied enthusiasts in the Charger since its rebirth as a four-door in 2006: a proper manual transmission.
The one aspect of the SS many find hard to swallow is its price, which starts at a not-insignificant $46,740 for the manual. Choose the automatic and you have to fork over an extra $1,300 for the gas-guzzler tax. But as we've said before, that price gets you a lot of car. The 2015 SS comes loaded with leather, navigation, heated seats, and a lot more. The only options are a full-size spare and sunroof. Yes, there are several other nice sport sedans you can get with that amount of cash or just a few grand more. But most wouldn't have a manual option, and none would have the sleeper appeal of this SS, which is likely among the final gifts from our V-8-loving counterparts from down under. If you missed out on the G8 GXP, you're in luck because this second-chance offering is even better than the first. We wouldn't count on getting a third, though, so choose wisely.
|2015 Chevrolet SS|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$46,740|
|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)||3,918 lb (52/48%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||195.5 x 74.7 x 57.9 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.5 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||12.9 sec @ 110.8 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||110 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.94 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||24.9 sec @ 0.81 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||15/21/17 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS., CITY/HWY||225/160 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||1.13 lb/mile|
Additional 2015 Chevrolet SS images from the automaker: