Cue the excitement.
The 2014 Chevrolet SS, which makes a very fitting debut tied to the Daytona 500, is a car that is just as momentous as the C7 Corvette in its own way. It is a Chevy muscle car at heart that will get a lot of attention from dads who are Corvette fans but need more space for the kids. The SS also makes for a powerful symbol of how parent company General Motors has muscled its way back from bankruptcy.
This performance sedan takes GM back to its roots, reviving a rear-wheel-drive tradition absent for 17 years. Even more it is a physical manifestation of GM’s heyday, being a modern revival of the Chevy Caprice that was the most popular American car in the 60s and early 70s.
But even if it is Chevy’s first full-size, rear-wheel-drive sedan since the Caprice, the SS really has more in common with another favorite that got scrapped during the hard spell at GM — the Pontiac G8.
The link to its storied past is purposeful on GM’s part. The SS is a celebration of the company’s comeback, a rally call for employees and car buyers alike. It does not just evoke much better times from decades ago, it also invokes happier times ahead. It is a totem of sorts, as suggested by the name itself.
In christening the car as the SS, Chevy accords this newcomer an unusual distinction. An “SS” badge, short for “Super Sport,” has adorned high-performance versions of Chevys for decades, including the current Camaro sports car. But here it is a standalone name. The choice recalls a highly regarded muscle car history and essentially declares this car the ultimate SS.
It is heady stuff. Four years ago, under the yoke of a government-backed bailout, a bankrupt GM was taking extreme measures. It killed entire brands, Pontiac included, and axed high-performance cars like the G8, a full-size, V8-powered sedan very similar to the new Chevy SS. It even went so far as to completely disband its long-standing High Performance Vehicle Operations unit, which had developed such fast, gas-guzzling cars as the Cadillac CTS-V and Chevrolet Corvette ZR-1.
At the time, GM desperately needed smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles and they became its sole focus.
Now the company is enjoying success on that front. Small cars such as the Chevrolet Cruze, which debuted for the 2009 model year, are selling well. GM has improved its overall Corporate Average Fuel Economy from 29.6 miles per gallon for the 2008 model year to a projected 32.9 miles per gallon for the 2012 model year.
This helps provide running room to pursue performance vehicles once again. GM unveiled the highly anticipated 2014 Chevy Corvette Stingray to great fanfare at the Detroit auto show in January. And only a month later, the SS is rolling out on a stage all its own, to cheering Nascar fans at the Daytona International Speedway. (See the slideshow for pictures of the SS making its world debut.)
The hood and trunk lid of the 2014 Chevrolet SS are made of aluminum , which is 30 percent lighter than steel. They not only save weight but also lower the car's center of gravity to improve handling. (Credit: Chevrolet)
The big, brawny performance sedan—which Mark Reuss, president of General Motors North America, has called a “four-door Corvette”—is set to go on sale in the fourth quarter. It is expected to be one of the fastest sedans available, with the ability to go from 0 to 60 miles per hour in about five seconds.
The SS has a V8 engine called the LS3, which is the same one used in the 2013 Corvette. With 6.2 liters of displacement and 415 horsepower, it is more potent than the 5.5-liter V8 engines used in the new Chevy SS Nascar race cars.
The SS will compete directly with the Dodge Charger and slots right between the R/T and SRT8 versions of that car in terms of horsepower.
GM has not announced pricing, but Automotive News pegged the starting price of the SS at $27,535 including shipping.
The seats on the Chevy SS have deep side bolster to keep occupants in place during high-speed maneuvers. (Credit: Chevrolet)
The SS will be made in Australia, by the GM subsidiary Holden. The car is essentially a new version of the Pontiac G8. Like the G8, the SS is based on GM’s Zeta platform, developed by Holden for the Commodore sedan that it is sold Down Under. The same architecture also underpins the Chevrolet Camaro and the recently introduced Chevrolet Caprice Police Patrol Vehicle, available only to law enforcement.
The Pontiac G8 sedan was only on sale for the 2008 and 2009 model years, having been the victim of bad timing. But it was a great car, particularly the GXP version that used the Corvette V8.
Unlike the defunct Pontiac G8, however, the new Chevy SS will not be offered with a V6 and a smaller V8. The SS is being marketed as a top-of-the-line performance sedan and will come loaded with features that are options on most other Chevrolets, such as a Bose audio system and advanced collision warning systems.
The SS features a six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters on the steering wheel. In keeping with its sporty nature, it also has body-hugging front seats, 19-inch wheels, and brakes made by Brembo, an Italian company that specializes in braking systems for race cars and sports cars.
The decision to unveil the SS at the race track—with Nascar fans gathered to watch drivers qualify for the upcoming Daytona 500—is in keeping with a larger GM strategy that uses motor sports to improve its brand image and foster better engineering of its passenger vehicles. (Read more about its strategy here.)
The 2014 SS is the first rear-wheel-drive sedan from Chevrolet since 1996, Reuss noted in a press release announcing the debut. The last one of its kind was the Caprice, which also had a performance version called the Impala SS.
Despite the long absence, “the Chevrolet brand was largely built on the strength of rear-drive performance sedans,” Reuss said. “The all-new Chevrolet SS fills that void and fills it better than any other vehicle in the brand’s rich history.”
Chevy is driving a race car version of the SS in Nascar competition this year, replacing the Impala used previously. Though the race car shares little technology with the road version of the SS, at least both have a V8 and rear-wheel drive.
This makes the SS seen on the race track a much better approximation of the version that consumers can buy than its Nascar competitors are. The Toyota Camry and Ford Fusion, unlike their racing counterparts, are front-wheel-drive sedans that don’t even offer V8 engines. They have four-cylinder and six-cylinder engines.
This is not lost on Reuss, who is a racing fan. Large, rear-wheel drive vehicles with powerful V8 engines — the same ones that consumers would buy, only modified — became the backbone of stock-car racing in the late 1940s and early ’50s. This eventually evolved into the Nascar racing series, which now relies on cars built expressly for competition.
GM president Mark Reuss (left) greets Nascar driver Jeff Gordon during the unveiling of the Chevy SS at the Daytona International Speedway. (Credit: Chevrolet)
In developing the SS, Reuss has said he wanted to create a more direct link between the race car that fans cheer on and the one they can buy in dealerships, not only to help sales, but to honor the roots of the sport.
The new SS race car certainly looked good in its first outing. Nascar drivers running the SS took the top five starting positions for the Daytona 500 on Sunday during qualifications this past weekend. Danica Patrick of Stewart-Haas Racing became the first woman in the history of Nascar to make pole position. She drives the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevy SS.
Jeff Gordon of Hendrick Motorsports qualified for the second starting spot. He joined Reuss in introducing the road version of the SS this past Saturday, driving it into the Fan Zone at the Daytona race track for the public reveal.
2014 Chevrolet SS Revives Rear-Wheel-Drive Tradition, Is A Sign Of Strength At GM - Forbes