– Excellent interior space
– Very comfortable ride
– Tons of V8 power
– Fit and finish
– V8 fuel economy
– Pricier than before
Before its release, we had been unofficially promoting the new-for-2007 Chevrolet Lumina SS for as long as six months before its eventual Middle East debut. We followed its actualization every step of the way, from its introduction in Australia as the new-generation Holden Commodore, to its undercover testing in Dubai, and right up to the first batch shipments to ports in the GCC region. It is fitting that we top off the buzz we’ve generated with a full-blooded road test of the actual car, courtesy of General Motors Middle East.
First impressions of the car are very conservative. That is, until you notice the unusually thick bulges over the wheels, the quad exhaust tips, and the sizeable rear spoiler. Combined with the 18-inch alloy wheels and the orange paintjob of our tester, it started to look rather mean. Our car was special enough for random groups of people to ogle and take photos with it while it was parked. Our tester also had nearly opaque aftermarket window tint all round, which made us believe that the car was abused in the shooting of Chevy TV commercials. And well, the presentation slides of the TV ad were still lying in the back seat.
Inside the car, there is nothing that stands out as remarkable in terms of design, except for the sporty seats. Thankfully, all materials are of a high quality, with rubbery padded material on the door sills, the armrests and most of the dashboard. The hard plastics didn’t look bad either, although a few pieces could be moved if pushed. The seats are well-bolstered, with a sporting design and embroidered SS trimmings. The two-tone patterned upholstery is all cloth, while in front, only the seat-bottoms are power-operated, with the seat-backs and lumbar support being manually adjustable. And there is just tons of space, both front and back, for long legs and big heads. Even the luggage trunk is huge, with a pass-through in the back seat, while the glove box is also pretty big. There are two uncovered cup-holders in the front, and the two in the back that stupidly requires the whole centre section of the rear seat to be folded down, while all doors had pockets with some provision to each hold a bottle. Outward visibility all-round is rather good, even with the thick A-pillars and big rear wing bisecting the view behind, but it could use slightly larger side mirrors.
Power windows and electric mirrors have their buttons mounted in the centre console, while the side mirrors can be manually folded. Entry is gained through the usual keyless-entry key fob buttons, while the cruise control and stereo can be operated with buttons on the manually-adjusted steering wheel. There is a little red-lit trip computer nestled between the main gauges. The CD/MP3 stereo is a simple unit that shows its outputs on the display on top of the centre console. But the unit does include a convenient in-dash CD changer and a good set of speakers both front and back. Our tester even had an optional roof-mounted DVD player with a flip-down screen facing the back seat. And we used the Bluetooth system to turn the car into a big hands-free phone. The a/c is good enough, though we did test it in the middle of a desert winter. It has vents both front and back, but it uses simple knobs for control, with no digital display of its own. Standard features include front and side airbags, while options not found in our car include a sunroof and a leather cabin, among others.
Except for the fancy-pants DVD player and Bluetooth, it would be obvious by now that the feature set is at a bare minimum, what with manually-operated seat backs and basic climate control. Add to that the numerous flimsy plastic trimmings, and we were wondering what justified the price increase, even though minor problems are expected with first-year new cars. Many window rubber trimmings were ill-fitting, the ashtray lid felt loose, some badges were not glued on well and the inner door handles were plastic, when even the Chevy Optra has metal handles. Other problems could be attributed to previous damage on our fairly new car, so there were bad repair issues rather than quality issues. We found evidence of a rear-end collision, with primer powder stuck all over the badly-fitted rear bumper. The collision also might be causing the luggage trunk lid to not close until surrounding plastic trim is taken off. And well, the rear parking sensors and the brake lights were not working! We only figured out the brake-light fault after we returned the car, when our chase car driver said nothing was lighting up behind except for the indicators.
All these became second-rate issues when we were driving this beast. For you see, the Lumina SS is an amazingly fun driver’s car, even with the automatic gearbox. The Corvette-derived 6.0-litre V8 is far from a technical wonder in this state of tune, but it has more than enough power to slap up most of the “fast” cars around it. With 360 hp on tap at 5700 rpm, and 530 Nm of torque ready to shred the rear tyres at 4400 rpm, it can do wonders for your inferiority complex. With the standard stability control on, the car zipped to 100 kph in 6.3 seconds. With the system off, it can do the deed in an excellent 6.1 seconds with a mild tyre-saving launch at 2000 rpm. But it is not as fast as most people would expect, due to its weight gain over the previous model. The automatic 3.5-litre Infiniti G35 we tested alongside it actually churned out quicker numbers. The Middle East version of the SS comes with a six-speed manual or, as in our case, a simple four-speed automatic, instead of the six-speed auto in the Australian-market version. The four-speed auto does the job well enough, but there is the occasional mild shift shock in lower gears. We still expect the manual version to be blisteringly fast. We managed 15.7 litres per 100 km, which sounds terrible, but is actually very good for an engine this big. The large 72-litre tank also allows a range beyond 400 km.
The Lumina SS is a beautiful highway cruiser. The sport-tuned suspension is not firm enough to cause any discomfort whatsoever, smoothening out roads with luxury-like ease. At 120 kph, the engine chugs along at only 2000 rpm, while wind noise is just about noticeable, increasing with speed. The car was perfectly stable as we quickly reached 180 kph, at which point we voluntarily backed off, using the strong ABS-assisted four-wheel discs to great effect. Both the throttle and brake pedals are nicely weighted for accurate inputs, but thankfully nowhere near hard enough to cause leg cramps in traffic. However, the brakes themselves are somewhat mushy, with vague feel at initial pedal tip-in, but working well when pushed deeper. City cruising is rather easy, but the refined ride doesn’t match the slight engine vibrations at idle. The light steering makes it easy to park the car, though the last bit of sharpness is missing when driving fast.
While no match for any BMW, handling is admirable for such a large car with soft-riding characteristics. Body roll around tight corners is present, but very limited and well-controlled. Grip from the 245/45 tyres wrapping the 18-inch rims is very good, but a good burst of power can spin the back wheels and break loose the rear, only to regain grip rather quickly. The stability control only interferes in extreme situations, so it is easy to drive the car fast through turns. Turn off the computer nannies, and the awesome powerslides are surprisingly easy to control thanks to the Lumina’s balanced chassis. The automatic’s sport mode works well to hold gears till redline, thus making it easier to avoid random shifts in the middle of a corner. And the car even comes with a proper handbrake, which is rare in large cars nowadays.
The Lumina is an exhilarating car to drive, even with its deficiencies. Few cars offer as much V8-powered fun as this Australian bodybuilder. But we feel its build quality could be better, and the jump in price is unjustified. Its new pricing brings it closer to the Chrysler 300C and Dodge Charger, as well as the Infiniti G35, but without the benefit of numerous luxury features. All this makes it hard for us to recommend the Lumina SS with a straight face. That said, we’d still stupidly buy one of these in a heartbeat.
Current Model Introduced in:
Test Acceleration 0-100 kph:
Observed Test Fuel Economy: