These are happy days for the fun side of Chevrolet, as 2013 has been a very good year for the performance division of General Motors' everyman brand.
The all-new, seventh-generation Corvette went on sale in August to critical and consumer acclaim. The topless version of the C7 started shipping to customers this week, and a fire-breathing Z06 model will debut at the Detroit Auto Show in January. Through November, sales of the Corvette are up 228 percent over the same period in 2012.
Meanwhile, the Camaro got a quick aesthetic update and a new model for the 2014 lineup. Sales so far this year are on track to make 2013 the fourth consecutive year that Chevy's iconic muscle car is the best-selling sports car in the U.S.
Together with sales of the Corvette, Chevy's performance division makes up roughly 25 percent of all sports cars sold in the U.S.
Hoping to carry this momentum into the world of sedans, the bow tie brand is adding a third, V-8 go-fast car to the lineup. Chevy recently put on sale the all-new 2014 SS, a full-size, rear-wheel-drive performance sedan that is the company's first in 17 years.
We recently logged some seat time in the SS and Corvette Stingray Convertible and came away impressed.
This new Chevy SS picks up where the Pontiac G8 left off in 2009. For two short years, GM saw fit to import the fastest version of the Holden Commodore from Australia under the Pontiac name. Then the American brand died a painful death and the flow of rear-wheel-drive performance sedans from Down Under stopped.
To create the SS, GM again turned to its Australian subsidiary. It took the Commodore SS-V Redline, tuned the engine for more power and displacement, and added a host of technology and safety features.
The result is a powerful, composed sedan that starts at $45,770 including destination and a $1,300 gas guzzler tax. It's a sleeper not only because it can blast from zero to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds (according to Car and Driver), but also because it can carry five very entertained adults in a surprising level of comfort and refinement.
Moving those five happy souls is a 6.2-liter V-8 engine that Chevy also uses in the current Camaro SS and the previous generation Corvette (C6).
For duties in the SS, it's good for 415 horsepower and 415 pound-feet of torque. Power flows to those rear wheels via a six-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters.
Though purists may raise a stink about the lack of a manual transmission option, Chevy says that consumers vote with their wallets. Too few people would actually buy this car with a manual to justify the cost of certifying a manual gearbox for use in the U.S. This matters even more on a low-volume performance sedan.
The lack of a DIY shifter is our loss, as a third pedal would really heighten the driver's connection with this car. The automatic is only decent around town, though its attention picks up noticeably when the gearbox is in Sport mode. It's then that the transmission's Performance Mode kicks in, shifting (and not shifting) with surprising prescience.
This gives the V-8 a chance to sing. Don't be fooled by the 415-horsepower figure; this is a remarkably composed car. Sure, the V-8's roar bursts from the engine bay when you stand on the gas pedal. But it's easy, usable power that never gets the car out of sorts, unless that's your thing.
The rear-drive SS has plenty of neutral grip in hard corners, and a relatively modest curb weight of 3,975 pounds helps the car feel agile, especially for a full-sized sedan.
Yet this isn't the only reason why the driver and his four charges have plenty to smile about. Chevy has crammed the interior with enough technology and quality materials to make the $46,000 asking price seem like a bargain.
This includes nicely bolstered leather seats that are heated and cooled up front, touchscreen navigation system, suede interior finishes, a backup camera, forward collision warning, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning and eight air bags. The only options available are a sunroof and a full-size spare tire.
Pegging a competitor for this SS is tough; few sedans mix power, performance and price in the same way. The closest peer is the Dodge Charger SRT. Although it's up on the SS by 55 horsepower, it's down considerably in refinement and handling.