For most guys I know, fatherhood has been an immensely rewarding part of their lives. But for car guys, the responsibilities and lifestyle associated with being a dad usually requires some serious compromise in vehicle choices.
Do you remember those fun-filled, carefree days of being a single guy? For auto enthusiasts, such memories might include a low-slung, two-seat, curve-carving convertible, or a tire-shredding rear-wheel-drive muscle car. After becoming a dad, with the buckling of car seats and a trunk full of strollers and toys and way too much other stuff, those days can seem lost forever … or at least until the last kid heads off to college. The automotive toy that stirred your inner being, cleared your head and brought grins to your face suddenly disappeared from the garage and was replaced by something “practical.”
Practical in automotive terms typically means “dull.”
But fear not, my fellow octane junkies. A savior from the doldrums lurks at your local Chevy dealership: The Chevrolet SS. From the outside, the SS looks like an innocuous four-door family sedan. During my week with a Regal Peacock Green SS, most people I encountered asked me if it was the new Impala or Malibu. Those folks can be excused for missing the few subtle visual cues that hint at what lies beneath. Ultra-high-performance tires are wrapped around 19″ polished alloy wheels. Visible through those shiny 10 spokes are Brembo performance brakes. The front fenders sport air vents, the rear deck lid get a tasteful little spoiler and dual exhausts poke from under the rear valance. That’s about it.
Until you start it up.
While the exterior says rental car, the growl from the exhaust note says muscle car. Yes, my friends, under the hood is Chevy’s 6.2L LS3 V8, producing 415hp with 415 lb-ft of torque. All that naturally aspirated thrust is sent directly to the limited-slip differential at the rear through either a short-throw six-speed manual or a six-speed auto. But seriously, why would you get an auto box if you can get a stick?
Climb inside and you’ll find a well-designed interior swathed in black leather and Alcantara with red stitching. Both driver and passenger seats are eight-way adjustable, with heating and cooling. The rear seat is plenty roomy for your offspring or even three adults, with a large fold-down center console and a trunk pass-through. Other goodies include 4G LTE with WiFi hotspot to keep the kiddies entertained, head-up display to keep your eyes on the road and magnetic ride control to let you easily select Tour, Sport or Performance mode.
While the interior is a great place to hang out, the magic happens when you actually drive this baby. The V8 sounds great and responds immediately to your right foot. The 275/35 rear tires have excellent grip, delivering 60 mph in 4.5 seconds, but are easy to light up with a bit more throttle. That’s half the fun with this car. From the outside it looks all business. But from behind the wheel it’s a muscle car. Go ahead and do a burnout. It’ll make you feel like a 16-year-old kid again.
To see if the SS was more than a tire roaster, I took it to Lime Rock Park in northwestern Connecticut, as a guest of the Lime Rock Drivers Club, to play on the beautiful 1.56-mile road circuit. I was expecting the SS to be fairly neutral in handling due to the front-to-rear weight balance of near 50-50. But the big surprise is how well GM’s third generation Magnetic Ride Control works. There is very little body roll and the car feels decidedly lighter than its 3,900 lbs. The SS wants to attack the corners and does so with real finesse. Sure, you can hang the tail out at will, but you can also surgically slice through the turns with the precision of a smaller European sports sedan. The Brembo brakes work like Brembos, exhibiting no fade and hauling the SS down from triple digit speeds lap after lap.
The handling was truly impressive, but since this is a V8-powered, RWD American car, I also needed to test its drifting ability. After shutting off the stability control and traction control, I hit Lime Rock Park’s autocross course. While my drifting skills are not much better than my golf skills, the SS made me look like a champ. Fortunately, Lime Rock’s Jeff Grossbard was there with a camera to document my exploits.
On the much more restrained drive home, I reflected on the SS as an overall package. Sure it’s fast and handles great. But the darn thing is seriously comfortable, too. And roomy. Would I like a bit more lateral support in the seats for spirited driving? Sure. But the seats are all-day comfortable and the ergonomics and interior features would make this a heck of a choice for a daily driver or road-tripper. There is room for the whole family, a sizable trunk and a good Bose sound system with real round knobs for volume and tuning. And in addition to the requisite front and side airbags, it has all the safety features you might want, including forward collision alert, blind-spot-zone alert, lane-departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert, HID headlights, OnStar and a rearview camera displayed on the 8″ center screen.
I drive a lot of new cars, but there are few I would seriously consider buying myself. The SS is right at the top of the list. Unlike most German sports sedans which kill you with costly options, the SS comes well equipped at under $46k. Park this thing in your driveway—the neighbors, and more importantly your spouse, won’t give it a second look. Think of the SS as the Clark Kent of sedans: mild-mannered on the outside, but a superhero when you need it.
Roger Garbow, who might also answer to Driving Dad, is an avid motorist and father. He is a member of the International Motor Press Association.