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Chevrolet SSR
Car and Driver

By André Idzikowski
April 2005

The press and public reactions when Chevrolet unveiled the SSR concept at the 2000 Detroit auto show were overwhelmingly positive. The message to Chevrolet was: Build it and they will buy it. The whole idea was outrageous: a pickup truck/roadster with bulging fenders and huge wheels. It just screamed for attention.

Most observers of the car scene laughed at the notion that Chevrolet would ever build its outlandish concept truck, but to everyone's astonishment, GM green-lighted it. For once, gearheads got what they'd wished for. Well, sort of.

The production SSR remained close to the concept. The compromises included moving the outside mirrors from the A-pillars to the doors, adding marker lights to the body, and losing in the translation the sweeping metallic band along the tailgate. We were amazed and pleased that the muscular, bulging fenders made it to production.

Then the excitement waned. The show-circuit SSR had a 6.0-liter V-8 from a three-quarter-ton Silverado pickup, but the real deal ended up with a 5.3-liter V-8 that had only 300 horsepower to motivate more than two tons of truck. And it was only available with a four-speed automatic transmission. Reviewers described the SSR as all show and not much go.

Chevy had missed the boat in the same way Chrysler had with its 1997 Plymouth Prowler, a flashy hot rod that was hampered by a wimpy V-6. The SSR also brought to mind Ford's weak and jiggly retro Thunderbird that went on sale in 2001. In fact, the looks and the attitude were only skin-deep. To qualify as cool and desirable, these car toys need to not only look fast but also be fast, or at least quick. The Prowler fizzled out two years ago, and the Thunderbird is destined for the same fate. Things haven't looked much rosier for the SSR since it went on sale in 2003. On December 1, 2004, GM had a 300-day supply of unsold SSRs. The corporation sold 9648 SSRs last year but had envisioned selling 13,000.

Now instead of simply waiting for the ax to fall, Chevy has taken steps for 2005 to give the SSR what it deserved from the start—a big honking engine and a manual transmission. The 5.3-liter V-8 has been replaced with a 6.0-liter LS2 V-8 that churns out 390 horsepower and 405 pound-feet of torque. It's the same engine found under the hood of the Corvette and the Pontiac GTO, although in those cars it's tuned to crank out another 10 horses. A four-speed automatic also found in the Corvette is the standard transmission, but for an extra $815 there's a Tremec M10 six-speed manual. The combination of this engine and the six-speed tranny gives the SSR some rabid bite to go along with an already hairy bark. The SSR we tested in September 2003 took a leisurely seven seconds to go from 0 to 60 mph. This 2005 tester, with the six-speed manual, performed that task in 5.5 seconds. The 0-to-100-mph time was even more impressive. The new SSR whacked six seconds off the previous car's time and reached the century number in just 14.1 seconds. The quarter-mile ET and speed went from 15.4 seconds at 89 mph to 14.1 seconds at 100 mph. These are respectable numbers that put the SSR in the same league with more conventional roadsters like the BMW Z4, Honda S2000, and Nissan 350Z when it comes to straight-line acceleration.

Chevrolet also enhanced a few other things in the revised SSR, most notably the steering system, which now has a retuned valve assembly and new bearings and seals for more precise on-center feel and a reduction in steering effort. The steering does feel a bit more accurate, and it's easier to maneuver the SSR around town, but the truck still isn't any fun for slaloming through corners. Push the SSR, and its truck roots are quickly revealed by its bouncy ride. The SSR pulled 0.82 g on the skidpad and stopped from 70 mph in 185 feet, the same distance as the one we tested in 2003.

Amazingly, despite the added 90 horsepower, one thing that hasn't significantly changed on the SSR is its sticker price. The first SSR we tested had a base price of $41,995; this latest 390-hp version starts at $43,180. It's easy to pile on expensive options, though. Our tester had, among other options, the 1SB Preferred Equipment Group ($1900), which includes heated seats, a Bose premium sound system, and an engine cover insert, and the Cargo Compartment Trim package ($895) for a hefty total of $47,375.

We won't argue with the SSR's eye-candy value or its ability to attract lots of attention, but there are a number of roadsters out there that offer better all-around performance at the same price. GM should have put a bigger, more powerful engine and a manual transmission in the SSR right from the start. That's what this radical, uniquely American-looking vehicle deserved.
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