Machine Design

2004 Chevrolet SSR

Drive a 2004 Chevrolet Super Sport Roadster (SSR) and you'll probably get more attention than you care to.

Of all the vehicles I've test driven for MACHINE DESIGN, none has drawn more admiring stares and thumbs-up than the SSR. Of course it didn't hurt that the truck was painted bright Slingshot Yellow, and that I drove it to the Indy 500, a mecca for gearheads. Still, why all the hoopla? Think 1948 Chevy pickup, but with all the bells, whistles, and refinement of a modern truck, and you'll begin to understand. The retro-custom SSR is a standout in a sea of low-drag-coefficient mediocrity.

Here's a crowd pleaser: Demonstrate the nifty retractable roof. A single button push lifts a two-section lid located directly behind the seats. The top folds and stacks into the space beneath the lid without compromising the cargo space behind it. The lid then closes flush with the body. Total time: about 25 sec. I operated the top several times and it worked flawlessly. It never leaked a drop, even in a downpour.

Speaking of cargo space, a conventional tailgate and a pop-up lid provide access to a fairly spacious bed with a liner and luggage rails. The lid latches at both sides to form a good seal. Forget slamming it like a trunk lid because it won't latch. A firm push on each side works perfectly.

The cozy SSR cockpit retains a retro feel yet resembles that of a concept car. I liked the brushed-aluminum trim and body painted sections on the dashboard and door panels. And the three-knob climate controls are simple and elegant. But there isn't enough room (between the seat and door) to reach the seat controls with the doors closed. And the tiny center console and glovebox are next to useless. However, there is plenty of legroom, and the seats are comfortable, even on long trips.

The ride is smooth and refined with negligible wind and road noise. Side windows retract slightly when you open the doors, and go up when the doors close to more tightly seal against the window frames. A pleasing, low rumble from the dual exhaust pipes is the only noticeable sound. It comes from a 5.3-liter, all-aluminum Vortec V8 that makes 300 hp and 331 lb-ft of torque. A four-speed automatic overdrive transmission couples to a rear limitedslip differential fitted with 3.73 gears. The combination provides respectable acceleration and fuel economy. I got 20 mpg on the highway, a tad better than the 19 mpg EPA estimate.

Aluminum wheels shod with fat P295/40R-20 tires in the rear, and P255/45R-19 tires up front add to the hot-rod look and no doubt help handling. Chassis stiffness isn't a strong point of convertibles, though Chevrolet has made it a priority on the SSR. The body-on-frame construction incorporates hydroformed-steel side rails and seven cross-members to boost structural strength.

So, if you like custom hot-rods but aren't inclined to build one, the SSR may be the ticket. Cool, daddy-o. Base price: $41,370. As tested: $44,245.

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