By on October 11, 2004

Door handles courtesy Audi's Bahaus department

The Chevrolet SSR is a two-seat pickup truck with a folding metal hardtop that drives like a– hold on a second. Where did THAT idea come from? “Hey guys, what we haven’t built yet? How about a convertible pickup truck!” Normally, corporate bean counters file such creative flights of fancy under “H”, for “Humor them and they’ll design a car we can sell to the rental companies”. But lo and behold, here it is! So, um, what is it?

The SSR looks like a first generation Beetle Convertible that swallowed a fistful of growth hormones and a 1940’s flatbed. The SSR’s gigantic flared fenders and bulging arches are way, WAY out there, in a “where did you get that zoot suit?” kinda way. Combined with the bubble roof, steeply raked flatbed and bluff rear end, its hard to tell if the SSR is retro, modern, post-modern or all three at once.

There's real aggression to the SSR's design... somewhereAnd clock those details. The oval door-handles and sporty, color-coded wing mirrors are pure Audi. The silver “wing” bisecting the bulging front grill and headlamps is art deco redux. Put it all together and, well, whatever it is, you can no more ignore the SSR than you can avert your eyes from a three car pileup.

The interior is equally compelling. The combination of metal-effect plastic and body colored panels offers a surprisingly effective update on the American hot rod motif. The Hurst-style shifter, massive central dials, rotary climate controls and floor-mounted gauges add to the custom car cool. The radio’s head unit is pure eye poison, but the overall cockpit harmonizes perfectly with the exterior’s unabashed exhibitionism.

Fresh air motoring, pickup truck styleTwist the key and the SSR raises a mechanical middle finger to anyone who dares condemn the vehicle as a cynical style statement for nostalgic empty nesters. The pickup burbles, woofles and roars like Steve McQueen’s infamous Bullitt Mustang.

No wonder. Unlike its retro-predecessors, the underpowered PT Cruiser and Plymouth Prowler, the SSR holsters major firepower: a slightly detuned version of the Corvette’s six-liter V8. The LS2 powerplant is good for 390hp and 400ft.-lbs. of torque.

It's a Chevy Jim, but not as we know itWith traction control on, in automatic guise, the SSR will sprint from zero to sixty in 5.49 seconds. Disengage the electronic Nanny and she’ll do donuts all day long. Of course, if you put a big enough engine on a dog house, it’ll be fast in a straight line. Sporting minds want to know: how does Roger Rabbit’s ride handle?

Chevy’s engineers have blessed the SSR with everything you’d want in a high performance vehicle: rear wheel drive, rack and pinion steering, independent front suspension, major rubber (19″ front, 20″ rear), ventilated four-wheel disc brakes; the works. But here’s the REAL surprise: the company’s speed merchants gave the SSR a multi-link rear suspension.

Whatever it is, it's quick and, gulp, nimble.It’s a bold move. By ditching the usual payload-friendly coil/leaf suspension, the erstwhile pickup truck can’t haul or tow anything heavier than 2500lbs. So it’s bye-bye to blue collar cred. On the positive side, the set-up makes this strange-looking Chevy the world’s best handling pickup truck.

I know: that’s a bit like lauding a sports car for its ability to haul breeze blocks. But fling the SSR into a curve and she’ll lean slightly– and then hold on for dear life. The SSR’s poise and determination are truly astonishing. It has enough power, grip and control to humiliate anything short of a proper sports car.

That’s a scary thought. The SSR’s center of gravity is twice as high as any sports car you can name, it’s a heavy beast (4760 lbs.), and there’s too much play in the steering. In practice, throwing the SSR into a corner is a bit like throwing a javelin at a dart board; it’s doable, it’s strangely satisfying, but it requires a lot more finesse than you’d imagine– especially with the hood down.

To combat the body flex common to convertibles, the SSR’s chassis has eight cross members. It’s still about as stiff as a dandelion stalk. With the top down, the SSR bends, flexes and vibrates over surface imperfections with such violence that a passenger would be hard-pressed to read a large print Bible at 15mph. It’s a far smoother ride with the top up, but the vibrations still deny hard-charging drivers the confidence they need to succeed.

It’s odd: the SSR’s Unique Selling Point, al fresco pickup truck driving, turns out to be its greatest weakness. Go figure.

Chevy’s marketing guys will figure I’m nuts. Who’d drive an SSR and bemoan the fact that it shakes a bit and doesn’t handle like a Porsche? The $41k Chevrolet SSR is a visually dramatic, all-American cruiser with plenty of poke, a thundering soundtrack and more-than-merely-adequate handling. That should be more than enough to justify its existence, and its buyers’ patronage. And you know what? They’re right.

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2 Comments on “Chevrolet SSR Review...”


  • avatar

    If it were not mispriced this could have been a sales success for Chevy. Its too bad as it may not be practical but that was not the intent for this vehicle.

  • avatar
    Lotis61

    I’ve owned 5 Camaro’s, one 73, 79 Z28, 86 IROC, 89 Iroc and another 89 IROC with a Corvette Computer Chip, Borla exhaust and lots of extras. I’m a hard person to please as far as a really fun ride, and the SSR was the only one I liked. I like a vehicle that can handle and stop well. The interior and take off sold me on the SSR. It sounds beefy and is too. I think my last Iroc is faster, but the SSR is a full framed vehicle and is stronger and safer! It’s a fun ride for sure! I let my father who has cancer take it for some rides to live it up while he can. The top goes down and up very easily. His previous job was driving Ford vehicles to other dealerships and he loved the SSR more than anything he has driven! Need I say more?


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