First drive: 2015 Chevrolet SS in West Virginia USA
On one of our trips to the United States last month, we managed to get behind the wheel of a car that a lot of people in the GCC want to buy, but is not officially offered in our part of the world. Well, not offered any more anyway. We drove the 2015 Chevrolet SS, a rebadged version of the facelifted one-and-only Holden Commodore from Australia, which in a previous life used to be sold in Saudi Arabia, UAE and elsewhere as the Chevrolet Lumina.
The Chevrolet SS, GM’s answer to the sports-sedan wars, was launched a year ago but is still largely based on the car that unceremoniously disappeared from our shores in favour of the Malibu-Impala combo in the Middle East line-up a couple of years ago. In the States, the SS is sold alongside the front-driven Chevy sedans, but with only one 415 hp engine offering, effectively making it a niche performance model.
Indeed, while it looks like the equivalent of the Lumina SS, it is powered by the larger 6.2-litre V8 that did duty in our market’s Chevrolet CSV CR8. Remember that car? It was on our recommended list.
And that’s the problem. While a perfectly handsome sedan, the Chevy SS looks a bit bland compared to the performance it’s offering. It almost looks like a Malibu if seen from a distance. In contrast, the manual Chevy CSV CR8 we tested in 2008 looked like a touring-car racer.
The new car’s simplicity continues to the interior. The cabin offers up a fairly modern design, but cost-cutting measures are clearly evident. There’s large expanses of hard plastics, broken up by only a few slivers of padded stitched-leatherette to distract you. The touschscreen is colourful, but flexes like paper. And the aggressively-bolstered seats seem poorly-designed, annoyingly poking at the shoulders. The 2015 Dodge Charger SRT 392 we drove recently had a far more premium interior for only a slightly higher price, not to mention the extra 70 horses. However, the SS is about as spacious as the Charger, despite the latter being a larger car.
The meaty V8 sounds great, churning out that 415 hp at 5900 rpm and 562 Nm of torque at 4600 rpm. The motor builds up power linearly rather than shoving it all onto the tarmac on initial take-off, so you don’t quite get that kick on the back-side. The 6-speed automatic doesn’t do the car any favours either, pausing for ponderous moments on downshifts and ratios that feel tall for a performance car.
The car handles very good at above-average speeds on mildly-twisty rural roads. There’s no obvious body roll and no odd chassis behaviour to report. However, when we took it on loose-surfaced forest trails to attempt a bit of rally fun, we found the car had a tendency to understeer even with ESP off, and only swung its tail out on a harder booting of the throttle pedal. In contrast, even the less-powerful Dodge Charger R/T was easier to drift and have fun with, which we did on that same day.
The SS rides a bit firmly, which can potentially become annoying on less-than-perfect roads, but is otherwise relatively bearable. The Brembo brakes offer pretty good stopping power. The firm steering is sharp, but offers almost no feedback through that chunky steering wheel, a consequence of switching to electric power steering. An electronic parking brake is now standard.
Honestly speaking, the Chevy SS feels like a downgrade from the manual CSV CR8 we loved half-a-decade ago. It’s almost as if this US-spec car has been dumbed down and cheapened to cater to the American market, with more hard plastics in the cabin, safer understeer-biased handling, lazy auto-gearbox tuning and lifeless new steering. It’s still a very nice car, but you don’t need to keep hoping that it comes to the UAE. There are already two better options — either go buy a Dodge Charger SRT 392, or find yourself a used CSV CR8.