$25,000 - $30,000 Full Size Front-Wheel Drive Performance Sedan
Who should buy this car:
Someone looking for a big family sedan with the soul of a muscle car.
Comparable models in this class:
Buick Lucerne, Nissan Maxima, Pontiac Bonneville, Toyota Avalon. Rear drive models include: Chrysler 300, Dodge Charger, Ford Crown Victoria, Mercury Grand Marques
The first official Chevrolet "Super Sport" was an option package on the 1963 Chevy II Nova Sport Coupe. That year's Impala also had "SS" equipment, which was a $161 option on the 425-horsepower V8.
Today, Chevrolet has an "SS" option for almost every vehicle it makes, and we expect to see an Aveo SS in the future if the trend continues. While the Super Sport designation made a lot of sense in the muscle-car era, and makes some sense today with emasculated power ratings for many vehicles, by rights, only the Impala should have an SS designation.
Our tester, the Impala SS sedan, is a super sport in most versions of the definition. The only caveat is that the Impala SS for 2006 is a front-wheel drive car, unlike the rear-wheel drive Impala SS of 1963. And while the older SS had a 425-horsepower engine, this year's version "only" has 303 horses, but they are enough to propel the Impala into the illegal speed area quickly. Too quickly.
I felt the Impala, even with its fwd, is the epitome of what a modern SS should be. It had power, it had excellent handling (certainly better handling than its ancestors), great brakes, and a sweet sound emanating from its dual exhaust tips.
One problem with gobs of power in a fwd car is that there is significant torque steer when you tromp on the accelerator. You have to hold on tight to the steering wheel if you want to accelerate quickly, because the SS may want to run away with a mind of its own. But, and this is the thrill, you can leave a patch rubber on the road even when you're in "D".
One other disadvantage of this power is low fuel economy. We averaged only 13.4 mpg, five mpg below the EPA city estimate. Granted, we didn't' use the SS for any long trips, but I felt we could have earned a higher figure. Maybe if I had kept the gas pedal off the floor more often, it might have been better.
Our tester had remote start, which was a godsend in cold weather. We were returning from a bus trip with a group of people from our church, and I remote-started the Impala from inside the bus before we got off. We had been talking with a young college student, and when he got off the bus, all he could say was, "Wow." The looks and the sound, even at idle, impressed him that much. Here was a man who knew his cars (he was grilling me all the way down to Philly and back), and knew what was sitting there gurgling.
Behind the wheel there's a retro style to the instruments and even the shifter. You have to know what gear you want and how to get there because there aren't any markings next to the shifter as there are in almost every other car I've driven. Sure, there is an indicator on the instrument panel, but after a while you can shift by feel, just as you would with a stick shift.
The Impala also had a couple of nice modern features. For example, cruise control switches were on the multi-function steering wheel. No, it's not as multi-function as a Formula 1 car, but it's pretty good for a family sedan. Behind the wheel proper are switches on the right to control the audio system - volume, mode, etc.
Storage areas abound. There is a nice small tray in the door pockets that convert them from being black holes to suck up all your belongings into a practical storage area. There's also a nice cubby in front of the shifter with two 12-volt outlets. Two cupholders are behind the shifter. There's also an tray insert inside the deep center console.
The HVAC system was excellent. It offered warmth on many cold evenings. The powered leather seats were also heated, which helped to warm the body before the heater kicked in. While we liked the heat in the seats, they could have offered more side support. Since the Impala SS had power, and handled very well for a car of its lineage, there could have been more side support to hold the driver and passengers in their seats. In general though, the seats were comfortable.
There was good rear legroom as well. Since the Impala's prime use is as a CarParts.com (whether in SS form or the standard V6 variety), rear legroom is important. So is the trunk, which is large by modern standards at 18.6 cubic feet. The rear seatbacks fold forward, but not completely. With them folded, a large connecting "hole" from the rear seat area to the trunk opens, which facilitates loading of longer objects in the trunk. This is helpful, but I prefer complete fold-downs. Too bad Chevy never asked me during the design process.
The SS is top-of-the-line in a series that has base prices as low as $21,330 for an Impala equipped with a 3.5-liter V6 delivering 211 hp. With a bottom line of $29,320, the Impala SS is probably equivalent to what the car would have cost in 1963 dollars, figuring in inflation and all the safety measures that have been added. That's still a pretty good value.