LAKE FOREST, California — On paper, the 2017 Chevrolet SS is a car any gasoline-blooded enthusiast should love. After all, what’s not to like about a naturally aspirated 6.2-liter V-8 packing 415 hp and 415 lb-ft of torque, mated to a six-speed manual transmission (or a six-speed auto), and stuffed into an eager and willing chassis? Well, there’s always a “but,” and after the SS’ last visit to Automobile HQ before it heads into the sunset, the “but” was inescapable.
Make no mistake: The Chevy SS drives really well for a 4,000-pound sedan, with the only dynamic complaint to levy being that the steering could use more resistance, especially on-center. The driving experience is more satisfying than that of the comparable but much-pricier Mercedes-AMG E43 I recently sampled, and the sound is much better. Like the well-sorted sports sedan it is, the SS rotates confidently through corners, its Magnetic Ride Control suspension working as magically as it does in other applications. There are three suspension modes—Tour, Sport, and Performance—and while there’s a good difference between the smooth-on-the-highway Tour and rattle-your-jaw-stiff Performance, the intermediate Sport doesn’t really need to be there.
Here’s where the “but” comes in: It takes more than athleticism to go from like to love, and the last of the Commodores is sadly short on intangibles.
Though several keen-eyed enthusiasts correctly identified the SS as I hustled around the greater Los Angeles area—of particular note was the perhaps overly excited driver of a lifted Nissan SUV who yelled, “Nobody knows what you have!” as I drove by, his left hand holding his smart phone to ensure he got this unicorn sighting on video. Most people probably thought I was driving just another Malibu or Impala.
While I’m all for a good sleeper, the concept only works commercially if there’s a volume model for the sleeper special to be mistaken for. General Motors executed this with some success last decade with the SS predecessor, the Pontiac G8, using auto-only V-6 and V-8 variants to support the LS2-powered GXP, but the Great Recession had other designs for the excitement division. It also helps if the car has a good name, and simply “SS” falls short of the bar like a pole-vaulter who botched the pole plant. Caprice SS is right there and could have been tied to the B-Body Impala SS of the mid-’90s, but Chevy restricted the Caprice name to the police model. Alas.
Also lacking is the interior. It’s not bad — GM’s parts bin has come a long way in recent years — but there’s nothing special in here besides the aluminum pedals and manual shifter. The 220-watt, nine-speaker Bose audio is simply decent, and many of the plastics are of the hard variety, as are the suede-like panels. At least the seats are supportive and not excessively bolstered.
Another key complaining point for the SS is the lack of folding rear seats. The 16.4-cubic-foot trunk is spacious enough for your average family Costco run, but you’re probably screwed if you need to grab a table from Ikea or haul some long object that doesn’t fit into the center pass-through — like a surfboard. Odds are good that this contributed to the sales collapse in its home market that resulted in the Holden Commodore’s demise, as none of the sedan variants has folding seats.
Then there’s the practical matter of the manual. Periodically terrorizing the 405 freeway with the bark of a naturally aspirated pushrod V-8 is pretty entertaining, but having to deal with the springy clutch in traffic gets tedious in a hurry. At the risk of being crucified, I would have preferred the automatic. Unlike the four-speed dinosaurs that roamed the roads alongside the E39 BMW M5 that the SS was benchmarked against, modern automatics have plenty of cogs, shift quickly, and when programmed to do so, hold gears appropriately.
But if you skip the manual, there’s no reason to drop $50,000 on an SS (clearly a commonly reached conclusion). Dodge will happily sell you a 485-hp Charger R/T Scat Pack for $10,000 less while offering better exterior styling and fuel economy along with a slightly higher-quality interior and, most importantly, folding rear seats. There’s the matter of the 455-hp Camaro SS, 435-hp Mustang GT, and 485-hp Challenger 392 Scat Pack to consider — especially the latter since its trunk is as big as the Chevy SS’, and its seats fold like those of the Charger. The two-door ponycars are far more compelling enthusiast offerings unless you have child seats to worry about.
And so, the Chevy SS moved in volumes more fitting of cars with an extra zero in the price tag but without the profit margin. The Caprice police car didn’t perform well, either, giving the General little reason to extend the life of the VF Commodore or the Elizabeth, Australia, plant beyond their scheduled 2017 expiration date. And with the consumer market moving rapidly away from sedans as a whole, especially larger ones like the Commodore, the company had even less reason to develop a new one. As neat as the idea of a full-size sport sedan with a naturally aspirated V-8 backed by a manual transmission happens to be, it’s a concept that’s past its time and has appropriately reached the end of the line.
2017 Chevrolet SS Specifications
|PRICE||$48,920/$49,520 (base/as tested)|
|ENGINE||6.2L OHV 16-valve V-8/415 hp @ 5,900 rpm, 415 lb-ft @ 4,600 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, RWD sedan|
|EPA MILEAGE||14/22 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||195.5 x 74.7 x 57.9 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.7 sec|
|TOP SPEED||160 mph|