We unleash Chevy's first performance sedan since 1996 in New York City
Given the straight-line fury on tap from the latest Chevrolet SS, you’d think New York City’s recurrent gridlock, intersection-ignoring pedestrians and oversupply of potholes makes it the last place to unleash a decent test drive.
And in a way, you’d be spot on. But if you want to consider this power cruiser’s comfort and head-turning appeal, the Big Apple just might offer the perfect test conditions.
Currently Chevrolet’s only sports sedan, the SS represents Chevy’s halo four-door – a classic rear-wheel drive sleeper sedan with a formidable 6.2-litre V8 engine under the bonnet, pumping out 310kW of power and 563Nm of torque.
It’s also Chevrolet’s first V8-powered, rear-wheel drive performance sedan since 1996, when the last Caprice-based Impala SS rolled off the production line.
And the only reason they have it is thanks to Australia.
The latest Chevy SS is the Australian-designed and -built Holden Commodore VF series with the best bits from the SS-V, Calais and HSV (Holden Special Vehicles) Clubsport models, just with a bowtie emblem on the grille.
Another, older version of the Commodore (VE) chassis also forms the basis for the current Chevy Camaro (seen as the SS’s two-door mate) and Caprice Police Patrol Vehicle
When it comes to full-size performance-enhanced sedans, the $43,475 Chevy SS has a few direct competitors in the US, namely the $45,450 Chrysler 300 SRT and $46,450 Dodge Charger SRT from the Chrysler Group stable.
And while all three aren’t exactly a commonplace site on America’s freeways, the Chevy SS is all the more special for it.
General Motors Holden has shipped just 1000 of these prized V8s to the US, so already they’re a conspicuous site, guaranteeing a level of exclusivity, unmatched by its old-school, tyre-smoking rivals.
While it doesn’t have the decidedly badass looks of the Charger, the staggered (and forged alloy) wheels, subtle power bulge and the tell-tale Brembos (though the callipers are silver), means the Chevy SS looks only a little muscle-car-like, as opposed to one of its full-strength steroid enhanced competitors.
But then that’s what sets the SS apart from the competition, it’s more refined from the outside in.
Standard equipment is extensive and includes xenon headlamps and LED daytime running lights, eight-inch colour touchscreen with satellite navigation and radio, Bose 220-watt nine-speaker audio and dual-zone climate control.
Additional features, such as the colour head-up display, heated and ventilated front seats, keyless entry and push-button start and remote start round off the highlights.
Options are few and far between with the SS, limited to just a power sunroof and full size spare with matching alloy wheel.
The front leather buckets are noteworthy for both their sumptuousness and supportive bolster, but the same can be said of the entire SS cockpit – a stylish blend of suede, polished alloy accents and soft-touch materials with contrast stitching. It’s all quite premium, though you can have any colour upholstery you wish, as long as it’s black.
There’s no button clutter either. All the controls are clearly laid out and the switchgear has a quality feel about it.
The Chevrolet SS is a proper full-size sedan, so there’s room for the whole family and their luggage, with rear legroom particularly generous.
Driving around New York City’s famed ‘meat packing’ district could easily double as a hardcore proving ground for suspension systems. It’s not just the super-size and dreadfully uneven cobblestoned streets that test the car’s compliance; the crater-size potholes that seem to litter this area can be particularly nasty.
However, despite a sports-tuned, non-adjustable suspension setup and low profile Bridgestones, the Chevy SS delivers a thoroughly comfortable ride – even when traversing those craters.
While tight-twisty corners are non-existent in these parts, faster-moving New York Expressways provide an opportunity to at least stretch the Chevy’s legs and enjoy its rowdy engine note as the revs climbed in the Holland Tunnel (which connects NYC with New Jersey).
There’s a wonderfully smooth character to this LS3 engine, though it gently rocks the car at idle, as if to remind you that you’re driving a modern-day muscle car. Punch it, and all 6.2 litres are unleashed, along with a creamy V8 snarl from its pipes – and nicely amplified under the Hudson River.
That engine is matched to an equally refined six-speed auto (there’s no manual option) that shifts smoothly and never seems to hunt for gears, even when the Sport mode is selected. But if you’re out of town and craving for that manual experience, drivers can engage the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters (which we don’t get down under), which also rev-match the downshifts and provide a far more engaging drive experience.
Drive it hard, and you’ll pay for it at the petrol bowser. Chevrolet claims 16.8L/100km around the city for the SS, but we used closer to 19L/100km on a test route that also included some faster expressway sections.
The Chevrolet SS uses a variable-assist electric power steering system, which means its lighter at low speeds (for easier parking), but weights up when your moving at freeway speeds, for a more direct feel. There’s also a decent level of feedback through the steering wheel, and it’s nice and quick, too for dodging in and out of NYC traffic.
While all the pedals have a good weight to them, that’s especially true of those big Brembos. The 355mm two-piece front rotors and four piston calipers deliver plenty of high-speed stopping power.
Driving around New York City also highlights the value of the Chevy’s raft of active safety features. It’s a 24-hour traffic jam no matter where you are in the city, made worse by the 14,000 yellow cabs that duck and weave without any notice whatsoever.
Apart from the eight airbags, standard kit includes Forward Collision Alert, Lane departure warning, Rear vision camera, Rear cross traffic alert and the all-important Side blind alert, which uses radar sensors on both sides of the vehicle to warn the SS driver of vehicles in the blind spot.
On-street parking in this city is a rare find, and the spaces are usually tight, but the effort is made less stressful with the Chevy’s Automatic parking assist feature, which will not only find a spot big enough, but will also steer the car into it – its an absolute godsend in this place.
It didn’t seem to matter which part of town we were in – from Wall Street to Brooklyn – the Chevrolet SS definitely turned heads.
If Chevy’s goal was to revive its performance sedan heritage, then the SS delivers that in spades. This is a hard-charging V8 powerhouse with a premium look and feel that doesn’t cost the earth.