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Boulevard Cruising: 2004 Chevrolet SSR

Chevy's Long-Awaited SSR Is Finally Here

Matt Stone
Jun 8, 2004
Contributors: Mark Williams
We've been watching the SSR's development for more than three years now, since it first appeared as a design concept at the Detroit auto show in January 2000. The "we're going to build it" announcement followed that August. Finally, it's here.

A brief primer on the SSR's makeup: Its body-on-frame architecture comes from the TrailBlazer EXT/Envoy XL (GMT370) hydroformed-steel platform, shortened 13 inches by cutting off the tips and tail of the framerails. For the most part, it retains the stock platform's width and track. Related hardware includes IFS, a live rear axle, and four-wheel disc brakes. The steel body panels are all new and evoke the highly sought late-'40s/early-'50s Chevy pickup. The sculpted fenders and supports are where a good amount of the added weight of the vehicle can be found. Aft of the cab is a large flat trunk, designed to house the fully-retractable two-piece hardtop--also quite heavy. Beyond the overall look, the SSR's hardtop is a design highlight, folding and fitting neatly into a bay between the rear bulkhead and the front of the small bed, hidden by a hard cover.
Photo 2/3   |   2004 Chevrolet Ssr front Interior View
GM's midsize-SUV platform shares its all-aluminum 5.3-liter Vortec V-8 with the SSR, backed by the 4L60-E four-speed automatic transmission. The engine's rated output was 290 horsepower, but the SSR's less-restrictive intake and burbling dual-exhaust system bring horsepower to an even 300. There are no other engine offerings--yet--and the SSR will only come in rear-drive configuration.
Credit GM Design and the product-development team for a faithful job of productionizing the SSR. Most concepts change a lot during the journey from auto-show turntable to showroom, but put an SSR next to that original Detroit design study, and you know exactly where it came from. In fact, we worried what sort of undersized wheel/tire combo was going to replace the original 19- and 20-inch rolling stock on the concept, but were pleasantly surprised to discover that 19s and 20s will stay. Our only beef is that all the original's brushed-aluminum trim became plastic in the transition, except for the exterior door handles.
Unlike the exterior design, the interior did become something different from that of the retro boulevard machine, but it should be noted GM has tried to keep a certain custom street-rod look about it. However, it's tough to do limited-production vehicles, while keeping costs under control, without raiding the parts bin. The plastic bits look it, and you'll recognize the audio and climate-control systems from the sport/utilities. Best of all, though, are the SSR's sport seats: They're firm, supportive, and stitched in high-quality leather. Unfortunately, we can't be as positive about the nylon rug-like material that lines the bed. While it appears durable and waterproof, it looks cheap, is poorly finished, and is affixed with Velcro. To GM's credit, the rear decklid can be entirely removed and hung on the garage wall with a mounting kit that comes with the street truck.

Whether you like the styling, there's no question the SSR is fun to drive. If you crave power, smoothness, and dandy exhaust-pipe music, it's hard to beat a GM Gen-III V-8. You can criticize the transmission for having only four ratios, no sequential controls, and a clunky shifter, but it remains a sufficient match for this motor. Chevy claims 0-60 times in the mid-seven-second range, confirmed by an informal stopwatch; top speed is electronically limited to 125 mph (also confirmed). The SSR is heavy at 4760 pounds--some 1000 pounds heavier than a 4x4 TrailBlazer--and launching that mass isn't easy. Yet midrange passing is a snap, and the rumbling small-block sounds so inviting you'll never want to put the top up. However, when you do, it's a one-touch operation. Just engage the button, and the ASC-designed and supplied top does the latching, folding, and covering for you. Lowering the top takes about 20 seconds; closing it requires 24. At speed, with the top down, wind noise and buffeting are commendably low. With the top up, it surprised us how loud a hardtop (albeit a foldable hardtop) could be, but it's less noisy than a cloth-topped convertible. With that said, the system is still impressive.
Photo 3/3   |   2004 Chevrolet Ssr front Fleet View
The rest of the SSR driving experience is more complicated. Chassis engineers have tried their best to nail the ride/handling balance, but here the structurally rigid underguts don't help. Vibration and shake, without the benefit of stiff A- and B-pillars, make top-down driving on everything but perfectly smooth roads a challenge. In performance handling, the SSR is no sports car, but it does corner with confidence--maybe to be expected from something so heavy and low to the ground. The ride is firm, yet not harsh. The weakest link is the rack-and-pinion steering. Although the SSR uses a faster rack than its similarly platformed SUVs, turn-in is somewhat vague, and there's too little real feedback for how heavy it feels.
With a base price of $41,995 and fully loaded models ringing the register at up to $45,000 or so, the SSR is expensive. The Ford Thunderbird, a specialty car with tons of history and appeal, tops out below where the SSR starts--and yet the Bird is faltering in the marketplace. Chevrolet's business case is built on sales of 14,000-15,000 units per year at a minimum of five years, but we have some reservations about another $41,000-plus GM pickup truck (GMC Sierra Denali, 4x4 1500 HD, Silverado SS) brought to the marketplace.
Clearly, the SSR will draw its share of smiles and thumbs up, especially from the older street-rod crowd. It's new and different, classically American, fun to drive, and will be popular on Friday and Saturday nights. Will it be the Next Big Thing or the next niche player to fall short of long-term expectations? From our vantage point, it's difficult to believe this will succeed by any measure, other than how cool the guys will think you are on Cruise Night. Beyond that, it's impressive that a corporation as large as GM can still pop out a vehicle with passion now and then, and it doesn't look like it's stopping here (see sidebar)

