And this Australian import with an American heart is dead. This is our eulogy.
The basics have been covered. The SS, like the Pontiac G8 before it, is a full-size rear-wheel drive sedan based on a Holden Commodore. Holden is an Australian division of GM, and the Commodore, SS, and Pontiac G8 were all built in Oz. GM is closing up shop in Australia and moving production elsewhere. The Commodore is transitioning to a new, front-drive platform to be built in some far-away factory. The final SS has already rolled off the assembly line. There is no replacement coming.
From the beginning, it was clear the SS was going to serve a niche audience. The car starts at $48,620, not cheap by any definition. It comes equipped with leather, heated seats, automatic climate control, keyless entry and everything else you would expect from a car at this price point. Options were few. There's a no-cost manual, a $500 full-size spare, and a $900 power sunroof. That's it. There's no V6 model and no stripper meant for rental fleets.
Chevrolet wasn't importing many and the only real marketing effort was the face of Chevy in Nascar. The car essentially sold on great reviews and word of mouth. No sedan at that price point could really compete on all-around performance and value. Some people said the styling was too reserved, but once you got behind the wheel, most other complaints melted away. It was built for a certain cut of enthusiast, and those that drove it tended to like it.
The magic starts under the hood with that 6.2-liter naturally aspirated V8. It's the last-generation GM V8 that, in some variation or another, could be found under the hood of millions of products. The way it delivers power makes you lament the move to forced induction. It also feels every bit as strong as it's 415 horsepower and 415 lb-ft of torque promise it should be. Sure, there were faster and more powerful versions of Commodore-based cars globally, but the SS seems to have just the right amount of power. Anything else would be wasted on the streets.
This wasn't intended to be some four-door track car. This is a Q-car, a sleeper, a subtle and supremely capable road car. Everything about the SS was designed to balance real-world performance and sedan practicality. It's as fast and as capable as it needs to be. No more, no less. Sure, there will be some that desire a bit more, but Dodge has some supercharged felines that can scratch that itch.
The rest of the car is a best-of from the GM parts bin. There's a well-tuned limited-slip differential with 3.70 gearing out back, an auxiliary oil cooler, and big Brembo brakes at all four corners. The car's real wizardry rests with in the magnetorheological suspension and chassis tuning. As many others have noted, these are the same sort of dampers that Ferrari uses. GM's engineers are world-class ride and handling tuners; the era of floaty domestic boats is dead and gone.
That said, the SS loves going straight. The tall gear ratios and long-wheelbase provide for a relaxing highway demeanor. But put it on a big, gently winding road with lots of long curves and the SS dances. This is a car for Angeles Crest, not Malibu. It's still a big, heavy sedan, and it needs some room to stretch its legs. Once you find that perfect road, the car's talents become quite evident.
Brake, downshift, and point the wheel in the intended direction. The car transitions into predictable and easily reeled-in oversteer. Body motions are kept in check by the magnetic dampers while big brakes and sticky summer rubber keep the car planted. Stab the throttle and let the V8 carry you forward with a sensation that only comes from a large-displacement pushrod motor. There's power everywhere, so if you get the shift wrong, it's easy to dig yourself out.
The story isn't perfect. The shifter is merely adequate, with long throws and vague gating. It's a letdown when compared to the all-powerful engine. The steering, though well weighted, isn't big on feedback. It's not lifeless, just dulled. The first models had a better hydraulically-assisted steering rack, but Chevrolet moved to an electronic setup when it added a manual transmission. The EPS systems in the Corvette and Camaro show that Chevy can do this right, so it seems to be a calibration issue in the SS. There's also some body roll, but a stiffer ride would hurt the car's day-to-day comfort.
It's a shame Chevy won't build a proper replacement, because a full-size sedan this full of emotion, character, and drama is worth remembering as we're unlikely to see anything like this again. The days of big, naturally aspirated V8 sedans is dead. Remember the fallen and pour one out for the SS. It shall be missed.