Chevrolet SSR Review

Robert Farago
by Robert Farago
chevrolet ssr review

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.

And 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.

Twist 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.

With 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.

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.

Join the conversation
  • Sherman Lin Sherman Lin on Apr 11, 2007

    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.

  • Lotis61 Lotis61 on Oct 14, 2008

    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?

  • Jim Bonham Full EVs are not for everyone, they cannot meet all needs. Hybrids do a much better job of providing the benefits of EVs without most of the drawbacks. I have a hybrid sedan with plenty of room, plus all the bells and whistles. It has 360 hp, AWD, does 0-60 in just over 5 sec.(the instant torque is a real benefit), and I get 29 mpg, average. NOT driven lightly. I bought it used for $25k.Sure, it's a little heavier because of the battery, motor, etc., but not nearly as much as a full EV. The battery is smaller/lighter/cheaper and both the alternator and starter motor are eliminated since the motor assumes those functions. It's cool to watch the charge guage show I'm getting energy back when coasting and/or braking. It's even cooler to drive around part of the time on battery only. It really comes in handy in traffic since the engine turns off and you don't waste fuel idling. With the adaptive cruise control you just let the car slowly inch along by itself.I only wish it were a Plug-in Hybrid (PHEV). Then, I'd have A LOT more EV-only range, along with even more of that instant torque. The battery would be bigger, but still a fraction of the size of a full EV. I could easily go weeks without using much, if any gas (depending upon my commute) IF I plug it in every night. But I don't have to. The gas engine will charge the battery whenever it's needed.It's just not as efficient a way to do it.Electric companies offer special rates for both EVs and PHEVs which lower your operating cost compared to gasoline. They'll even give you a rebate to offset the cost of installing a home charger. You can still get federal (up to $7,500, plus some state) tax credits for PHEVs.What's not to like? My next daily driver will be a PHEV of some kind. Probably a performance-oriented one like the new Dodge Hornet or one of the German Hybrid SUVs. All the benefits, sound, feel, etc., of a gas vehicle along with some electric assist to improve fuel economy, performance, and drivability. None of the inherent EV issues of cost, range anxiety, long charging times, poor charger availability, grid capacity issues, etc. I think most people will eventually catch on to this and go PHEV instead of going full EV. Synthetic, carbon-neutral eFuels, hydrogen engines, and other things will also prevent full EVs from being 100% of the fleet, regardless of what the politicians say. PHEVs can be as "clean" (overall) as full EVs with the right fuels. They're also cheaper, and far more practical, for most people. They can do it all, EVs can't.
  • Ron rufo there is in WaSHINGTON STATE
  • ToolGuy @Chris, your photography rocks.
  • ToolGuy No War for Oli.If you have not ever held a piece of structural honeycomb (composite sandwich) in your own hands, try it.
  • ToolGuy You make them sound like criminals.