In just a few short months, I’ll be turning 40. That’s good. It means that if the end is near for ICE-powered cars, I’ll probably be at the pearly gates by the time the last drop of gasoline flows. Cars like this Chevrolet SS will be a distant memory, which is a shame, because it’s one of the best I’ve driven.
And you know why it’s dead? You.
The 2016 Chevrolet SS Overview
What do we want in a sports sedan? An agile but comfortable chassis. A manual transmission. Subdued good looks? Ah, and power.
Lots of power.
The Chevrolet SS has all of that (and more). But you never bought one. In fact, just 12,000 were sold during its five-year production run. It was pretty cheap, with an MSRP around $44,000 when new. Imported from Australia (it’s really a Holden), the SS was Chevrolet’s first V-8-powered rear-wheel drive sedan in 15 years.
“Oh please Big Car Company, make us a cheap performance sedan like the E39 M5 and we’ll buy it.” Liars.
Why does Dodge sell all those Chargers? – this is so much better.
And now, it’s too late. Oh, the secret is out – they are selling used for what they originally went for ten years ago, though if you ask me it’s still a bargain.
Can I convince you by the end of this article why you should be in one instead of a BMW M car? Let’s see.
Performance Score: 9. Dreams do come true
All the big magazines rushed to grab an E39 M5 and drive it next to this thing. So insulting.
“Get that Chevy away from the Bimmer”, we yelled from the perches of our Merino-covered chairs.
But they were right to compare it. Forget “small-block” or “pushrod” – The Chevrolet SS is much more than the sum of its rather pedestrian parts. It’s as close to four-door Vette as it gets.
415 horsepower. 415 lb-ft of torque. This LS3 is a perfect example of what was wrong with the S65 (and dare I say, even the S62).
Here you have an engine that sounds glorious right from the factory, louder than any M car. Check the torque spec that matches the horsepower without the need for forced induction (or crazy redlines).
Don’t let that fool you, because peak power comes on just 100 RPMs before the 6,000 line of red. Perfect throttle tip-in response means no sudden surprises to upset this chassis off the line, and it’s so much fun to use the entire range of power.
If you feel the SS might not be fast enough, think of this engine experience like you might a wine tasting event, meant to sip and savor. In a Hellcat, you’re at the horizon before you know it, and you can’t use that car’s big trick because after 4 seconds of heaven, you’re done.
Still not convinced? Supercharger kits start under $8,000.
Yea, it’s really really good. This particular example had an aftermarket clutch that was a bit heavier than usual, but it’s an overall wonderful experience. You want to hear the engine, and you want to shift as much as you can because it’s impossible to miss. This was the stand-in car Vin Diesel drove in the first Fast and Furious whenever they showed a close-up of shifting.
Snick. Snick. Ahhh.
Chevrolet did offer an automatic transmission in this car, but if yours has one, I’m charging you a subscription fee to this site. Might as well go sit inside an A4 and become the traffic you really want to be buddy.
Steering and chassis
If GM put this much effort into their regular cars, then I guess we’d be reviewing a 2024 Malibu. Alas, it took a foreign country to make a good sedan.
Hop in and turn the wheel. There’s just an ever so slight dead spot right off-center in this car, but as you progress through a turn, feedback builds naturally and you’re just amazed the Australians haven’t invaded us by now. If I had a gripe, it might be about the steering wheel itself. It’s not a sporty shape (or sporty touch) and it really needs to be in a car that’s this capable.
GM’s magic magnetic ride control was added to the spec sheet for 2015, and it includes Tour, Sport and Performance modes. I drove the car in Sport, but due to a monsoon I didn’t explore the other dial labels. Sport seemed perfect to me, offering the typically excellent ride and control tradeoff that these magnetological dampers provide. It’s a baby Blackwing in this regard, or maybe just a plain Blackwing – they are about the same size.
Despite the wet conditions, the car exhibited no butt-puckering behavior. Turn in is excellent, belaying the 4,000-pound curb weight, and there’s almost no squat or dive. Bumps are absorbed with aplomb – it has a better ride than a G80 M3.
Maybe the car sits a bit high, as is typical of a modern sedan. Beyond that, it’s perfect.
If the Chevrolet SS has one chink in the armor, it would be a softer brake pedal than I prefer. It’s certainly not hardware-related, with four-piston Brembo calipers in front that grip slotted and vented discs. Tom, the owner, also added a set of track brake pads that perhaps didn’t like the cool wet weather as much. The brakes work well though, so with a bit of driving time, you won’t find them holding you back from achieving motoring nirvana.
