Once upon a time, America was booming, and the middle class was full of people who paid off their college loans in two to three months, bought nice houses in their early to middle twenties, had jobs with mythical things like group health insurance and *gasp* pensions, and bought a new car every four years. Needless to say the American auto industry was booming because of this, and it came up with a formula that suited this country perfectly.
America was full of large, luxurious sedans that were powered by impressive V8 engines and were rear-driven, as God Karl Benz intended. These were cars that could satiate our lust for speed, haul our new appliances back from newfangled stores like Sears, give the 2.3 well-dressed kids plenty of space to bicker over, and transport the entire family on road-trip vacations to Florida. Did I mention that paid vacation was a thing too? These were mom-and-dad-mobiles, drag racers, luxury cars, and gran tourers all in one, and our brand new, perfectly smooth highways invited the whole country out to explore.
Somewhere along the way, we screwed it all up.
Somewhere along the way, we screwed it all up, and those gorgeous, RWD V8 sedans, like the Impala, gave way to cost cutting, boring, front-driven sedans, like the Impala. When this shift happened, the upper-middle class drifted away from American cars to Germany's luxurious sport sedans, and while they are indeed awesome machines, they're not the same.
A few years ago, we were given a brief chance at the Australian-engineered Pontiac G8, and it was brilliant. Alas, the Pontiac brand didn't have long to live, and so the G8 went to the grave with it. The Chevrolet SS is the new version of that car, and it only comes with sport suspension and a big 415 hp LS3 V8.
When we asked Product Engineering Manager Steve Manson what the main differences were, he told us to "imagine you've gotten a hold of some old ailing boat and you've taken it to the garage, sanded it down, stripped it apart, and started building it up again. We stripped the car back to bare metal, and we changed a lot of that metal to much higher grade steel and swapped out some panels and elements to reduce mass and improve safety. From there, we build the car back up. While the engine and transmission are familiar, pretty much everything else is new. Maybe the headliner is the same. The main differences, I'd have to say, are the new mass production technology and the completely revised electrical architecture."
In short, it's the same G8 we loved, but it's been slightly improved. We asked why there was no manual offered, and why the older LS3 was being used rather than the new LT1, as seen in the C7 Corvette. We were surprised by the honesty we received. "A lot of it is about timing. Particularly in the engineering headspace, you're always aware of all these really great things coming in the next year and you're tempted to hold on to a product, but when you do that, there's something new just around the corner again, and you can end up delaying your project indefinitely. The LS3 has so much heritage through its use in the Camaro and Corvette and it has the credential to do everything we need it to do. I think we're very, very comfortable with the LS3 in the SS."
There are plenty of things in the closet that we can add in the future, and we're working on some of that as we speak.
Regarding the missing third pedal, Manson explained, "you take the things that are immediately available that will have the best penetration and will get your project launched on time, and then you can add things as you go. We pull together the building blocks that we have and have to construct our puzzle from them. That said, there are plenty of things in the closet that we can add in the future, and we're working on some of that as we speak."
Firstly, we think that these hints indeed do sound alluring. Secondly, we must admit to having used the images we had rather than the ones we wanted, in order to meet a deadline, so we get it. Sometimes you just gotta make do. We do, however, still wish they had waited a bit longer for the LT1 the direct injection, continuously variable valve timing, and cylinder deactivation could have helped with the SS' atrocious fuel economy (14 city/21 highway/17 combined). This may be the modern incarnation of an OG American sedan, but gas sure as hell isn't $0.31/gallon any more.
The result of all of this is a full-size sedan with a surprisingly beautiful leather and alcantara interior with a tried-and-true, if a little dated, engine and a badge that long ago wormed its way into the hearts of America. The SS can hit 60 mph in 5.0 seconds and perform on track.
Of course, if you're looking for a track-worthy Chevy that you can use every day, the Camaro and Corvette are both great cars. They come with some compromises though, and that's why you see moms and dads who buy American, who need more space and four doors, flocking to SUVs. An SUV can still have a cool appeal, due to the off-roading heritage, but it handles parenthood much better than a Camaro.
The SS offers the practicality of a big cabin and a full-size trunk, but on those rare moments when the sun is out and the road is open, the drivers will be able to really enjoy themselves.
Regarding the target market, Manson says, "I think the main appeal will be people who have a strong affinity for the Chevrolet brand and the performance cars in particular: young men or women with Camaros and Corvettes who, just as I have, have made some kids and need to move towards something with more practicality, but don't want to walk away from the performance attributes that they love. The SS offers the practicality of a big cabin and a full-size trunk, but on those rare moments when the sun is out and the road is open, the drivers will be able to really enjoy themselves." There might even be a smidge of the old adage "what wins on Sunday sells on Monday" here, since the SS has a big enough presence in NASCAR and bears enough similarity to the race car to excite potential customers.
These new parents who don't want boring cars can order an SS from a Chevy dealer, which probably won't be stocking the car, as it's built to order. "We're talking thousands, not tens of thousands of sales," Manson said. "2,000 to 3,000 per year would be a good target to start with. If the car gets the recognition it deserves, we'll happily build more."
We think that is the essence of what is going on here. The SS might not be the car that America wants, as we are generally inexplicably infatuated with milquetoast CUVs and psuedo-SUVs, but it's the car that America should want. This is perfect for our long stretches of highways, our small-town drag strips, our 2.3 suburban children who need to get to school, our professionals who need a presentable car that's not boring as hell and can't afford to drop $70k on a C63 AMG, and our rural communities where you might get stoned for driving a foreign car (Don't tell anyone it's from Australia).
GM is still capable of making the badass family sedans of yesteryear, but is the American public still cool enough to buy them? While we're at it, if we're really cool, maybe GM will make a Buick Roadmaster wagon out of the SS in a year or two. Regardless, if you're a GM fan looking for a new dad-mobile, please help restore us to the glory days of the American auto-industry by giving that boring Tahoe ($43,600) the finger and ordering an SS ($43,475) instead. It has the potential to be the next big thing (again), but it needs to sell to do it.