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.
More by Robert Farago
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