- Corvette engine in a rear-drive sedan
- Great steering and brakes
- Clean, simple interface
- Available manual transmission
- A look more anonymous than Impala
- Notable highway road noise
- Automatic transmission not to be rushed
Think of the 2016 Chevrolet SS as a four-door Camaro, with the power, handling, and interior space to live up to that promise.
The SS is a full-size, four-door "sleeper" performance sedan that won't scream for attention. It's Chevrolet's first rear-drive V-8 sedan since the rear-drive Impala SS went out of production in the 1990s.
If you squint, you may feel like you've seen this car before, and you wouldn't be too far off. The SS is essentially a reworked version of the latest VF Commodore SS (the flagship muscle sedan from GM's Australian division, Holden), which in its previous generation made it to these shores as the Pontiac G8. The SS is essentially a refined, more aggressively styled iteration of the Chevrolet Caprice PPV that's sold to police fleets. With staggered wheels, a low, wedgy shape, and a tapered, teardrop-like greenhouse, the SS looks just a little muscle-car-like, while the big bow-tie grille calls it out as a Chevrolet. Inside, the SS has more of a cockpit-like layout than other current models from the Chevy stable—especially with ice-blue lighting.
Compared to the more curvaceous Impala, however, the SS and its conservative profile look like a carry-over from another time at Chevrolet. For 2016, the look is updated with a revised front fascia with vertical ducts at its outer edges, LED front signature lights, functional hood vents, and 19-inch alloy wheels with painted pockets. These tweaks do little to change the restrained look, however.
The 2016 Chevrolet SS packs a 415-horsepower version of the last-generation Corvette's LS3 6.2-liter V-8. It's an odd choice given the industry-wide turn to smaller, turbocharged engines to improve fuel economy. In fact, when ordered with the 6-speed automatic transmission, the SS is saddled with a federal gas guzzler tax. Thankfully, the car gets good enough fuel economy with the available 6-speed manual transmission that it avoids that tax.
The Chevy SS is meant as a relatively limited-volume offering—more of a sedan mate to the Camaro, and a spicier alternative to those mainstream sedans like the Impala and Malibu. Its effect on GM's average fuel economy will therefore be minimal, and it should appeal to enthusiasts based on its performance chops.
The mammoth V-8 was initially hooked up only to a 6-speed automatic transmission, while a 6-speed manual was added to the options list for 2015. Acceleration to 60 mph takes a claimed 4.7 seconds, and a new dual-mode exhaust gives the engine a nice burble at idle and a bark under heavy throttle. Strong Brembo brakes are standard, there's a near-perfect 52/48 weight distribution, and the rear axle is kept in place by a true multi-link independent suspension. Also last year, Chevrolet made Magnetic Ride Control dampers standard. Like those available on the Camaro and Corvette, these dampers use a magnetic fluid to change responsiveness and damping force in any of three modes: Tour, Sport and Performance. Forged aluminum wheels with Z-rated tires also call out some serious performance intent.
And it delivers on that promise for the most part. Everything has been really well calibrated—with the goods to take on serious driving roads, yet just enough comfort for those in areas without the best roads. The Magnetic Ride Control suspension does a fairly good job of filtering out bumps in the base Tour mode, though the default setting is still a bit firm. The Sport and Performance modes stiffen up the ride further, but also make the car react quicker to steering inputs. That only enhances this car's great steering response.
The only significant disappointment, dynamically, is how the automatic transmission contributes; it's too muted and delayed in its responses—lazy in Drive, but still not sharp enough in its Sport mode. Thankfully, the manual option is available for true enthusiasts, allowing them to shift as quickly or as slowly as they please. However, it takes some time to get used to. Gear engagement is high in the clutch travel, making it hard to be smooth and easy to stall. After that, though, the throws are smooth and fairly short.
Hydraulically damped bushings for the suspension, and rubber isolation in back, should help keep the cabin relatively quiet from road noise, but we noticed an abundance of road noise on a long highway trip. The aggressively bolstered sport seats are comfortable and supportive, though, and they are set up to hold you in place on the track of your choice (or just while you're doing burnouts). Back seat space is surprisingly ample.
Chevrolet has loaded the SS with active-safety features, including standard forward collision alert, lane departure warning, side blind-zone alert, and rear cross traffic alert, plus a rear vision camera. There are also eight standard airbags, including knee bags for the driver and front passenger. The SS hasn't been tested by either of the national safety groups, and it likely won't given its low-volume status.
The SS comes pretty well equipped, with few options. It's the first Chevrolet to feature Automatic Parking Assist, which will help steer you into a parking spot; it's even included with the manual transmission. Leather upholstery, HID headlights, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated-and-ventilated front seats, keyless ignition, remote start, a head-up display, and 220-watt Bose audio are all included. So is Chevrolet MyLink, which has an 8.0-inch color touchscreen and can help manage hands-free conversations, media, and infotainment apps through a connected smartphone. The infotainment system comes with 4G LTE connectivity that speeds up connections to OnStar and can also be set up to serve a wi-fi hotspot in the vehicle for an extra monthly charge. For 2016, a navigation system becomes standard.
The 2016 SS is priced around $48,000, including the $1,300 gas-guzzler tax. The 6-speed manual is a no-cost option; a sunroof is available for $900, and a full-size spare runs $500. Aside from paint color, that is the full extent of factory options. Chevy dealers also offer a number of dress-up items as accessories, including stripes, different grilles, and fog lamps.
The SS achieves similar fuel economy with the manual and automatic transmissions, with the stick slightly edging out the auto. The manual car is rated at 14 mpg city, 22 highway, 17 combined while the automatic continues with its 14/20/16 mpg ratings. That distinction is important, though, as the manual avoids the gas guzzler tax.