PALM SPRINGS, CA – The last timecalled on its Holden unit in Australia to bolster its U.S. lineup, the appeal yielded the Pontiac G8 – a good-looking, crisp-handling sports sedan with tons of V-8 grunt.
The G8’s run in the U.S. lasted only two production years because it was phased out along with the entire Pontiac brand after GM’s 2009 bankruptcy. And while G8 sales never set any records, arguably beset at the time by high fuel prices and a plummeting economy, strong resale prices for the car underscore its likability.
Fast forward to 2014 and GM has returned Down Under to bring to the U.S. the ’14 Chevrolet SS, arriving at dealer now. The Adelaide-built SS once again leverages the rear-wheel-drive platform of the Holden Commodore, an architecture 300 lbs. (131 kg) lighter than its predecessor and already underpinning the Chevy Camaro and Chevy Caprice Police Patrol Vehicle in North America.
The SS feels a lot like the G8 and that’s a good thing. Sprinting through the switchbacks of the San Jacinto Mountains here, the tightly sprung, multi-link MacPherson suspension and direct-acting stabilizer bar tames sharp turns like a whip to a circus lion.
An electronic power steering system tuned for sporty driving carries the heft and precision of an old-fashion hydraulic setup. It combines with a near-perfect 52/48 front-to-rear weight distribution and sticky, 19-in. Bridgestone Potenza tires to give us the confidence to toss this nearly 4,000-lb. (1,742-kg) beast into the corners despite the close cliff sides.
Under the hood is GM’s LS3 6.2L V-8 engine, producing 415 hp and 415 lb.-ft. (563 Nm) of torque. Peak power does not arrive until nearly 6,000 rpm, so wringing the most performance from the engine requires a good bit of revving. The old Chevy Corvette engine does not seem to mind, responding with a high-pitched growl and the kick-to-your-backside feeling only a naturally aspirated small-block V-8 can provide.
Steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters for the 6-speed automatic transmission stand in admirably for a manual gearbox, which GM sources say the automaker would like to add in the future if sales hold up.
The greatest attribute of the paddles is the ability to switch between automatic and manual modes whenever the mood strikes. When the gear selector is in Drive, a “temporary tap” mode becomes available simply by pulling a paddle. Stop using the paddles for a few seconds and the transmission reverts back to automatic shifting.
When the gear selector is in Sport, the transmission shifts automatically until a paddle is engaged and remains in manual mode until the upshift paddle is pulled and held for two seconds. The transmission stays in Sport, however, retaining the quicker throttle progression and steering aspects.
Over 120 miles (193 km) of testing, where we alternated between aggressive driving and open-road cruising, the SS turned in 18.6 mpg (12.6 L/100 km). Not too shabby for a car with this much muscle.
The exterior design is a bit mercurial. Despite big, bulging fenders filled to the brim by forged aluminum wheels and a generous bump in its hood hinting at the V-8 engine, the character of the SS bounces between likably sinister in black and metallic green paint to disturbingly cheerful in red and white.
Inside, the SS feels like a premium sports sedan. Driver and passenger seats provide plenty of bolster, the leather-wrapped steering wheel with its flat bottom feels beefy to the grip and alloy-covered pedals look pulled directly from a race car. Suede dashboard inserts and a 220-watt Bose audio system with nine speakers add to the luxury-leaning cabin.
We particularly like the console-mounted traction-control switch within easy reach for the occasional smoky burnout, and an electronic parking brake gives the SS a roomy driver’s foot well.
Not much on the interior says “Chevrolet” outside of the gold bowtie on the steering wheel and the MyLink graphics of the 8-in. (203 mm) color touchscreen for the infotainment system.
At $44,470 the sticker price also seems awfully un-Chevrolet-like, but it comes with only two available options: a $900 sunroof and a $500 fullsize spare tire. That means it carries loads of standard equipment from the factory.
The SS also targets a rather narrow audience, with its manly engine, longitudinal drivetrain and close marketing connection to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, where last year it earned Chevrolet its 11th straight manufacturer’s title.
But the big question surround the SS is whether it might soon meet the same fate as its G8 predecessor. GM last month decided to cease manufacturing operations in Australia by the end of 2017 and sources tell WardsAuto no decision has been made on the future of the SS, a development that might give buyers pause. Here’s hoping this latest Aussie import gets a fighting chance.
|5-passenger, RWD large sedan||Column 2 info|
|Engine||6.2L small-block V-8|
|Power (SAE net)||415 @ 5,900 rpm|
|Torque||415 lb.-ft. (563 Nm) @ 4,600 rpm|
|Bore x stroke (mm)||4.06 X 3.62 in. (103.25 X 92 mm)|
|Wheelbase||114.8 in. (3,916 mm)|
|Overall length||195.5 in. (4,966 mm)|
|Overall width||74.7 in. (1,897 mm)|
|Overall height||57.9 in. (1,470 mm)|
|Curb weight||3,975 lbs. (1,803 kg)|
|Fuel economy||14-21 mpg city/hwy est. (16.9-11.2 L/100 km)|
|Competition||5-Series, Dodge Charger, Taurus SHO|
|Old-fashion V-8 power||No manual gearbox|
|Luxury-leaning interior||Mercurial exterior styling|
|Expensive for a Chevy||Collector’s item already?|