Because of those wet conditions, I did not push the SS to the limit like I normally would. But there’s something to be said for being comfortable in the wet right away – only the best cars can do it. The SS offers a chassis that’s unmatched in cars nearly a decade newer, and it breaks my heart that a modern equivalent isn’t offered unless you spend $100,000 on a Cadillac.
Utility Score: 7. Big boy
The Chevrolet SS is a big car. At 195 inches long, it matches a BMW 5 Series. I wouldn’t call the SS nimble, but the size comes in handy inside the cabin, where there’s plenty of room for four full-sized adults.
Trunk space is a bit down on that 530i, but it’s still a useful shape. Ho-hum here – nothing to prevent you from using it as a daily. Moving on.
Fuel Economy: 4. Thirst trap
Well, not great. The EPA says you’ll get 14 MPG combined with the stick. I think if you drive the SS the way Zeus intended, it’ll probably be a little worse.
There are more powerful V-8s that offer better fuel economy, usually of the turbocharged variety. But we can look at it another way – the Lexus IS-F (with an automatic) achieves only 16 MPG combined, and I can tell you which sedan is more fun. Given that they are both around the same price range used, it’s an easy decision.
Features and Comfort: 7. Chevy chase (lounge)
This might be a bit back-handed, but the Chevrolet SS has the nicest interior of any American car I’ve been in, save a Cadillac (way above the SS’s pay grade). It actually could be sold today, with its Alcantara trim pieces, infotainment system, even heads-up display.
Outside, it’s subtle. I may have called it a Malibu at some point. The overall effect is the Hulk wearing a Hawaiian shirt.
Sit inside the very dark, all-black interior and feel…comforted? The seats are great, so supportive and hugging in all the right spots (though I do wish the bottom cushion was a bit longer). One thing that always gals me is the leather they put into these things. It’s so tough, the upholstery equivalent of chewing on an over-cooked steak. Just put some Merino on the seats (that goes for you too, Cadillac).
A somewhat dated infotainment system with a small screen still works well, and dual climate controls allow the passenger princess complaint department to have some off hours. Real dials greet you in a nice enough layout – it’s nowhere near as cheap as in a Dodge. Gloss black trim on the doors looks higher end; you even get drilled pedals (not floor mounted, sadly).
Chevy also really wants you to know you’re in an SS, because there are badges everywhere reminding you.
People complaining that the SS didn’t “look” like a nearly $50k car inside must have never sat inside an F30 3 Series.
GM owned Holden until 2020, when they shuttered the 164-year-old division. That’s actually why they stopped selling this SS – it wasn’t due to poor sales, but because the Holden Commodore wouldn’t be around to import anymore.
I mention this because the SS is on GM’s rear-drive Zeta platform, and the Chevrolet Malibu (a front-wheel drive car) is on the Epsilon chassis. They share nothing, and yet look very much alike. That’s a bit like making an M3 look like a 2 Series Gran Coupe.
The result is by no means terrible – I think the looks are subtly aggressive. Getting a louder color like this Perfect Blue (their name, not mine, but accurate), will help you stand out from normal traffic. Quad tailpipes are an M-ish touch. You can also swap the Chevrolet badges for Holden and make it a real imported exotic, because things like that make car people smile.
There are enough vents and slats to make passers-by take notice up close, but this will probably go unnoticed at the local car show. That’s ok – only true fans need know how good this thing is.
The Chevrolet SS is proof that the car community doesn’t know what it wants
I tried a Kia Stinger after the SS was discontinued. Drove great. Owning it was another story, and it was gone after just three weeks. Never again.
While Chevrolet doesn’t always have the best reputation for quality, they’ve gotten better. This is a pretty uncomplicated car as modern ones go. Nothing major to report.
So why didn’t you want one? The badge, right? It’s fine, I understand. Maybe growing up is realizing the badge doesn’t matter, or matters less. Owning a BMW certainly isn’t as prestigious as it used to be. Though the SS is gone, the Blackwing is still here – I don’t see anyone knocking down the door for those either. It’ll be gone soon.
Let the record show that the Chevrolet SS is one of the best modern performance sedans ever made, and before you click “BID” on that E39 M5, you should take a hard look at one of these.
We’re not at the automotive pearly gates yet.
Thanks to Tom for sharing his amazing Chevrolet SS!
Want your car reviewed?
If you live in the tri-state area and want me to check it out, send me an email!
Support the cause
Commissions may be received for product links on this site. Help out if you can.
Follow along on Instagram @machineswithsouls