05/04/04 — There's nothing quite like Chevy SSR

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There's nothing quite like Chevy SSR

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 Crossfire and Nissan 350Z.

Chevy SSR, 2004

But in 2004, putting the open sky over head is much more than pushing a button and watching the cloth 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 about a half dozen 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.

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 the most unusual of the this new open air breed of vehicles is the Chevrolet SSR. It’s part roadster, part truck and part retro concept vehicle. In fact, it has virtually popped off the North American Auto Show floor intact. General Motors says its the first convertible pickup truck in history.

So just what is the SSR or Super Sports Roadster?

First, its 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.

We were besieged with onlookers. We found the time to give a few people rides while answering questions.

We’ve driven several attention-attracting vehicles over the past 12 months, but the SSR is the hands-down king of the hill when it comes to turning heads.

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

Third, it is a roadster with a metal retractable top that will awe onlookers as it dances up from the window 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 V-8 generating 300 horsepower and 331 pound-feet of torque through a standard GM 4-speed automatic transmission.

This is not to say it isn’t quick. It can surge to 60 miles per hour in 7 seconds with a loud rumbling exhaust note.

What holds back the SSR is its nearly 5,000-pound curb weight. It is truly a truck if you figure it borrows its frame from the Chevrolet TrailBlazer sport utility vehicle.

Its bulging fenders and its 1947-53 Chevy truck front end speak of the past. The look is highlighted by gargantuan 19-inch five-spoke alloy sport wheels up front and 20-inchers on back.

The 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 its 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. 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 bit more flex than we’ve become used to in the modern convertible and roadster over the past couple of years.

One of the neat things about a 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 be hampered by its price. Just how much cash are you 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.

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. By the weekend you can own a conversation piece.

And as a bonus get some attitude-adjusting open air motoring on the weekend.

We give Chevrolet credit for creating a limited edition fun-to-drive vehicle.

It’s a job well done and well received.

By Jim Meachen
Published in Car Reviews on May 4, 2004 3:01 PM