2017 CHEVROLET SS LAST TEST: THE END OF A PERFORMANCE ERA

In June 1941, the Nazis surprised the Soviets by launching Operation Barbarossa, Hitler’s secret plan to defeat and capture the Soviet Union. The mighty Soviet T-34 tank had just begun production, however, and the advancing Wehrmacht forces threatened all the factories where the Russian tank was being produced. A decision was made: The T-34 factories would be dismantled, put on trains, and reassembled in the Ural Mountains, hundreds of miles east of Moscow, far enough away from the advancing Panzer divisions. The human cost of such a massive undertaking was particularly brutal even by Stalin-era Soviet standards, but the results cannot be denied. The superior T-34 eventually mopped the Eastern Front with the outclassed Panzer IVs, helping to achieve Allied victory in World War II.

Why the history lesson?

Holden, the Australian subsidiary of General Motors, will be shuttering its factory in October. The fabulous, impossibly underrated Chevrolet SS, essentially a rebadged Holden Commodore, is produced at this doomed factory. Worse still, Chevy SS production is ending in April. I could make the parallel between the SS and the T-34. You probably think that some German car would be the ultimate sport sedan, just how you might assume that German Panzers were the top tanks in World War II. In both cases you’d be mistaken, as not only was the T-34 the superior war machine, but the Chevrolet SS equipped with a manual transmission is also the best sport sedan on sale in the United States. General Motors ought to follow Stalin’s lead, pack up the factory, and move it. Detroit’s a good as place as any.
2017 Chevrolet SS front three quarters

There are two kinds of car people in the world. Those who understand that a rear-wheel-drive four-door packing a 415-horsepower naturally aspirated V-8 connected to a six-speed manual transmission is the perfect recipe for a sport sedan and those who understand the formula but can’t get past the Chevy badge. Wanna be a snob? Fine, go buy a better sport sedan. As has been said ad nauseam about the manual SS (and the Pontiac G8 GXP that preceded it—also a rebodied, shift-it-yourself, V-8-powered Holden), the Platonic ideal for this sort of car is the E39 BMW M5. That Bavarian stud featured a 394-hp naturally aspirated V-8, RWD, and a six-speed manual transmission. The Chevy is actually a smidge lighter (about 45 pounds) but is larger in every dimension including 3 inches more for the wheelbase. Not only that, the Chevy also has Brembo brakes and Magnetic Ride Control suspension at all four corners.

Physical similarities aside, the reason you can’t mention one without the other is the driving experience. So good! As I once wrote about the SS: If you can find a better driving sedan, buy it. But you can’t. Some do come close. The BMW M3 and Cadillac ATS-V jump to mind. They’re both rear-wheel drive and can be had with a manual transmission, but they’re also both turbocharged, and there is no replacement for displacement. Both in terms of the feeling you get from pounding on the big, 6.2-liter cam-in-block V-8 and in the fantastic sounds this particular LS3 makes. Oh, the sounds, the sweet, sweet sounds! Half the time you’ll find yourself enchanted by the growls, snarls, and rumbles grunting their way out from under the hood. The other half will find you intoxicated by the constant, back-burbling mini explosions coming from the quad pipes. At some point, Chevrolet decided to move away from two large-diameter exhaust pipes to four smaller ones. Not sure it looks better, but it sure sounds a hell of a lot better.

I’d choose the SS over ATS-V and M3 any day. The new Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio, well, that’s very close to being better than the SS. I have no doubt that the 505-hp Italian is more capable than the SS­—I won’t even bother with all the numbers, just trust me here—but capability is not the same thing as driving pleasure. This concept trips people up. Just because something can catapult itself to 60 mph quicker than something else doesn’t mean it is the better car. It just means it’s quicker. Having spent plenty of time with both machines, there’s a sweetness to the SS on a back road that is not quite there with the Alfa. Think of it as a cherry on top. That’s the difference. The Giulia Q is fantastic, whereas the Chevy is fantastic plus more. What about sport sedans in the 5 Series class? Again, the SS wins. Even as performance-biased as these beasts are—and we’re talking CTS-V, RS7, E63, M5—not one of them is as satisfying to drive or as much fun as the Chevy SS. Yup, even with all that extra power. I should note that the BMW M5 can be had in the U.S. with a six-speed manual, but I’d still take the SS.
2017 Chevrolet SS rear end in motion

This brings me to how this final version of the SS actually performs. This is not only the first test of the 2017 version, but it’s also the last test for the model. Man … I hate even typing out that part. Ahem. Zero to 60 mph happens in 4.7 seconds, quicker than the 2015 model we tested, which needed 4.8 seconds. The 2017 SS runs the quarter mile in 13.2 seconds at 108.9 mph. The 2015 model? 13.2 seconds at 109.2 mph. The 2017 version stops from 60 mph in 108 feet, compared to 110 feet for the 2015 car. The biggest difference between the two is on our figure-eight track. The 2015 Chevy SS took 25.0 seconds, which is quite a respectable time. But the new one gets it done in 24.7 seconds, the same as a 707-horsepower Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat or a carbon-fiber-tubbed Alfa Romeo 4C. The aforementioned Giulia Quadrifoglio, just to give you some further perspective, runs the figure eight in 24.2 seconds. Max grip on the 2017 SS is 0.94 g, which is about the same as the 2015 model, at 0.95 g. That sort of discrepancy, as senior features editor Jason Cammisa is so fond of saying, is within the noise. I should also mention that the as-tested price of the Chevy is $49,520, and Chevy’s trying to blow them off dealer lots at the moment with massive 20 percent discounts. That’s less than $40,000. The Alfa? The one we loved cost $85,745. The big dogs, CTS-V, RS7, E63, and M5? They cost more than the Alfa, if not all costing six figures. Talk about bang for your buck!

And it’s all going away. Forever. Gone. Bye-bye. The best is no more. I’m no bean counter, so I suppose I’ll never truly, ecstatically understand how or why shuttering the factory where the best sport sedan in the world is built makes good financial sense. I should add, too, that I’m not all that interested in the answer. Doing the wrong thing for the right reasons makes no damn sense to me. If you think I’m heartbroken, just think about how terrible all 23 million Australians feel, especially because their country is losing the HSV variants, such as the 644-horsepower HSV GTSR W1. Yes, there will still be Holdens. They will just be made elsewhere (though not in Germany because GM just sold Opel). But the Commodore and all of its wonderful variants? About to be broomed, binned, and hoovered. As such, I stand by my earlier point: pack up the factory and move it. The world deserves cars like the Chevrolet SS.

2017 Chevrolet SS
BASE PRICE $48,920
PRICE AS TESTED $49,520
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, RWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan
ENGINE 6.2L/415-hp/415-lb-ft OHV 16-valve V-8 *
TRANSMISSION 6-speed manual
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 3,979 lb (52/48%)
WHEELBASE 114.8 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 195.5 x 74.7 x 57.9 in
0-60 MPH 4.7 sec
QUARTER MILE 13.2 sec @ 108.9 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 108 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.94 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 24.7 sec @ 0.78 g (avg)
REAL MPG, CITY/HWY/COMB 17.6/24.9/20.3 mpg
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 14/22/17 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 241/153 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 1.16 lb/mile
*SAE certified