In closing, we can't help thinking the SSR would make more sense if the plan were to spawn other niche vehicles, on a rotating basis, off the exact same platform--from extreme 4x4 bruiser to utility pickup to HD van. In the no-nonsense world of the pickup-truck buyer, that kind of long-term, multivehicle strategy might make sense. We'll keep watching.
163 0312 Ssr03 L
  |   163 0312 Ssr03 L
More Retro From GM
by Mark Williams

Gary Cowger, president of General Motors North America, recently announced that a new crossover vehicle, code-named the HHR (High Heritage Roof), will be available in 2005 as an '06 model. Most likely based off a car platform, the HHR will take some styling cues from an original '49 Suburban, the Chevy SSR, and even DaimlerChrysler's PT Cruiser. The PT Cruiser influence should come as no surprise since Brian Nesbitt, the PT Cruiser designer, had a hand in the development and look of the HHR. Expect it to be positioned in size and price above the smaller retro Cruiser. The word is that the high-output Ecotec four-cylinder is the only engine slated for the engine bay, but that may change.
{{{Chevrolet SSR}}}
Location of final assembly Lansing, Michigan
Body style 2-door midsize pickup
Drivetrain layout Front engine, RWD
Airbags Front
Engine type V-8, aluminum block & heads
Bore x stroke, in 3.78 x 3.27
Displacement, ci/L 325/5.3
Compression ratio 9.5:1
Valve gear OHV, 2 valves/cyl
Fuel induction Sequential
SAE horsepower, hp @ rpm {{{300}}} @ 5200
SAE torque, lb-ft @ rpm 331 @ {{{4000}}}
Transmission type 4L60-E four-speed auto
1st 3.06:1
2nd 1.{{{62}}}:1
3rd 1.00:1
4th 0.70:1
Reverse 2.29:1
Axle ratio 3.73:1
Final drive ratio 2.61:1
Recommended fuel Unleaded premium
Wheelbase, in 116.0
Length, in 191.4
Width, in 78.6
Height, in 64.2
Track, f/r, in 64.1/64.9
Headroom, in 40.0
Legroom, in 42.1
Shoulder room, in 53.5
Hip room, in 51.3
Total interior volume, cu ft 39.9
Ground clearance, in 6.1
Base curb weight, lb 4760
Payload capacity, lb 1005
GVWR, lb 5775
GCWR, lb 7500
Towing capacity, lb 2500
Fuel capacity, gal 25
Suspension, f/r IFS, double A-arm/Live axle, coil-link
Steering type Hydraulically assisted rack-and-pinion
Ratio 16.0:1
Turns, lock to lock 3.0
Turning circle, ft 38.1
Brakes, f/r 12.0-in vented disc/12.8-in vented disc
Wheels, f/r 19 x 8.0/20 x 10.0 aluminum
Tires, f/r Goodyear {{{Eagle}}} {{{RSX}}}
Size, f/r 255/45R19/295/40R20
Acceleration (sec) 0-607.6 (est)
Standing 1/4 mile (sec/mph)15.9 @ {{{90}}} (est)
EPA fuel economy (city/hwy)15/19
Base price$41,995
Price as tested$45,605
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