Chevy SSR is a real attention getter

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Open-air driving has taken a great leap in popularity over the past couple of years.
Traditional convertibles with soft tops have proliferated. There are more models to pick from than in decades. New stuff includes such unusual yet appetizing entries as the Volkswagen Beetle convertible and the PT Cruiser convertible.

Roadsters (two-seat open air sports cars) have multiplied like rabbits with the addition of such stalwarts at the Honda S2000, Audi TT, Chrysler’s Crossfire and the Nissan 350Z.

But in 2004, putting the open sky over-head is much more than pushing a button and watching the top drop. Panoramic sunroofs such as those found in the Mercedes E-Class, Nissan Quest minivan and the Cadillac SRX and BMW X5 and X3 sport utility vehicles are a growth industry.

One of the most unusual is the GMC Envoy XUV sport utility vehicle with a sliding roof that creates an open-air cargo bed.

The most sophisticated advancement in fresh-air cruising is the retractable hard top convertible. Mercedes led the parade some years ago with the SLK, a sleek machine with a hard top that transforms into a convertible with the press of a button; the metal top folds into the trunk in an eye-popping mechanical ballet. It’s a quantum leaf forward from the mid-50’s Ford contraption.

Lexus took the retractable top one step further in 2001 with the SC430.Mercedes’ new ultra-luxury SL sports coupe joined the ranks of hard top convertibles two years ago. In the past year, even General Motors has added a retractable top roadster of its own, the Cadillac XLR.

But perhaps the most unusual of this new open-air breed of vehicle is the Chevrolet SSR; part roadster, part truck and part retro concept vehicle. In fact, it has virtually popped off the Detroit Auto Show floor intact. Some will say with flaws and all. General Motors says the obvious, “it’s the first production convertible pickup truck in history.”

So just what is the SSR or Super Sports Roadster?

Well, it’s a magnet. Young, middle-aged and old alike are drawn to it like a moth to the flame. If you crave attention, head to your nearest Chevy store and purchase an SSR. We can guarantee you will get more attention than you’ve bargained for.

During our weeklong test drive we were besieged with looky-loos, gapers, and people with questions a mile long. We even gave a few of them rides

Now we’ve driven several attention-getting vehicles over the past 12 months, but the SSR is the hands-down king of the hill when it comes to turning heads. Not only is the retro styling a head-turner, but the “what is it” factor draws crowds and the brilliant paint, be it yellow, red, black or whatever, is eye catching.

Additionally, it is sort of a pickup truck. But its bed is in reality a large carpet-lined, wood-adorned trunk.

And it is a roadster with a metal retractable top that will awe onlookers as it dances up from the window header and into a storage area behind the seats.

This Chevy is more of a cruiser than a racer even though it is propelled by General Motors’ lusty 5.3-liter V8 generating 300-horsepower and 331-pound-feet of torque mated to a standard GM 4-speed automatic transmission.

The SSR can surge to 60 miles per hour in a modest seven seconds with a loud rumbling exhaust note. Holding back the SSR is its nearly 5,000-pound curb weight. It is truly a truck as it borrows its frame from the Chevrolet TrailBlazer sport utility vehicle. And it feels like a truck.

Its bulging fenders and its 1947-53 Chevy truck front end speak of the past. It waxes nostalgic for pre-Boomers and the like. For Gen-X it’s a “gangsta car.” Gargantuan 19-inch five-spoke alloy sport wheels up front and 20-inche wheels on back further enhance the look.

The retractable top stores behind the seats and doesn’t steal any room from the covered bed, which has a 23.7-cubic foot storage capacity including two large lockable bins.
That’s not much room when comparing it to a full-sized Chevy Silverado, but it’s a heap of space when comparing it to the standard roadster. The covered compartment will neatly hold two sets of golf clubs with room to spare for other essentials.

Perhaps because it is built on a truck platform, the SSR is not the most stable of convertibles with the top down. A bad case of cowl shake is in evidence despite fully hydroformed steel side rails that are designed to provide strength and stiffness. But it’s not unnerving by any stretch, just a more flex than we’ve become used to in the modern convertible and roadster.

Fortunately one of the things about this retractable hard top, in addition to the safety and security it offers, is that it adds stability to the vehicle when it’s in place.

The retro theme is carried over inside in a very attractively styled interior.

Standard leather seating and well-done aluminum trim give the interior a quality look and feel. Nostalgia is built into the cockpit from a shifter straight out of a late ‘60s Corvette to a row of small gauges mounted low on the console reminiscent of the early Camaro.

The nostalgia does not get in the way of user-friendly switchgear. The radio is standard Chevrolet with a tuning knob for finding stations. The gauges are clear and the round climate control knobs easy to use.

The SSR may also be hampered by its price. Just how much cash is one willing to put on the line for a conversation piece, no matter how much fun it might be?

In the case of the SSR, that would be a $41,995 base price. Our test vehicle included $4,245 in options bringing the bottom line to a hefty $46,240. That’s a lot of money for a novelty vehicle.

The truck is well equipped with such standard features as antilock brakes, side-impact airbags, air conditioning, stereo with CD player, power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, cruise control, leather seating and power driver’s seat.
The most expensive option on our truck was a “preferred equipment group” that consisted of heated seats with memory, upgraded Bose stereo with 6-CD changer and an engine cover insert for $1,900.

The SSR appears to be readily available from most Chevy dealers making it easy for you to own a “limited edition” conversation piece with the bonus of some nice open-air motoring. You’ll just need to learn how to enjoy all the attention.