Why the best all-round car for south of $50k gets no love.
Much of the appeal that comes from cars like the BMW M5 is that to the untrained eye, it looks like a normal car on the outside. That’s why everyone looks over in surprise when a rev-happy driver commands the engine to bark up a storm while passing through a tunnel. The added practicality of being able to submit a sports car to a humble morning commute when it may as well be a prince walking among peasants also holds the same appeal as being a secret agent who can kick ass while remaining inconspicuous like Jason Bourne.
Even BMW couldn’t hold back the droves of customers that were willing to fork over cash for the M-branded 5 series, so Mercedes stepped in with AMG and Audi pitched its share with the RS line. American car companies soon learned the earning potential that was waiting within the luxury saloon sports car class, and Cadillac was one of the first brands to go all out with the first 400 horsepower CTS-V. Prior to this, the only association American cars had with performance was the muscle car. The Cadillac CTS-V’s recent ascension to the top spot of Car and Driver’s list of saloon sports cars proves that American cars have what it takes to compete at this high level and succeed.
The only problem is that Cadillac’s luxury track offering starts at $84,000, way out of reach of the reach of the blue-collar worker that the muscle car is marketed to. If an hourly-wage worker in America wants speed, they need to look towards the Mustang, Camaro, or Challenger and forget about practicality or joy of having a factory-tuned sleeper. Chevy couldn’t have this happen in the land of Sweet Home Alabama, at least not without the last word from the pushrod V8. This is where one of Chevrolet’s most underrated cars comes into the mix of things. In 2013, GM subsidiary Holden got ahold of its Commodore and squeezed in the LS3 from the Camaro to create a plainclothes sedan with a fire breathing engine and scream-inducing acceleration.
A mere swap of the Holden badges for Chevy bowties is all it took for the car to make it to America. With a starting price of $46,000 (less than a Cadillac ATS-V or around the same as a well-equipped Camaro SS), the Chevy SS became the company’s flagship sedan. It isn’t unusually luxurious, but it can tackle the morning commute comfortably and retain all of the purity that a front engine rear-drive car with a manual transmission could have. In essence, it’s a Chevrolet Impala with the ability to surprise passengers and satisfy drivers with high expectations. It embodies the muscle car spirit by remaining a no-frills car for the blue-collar man while keeping a 415 horsepower fit of aluminum under the hood.
Technology toys like automatic parking assist, blind spot detection, lane departure warning, and magnetic ride suspension meant that the Chevy SS also retained the same practicality, comfort, everyday usability, and sleeper car status that German sport saloons uphold. Sales of the Chevy SS turned heads, not because the orders came into GM headquarters in droves but because so few of them were bought. GM never expected to sell many and only brought over the car to satisfy a deal with Holden. For almost being the four-door muscle car that could prove that performance and zero compromise wasn’t something only money could buy, the Chevy SS will remain one of the most underrated cars of this period in time.