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Chevrolet SS 2014 Review

This is the car that could have saved Holden -- except that, as good as it is, we now know that it won’t.

This is the car that could have saved Holden -- except that, as good as it is, we now know that it won’t.

As the fate of Holden’s manufacturing operations was sealed this week -- following unprecedented attacks from a Federal Government that appeared intent on shutting it down -- Holden has produced arguably its best car yet.

It’s the latest export version of the homegrown Commodore, returning to the US as a Chevrolet after last being shipped there four years ago as a Pontiac. When the Pontiac deal was done, the Australian dollar was weaker and the US economy was stronger and North Americans eventually bought 38,000 Pontiac versions of the Commodore -- more than an entire year’s worth of Commodore sales in Australia at current rates.

Holden’s export aspirations today are much lower, with earlier reports claiming just 1500 Chevrolet-badged Commodores would be shipped Stateside each year. At the media preview drive in the US last week, however, it was revealed the real annual target is closer to 4500 sales.

That’s still only a decimal point figure in the world’s second biggest car market, and barely 5 per cent of Holden’s annual production, even with the US police Caprice included (just 6000 cars over the past three years). The Federal Government said it wanted Holden to export at least 30 per cent of the cars it makes locally in return for an increase in taxpayer funding. Fat chance.


There are several reasons Holden’s latest US export deal is limited. The high Australian dollar relative to US currency means the Chevrolet SS has a high retail price, about $45,000 in the US. That might seem reasonable in Australia, but cars are much cheaper in North America, so the Chevrolet SS is at the high end of the scale.

Then there is the grim reality that General Motors deliberately does not want to sell too many Chevrolet SS sedans. The US government has set an average fuel economy target for the entire range of cars each brand sells in North America.

In other words, the more Chevrolet V8 sedans are sold, the more buzz-box economy cars GM has to move off showroom floors, to balance its corporate average fuel economy, or CAFE. So with the bad news out of the way, and the stark realisation that this car is no longer Holden’s saviour, we got behind the wheel of the Chevrolet SS, which also happens to be this year’s Nascar champion.


The Chevrolet SS has a few subtle but important differences from the Holden Commodore -- apart from the Chevrolet “bow tie” badges that will appear on almost every Holden ute before too long. Under the “hood” is the Corvette-sourced 6.2-litre V8 (reserved for Holden Special Vehicles in Australia), not the regular truck-sourced 6.0-litre V8 found in the Holden Commodore SS.

For the anoraks among us, it also gets different stitching in the seats and interior panels, shift paddles on the steering wheel (awesome, when do we get these?), a driver’s knee airbag, a “shark fin” aerial for satellite radio (awesome, when do we get more than 100 radio channels?), a louder exhaust and a seat cooling fan. Australia, one of the hottest continents on earth, perversely, only gets a seat heater (seat coolers next time please Holden?).

Perhaps the coolest feature, though, is the recalibration of the engine management computer that gives the Chevrolet SS a “blip” of the throttle on start-up, just like German sports sedans. Holden didn’t do this to the Commodore because our noise rules are stricter, and the exhaust is so quiet that apparently you couldn’t tell the difference between a blip and a normal start.


The exhaust note of the US car is awesome. From the outside it sounds like a V8 Supercar; the General Motors parts catalogue will get a lot of interest from Australian fans. The Chevrolet SS has already impressed the locals. Car and Driver magazine described it as “the gifted offspring of a BMW M5 and a Chevy Camaro SS”. Automobile magazine said it will go “toe-to-toe with a US$65,000 BMW 550i”, a car that costs $160,000 in Australia.

The US journalists were impressed with the handling, something we’ve come to take for granted in Australia. It must be said, the car I drove was a particularly fine example. It’s the best Commodore I’ve ever driven, and I reckon I’ve driven more than a couple of hundred over the years. And I’ve owned four in the past 10 years.

This red one was built tighter than any VF Commodore I’ve driven, too. Most cars used on media previews are specially prepared by the engineering departments of each car brand. General Motors said some of the cars in this group were regular customer cars that were diverted because of a shipping delay with the media evaluation vehicles.

There was no way of knowing whether the one I drove was a customer car or one that had gone through a special workshop, but it was brilliant. The steering, the body, the chassis, the brakes all felt tight and precise, unlike any Holden I’ve driven before. It was a revelation. From Palm Springs to Los Angeles -- including my obligatory trip to the Hollywood sign every time a Holden gets shipped to North America -- the Chevrolet SS felt like a European thoroughbred.


If only every car that came off the Holden production line were this good -- and I should know, I’ve had a few dud ones. So it was with mixed emotions that I handed back the keys to the GM minder before leaving the Chevrolet SS behind.

I was so proud that Australia could build a world class car like this, but saddened by the reality that the opportunity won’t exist any more. At least the North Americans got to see our best work, one last time.

Chevrolet SS
Price: $US45,000
Engine: 6.2-litre V8
Power: 310kW and 563Nm
Transmission: Six-speed auto only
Airbags: Seven
Options: Sunroof and full-size spare


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