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2004 Chevrolet SSR - Road Test

Driving Chevy's SSR

Photography by Terry McGean

I fully expected to hate this thing. At the very best, I expected not to care much. This sunny attitude stemmed primarily from frustration over being teased with the image of the SSR for, what, four years now? I felt for sure that by the time the truck actually made it to showrooms, nobody would notice, assuming it had been available for years based on the high level of exposure in the automotive media. I was wrong.

First of all, I didn't hate the SSR, and after a couple days, I felt like championing its cause. I'd read a lot of the reviews in road test mags on Chevy's concept-gone-consumable, and they all rang fairly consistently-the SSR is too heavy, too slow, too sloppy, and so on. Granted, I was initially annoyed that the truck seemed to morph from a 6.0L monster-tired factory street machine in concept form to what seemed like a watered-down 5.3L novelty on sensibly sized rollers before it was even in production, but perhaps that was a bit hasty. In reality, we probably all knew the 6.0L would never happen, though most assumed that all those F-car 5.7 LS1s would find a new home here. The 5.3 sounds like a major compromise at first blush, until you look a little closer and realize that it's an SSR-only aluminum-block version, and that its rated at 300 hp, or just shy of the 5.7 LS1 used in standard F-bodies from '98-'00. And those rollers, while perhaps not as radical as those used on the concept car, are still massive, coming in at 19 and 20 inches front/rear. Throw in the 3.73:1 rear gear and the higher-than-normal-stall torque converter, and it starts to seem like a decent package.

It is heavy, tipping the scales at a fat 4,760 pounds, but you wouldn't know it unless you really tried to throw the truck around some tight corners or cones. Pulling away from a light briskly doesn't require a particularly heavy foot, and the 4L60's programming is refreshingly responsive, holding gears for longer than you'd expect and allowing downshifts without requiring the sort of major throttle input GM automatic overdrives are notorious for. Heavy throttle brings fairly responsive downshifts that quickly put the engine in its powerband.

Then there's the chassis. It's a nice piece on paper, with hydro-formed rails tied by five crossmembers and a five-link rear suspension, and according to GM's figures, the chassis flex is impressively low for a convertible, rating 16 Hertz (Hz) with the top up and 13.8 Hz when down. Still, when the pavement gets choppy, things inside the cab get do get a bit jittery. This is most noticeable with the top and windows up. We did suspect that the squeaks and chirps from the window seals may actually be exaggerating the sensation of flex, since rolling the windows down makes the truck seem more rigid somehow. With the top down, flex seems even less of an issue (though by the numbers, it should be worse), while not entirely imperceptible-you just care less.

The chassis chatter made us wonder why the suspension on the SSR is so taught. For a cruiser, it's quite stiff, and it's that heavy resistance to road imperfections that seems to transfer harshness to the chassis, amplifying what feels like flex. On the other hand, for a big, heavy, tall truck, the SSR does stay nice and flat in turns.

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