When one thinks back to the “muscle car” era, it’s hard not to include the Super Sport (SS) models from Chevrolet in those thoughts. Since 1961, Camaros, Chevelles, Novas, El Caminos and other models, including the Impala, have worn this coveted badge.
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Back in the 60s, having a SS model meant you had the tools to do battle at stoplights and at the drag strip. These were true performance machines, with packages available that could push ratings up to 425 horsepower. Special springs, shocks and brakes, and unique styling cues rounded out the enhancements on these popular models.
Liability concerns, high insurance rates and the energy crisis emasculated the performance and desirability of muscle cars during the late 60s and early 70s. In fact, the last Impala SS of the muscle car era was the 1969 SS427 big block. The 80s saw “performance” versions of “muscle cars” from American manufacturers that with a few exceptions were mere shadows of their former selves.
Fast forward to 1994, the year Chevrolet decided to resurrect the Impala SS with a car worthy of wearing the vaunted moniker. The 1994-1996 Impala SS was a huge car, based on the rear wheel-drive (RWD) Impala/Caprice “B” platform popular with taxi cab, livery and police car fleets. But this was no pedestrian vehicle. Using police package mechanicals as its base, the Impala SS was outfitted with larger brakes, dual exhaust, increased cooling capacity, a high-output electrical system, suspension upgrades, and a limited slip differential. With a retuned Corvette/Camaro LT1 5.7-liter small block V8 as standard equipment, the SS made 260 horsepower and an impressive 330 pound-feet of torque.
Outside, the new Impala SS differed from its base stablemates with special paint and trim. Aluminum wheels with 255 section rubber gave the SS a hunkered down appearance. Interior treatments bearing the SS logo were also standard.
It’s safe to say that GM had a huge hit on their hands with the SS. Starting modestly with just over 6,000 units sold in 1994, the SS model accounted for nearly 42,000 sales in 1996.
Then, in a decision that had many scratching their heads, Chevy parent General Motors pulled the plug on all of its B platform RWD models. The switch to front wheel-drive (FWD) was on. The new cars featured better packaging and fuel economy, but high-horsepower technology had not yet caught up to FWD platforms, so the Impala SS was dead again.
That was until the introduction of the 2006 Impala SS. The new model marks the first use of GM’s Generation IV small block V8 in a front wheel drive Chevy. Making 303 horsepower, the new Impala SS moves out with the same authority that would make its ancestors proud.
When the new SS arrived in my driveway for a week of testing, I was immediately impressed with its looks. Wearing gorgeous black paint, a rear spoiler, and shod with high polished 18″ wheels and 235 section performance tires, it looked ready to rumble. And rumble it did when I fired up the 5.3 liter “Displacement on Demand” engine with dual, stainless steel exhaust. With the exception of the mild cam timing on the ’06, one would be hard pressed to tell the difference in sound between this new SS and the monsters of the muscle car era. Chevy’s Displacement on Demand technology deactivates four cylinders when the SS is not being asked to perform at a serious level to help conserve fuel. I don’t think I ever got into four-cylinder mode as this is a car that enjoys being pushed! Engine power is channeled through a four-speed automatic transmission, and handling is enhanced with an upgraded suspension.
Inside, I found things I liked, and things I did not. The Impala SS is well equipped, even at the base level. Seating is comfortable and leg and headroom sufficient front and rear. I really like GM’s use of friendly computer technology on some of its vehicles, including the SS. A comprehensive trip computer can give you tire pressure readings on all four wheels, let you know condition of your engine oil, and give you a host of other parameters. Audio and cruise control functions can be adjusted on the steering wheel or on the center console display unit. The dashboard is well laid out, but could benefit from the addition of performance gauges such as oil pressure and a voltmeter. The area surrounding the center console audio and HVAC unit is very impressive. Controls are laid out symmetrically, and are very easy to use. High-quality materials, including rubber, chrome, LED displays and plastics are a part of the quality equation. The ice-blue LED display lighting looks terrific at night. Quality, textured faux aluminum trim adorns the dash and doors. Dash top plastic is of high quality, but lower dash and lower door panel plastic used on the SS is not in keeping with the quality of the rest of the car. It’s hard, and it’s cheap. It looks like it’s out of a Chevy Chevette. It’s not a lot to complain about but it nearly ruins an otherwise terrific application of interior materials. Rear seat cushions flip forward in the SS, allowing the seatbacks to fold flat into the floor, giving the Impala SS wagon-like cargo room. The seatbacks are not lockable though, a compromise in security if you need to store valuables in the trunk.
On the road, the SS is ready to run. Launch it at a stoplight, and you will chirp the tires until standard traction control takes over. It runs hard, and sounds terrific doing so. Ride quality is firm but very comfortable. Urban streets are no problem for the SS. It’s also very quiet when it needs to be. If you are not opening all of the runners on the intake manifold, the Impala SS’ cabin could be used to escape in quiet bliss. That is, until you fire up the optional ($495) Bose eight speaker sound system. XM Satellite Radio is available, but was not an option on my tester. Optional, heated, leather seating surfaces were $1,125 and a power glass sunroof added $900 to the SS’ very reasonable $26,330 base MSRP. Destination and options brought the final tally to $29,610. A good deal indeed.
Fuel economy estimates are 18 mpg city, 28 highway. I never saw numbers close to 28 mpg, but again, I was having too much fun listening to the V8’s sweet song. A huge plus is the Impala SS burns regular gas.
I’m glad the Impala SS is back. It’s a solid performance value at a great price.