It’s a good time to be in the market for a large sedan from General Motors. The Cadillac XTS, Buick LaCrosse and Chevrolet Impala all offer different takes on the big American car, with different looks, feels, and price ranges.
And over at the Chevy showroom, there are actually two large sedans. In addition to the Impala (in various trim packages), there’s now also the Chevrolet SS. It isn’t a “something-or-other SS,” but just simply named SS. In Chevy history, those letters stand for Super Sport.
While the SS is close in size to the Impala, they’re not alike at all underneath. The mainstream large Chevy is front wheel drive, with four or six cylinders under the hood powering the front wheels. The SS has a 6.2 liter V8 nestled behind its grill, sending power to the rear wheels via a 6-speed automatic transmission.
The end result is a muscle car disguised as a family sedan. Lots of practicality, lots of room inside, but stomp on the gas pedal and you get that great V8 sound and the sensation of being pushed back in your seat. The last time Chevrolet offered something like this was in the mid-1990s with the Impala SS.
The new SS is the latest effort from GM at bringing a car here from their Australian subsidiary, Holden. Aussies love their V8 rear-wheel-drive cars, and two previous cars, the Pontiac GTO and the Pontiac G8, also came from down under as an easy way to have a performance sedan in U.S. showrooms.
But each had their problems. The GTO, introduced for the 2004 model year, bore no resemblance to the storied GTO of the original muscle car era. Instead, it rather looked like something from Toyota or Volvo with a Pontiac grill stuck on it. It performed great, but its dowdy appearance didn’t live up to the mechanical parts’ promise.
A few years after the GTO bit the dust, General Motors tried it again with the G8, which could not only be had with a V8 engine, but a 6-speed manual transmission. Yes, a four door sedan with eight cylinders and a clutch pedal.
Oh, but then there was that whole recession, auto industry meltdown, and government bailout of GM. As part of the company’s restructuring, several brands were given the heave-ho, including Pontiac. So almost as quickly as the hot G8 arrived (in tire-melting GXP trim, specifically), it disappeared.
Okay, so now it’s 2014 and Chevrolet isn’t going anywhere, so we have the SS here via Elizabeth, South Australia. Chevy dealers don’t expect to sell a great number of them, but they now have a car for someone who might like a Camaro or Corvette but with more interior space.
The booming V8 pumps out 415 horsepower and produces great sounds via its gigantic exhaust tips. It’s great fun to leave it in a lower gear when slowing to a stop just to hear the exhaust crackle a bit. It’s also great fun to punch it and feel the big sedan leap forward, though it’s not so fun to watch the onboard trip computer dip into single digit mpg if you do this a lot.
Yes, this is a gas guzzler, and that’s exactly what the EPA calls it. Right on the window sticker in the options column is a $1,300 item called Gas Guzzler Tax. And no, it’s not really an option. It’s added to the tab of every SS. With a city mpg figure of 14 and a highway figure of 21, the federal government wags its finger at you for buying it and demands thirteen hundred bucks as a slap on the wrist.
I doubt too many SS buyers will care, as the car is already nearly $44,000. But the good news is that it only comes one way: pretty much fully loaded. The only options are a power sunroof and a full-size spare tire. Everything else (navigation, safety aids, a gorgeous suede and leather interior) is already inside.
Years ago there was a slogan for a cigarette brand: “They’re not for everybody; but then, they don’t try to be.” That could almost describe the new Chevrolet SS to a T.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @ABC7DaveKunz, Facebook: ABC7DaveKunz