Chevrolet SS tries to keep its power a secret
(MCT) -- Silver sedans tend to disappear in the suburbs, melting into well-tended, wide-open gray pavement.
Somebody call True Detective.
That sort of semi-invisibility works fine for the forgettable Camrys and Rogues and Outbacks buzzing down new boulevards hell-bent for Tom Thumb.
Who cares about seeing another tot-toter with a bunch of family stick figures on its tinted back window - though you have to wonder what's going on in there to rate so many sticks.
But I really thought the silver 2014 Chevrolet SS I had recently might draw more envious looks than it got in my leafy new home ground in Richardson, Texas.
Most people probably presumed old Poppy was just headed to church in his gussied-up Malibu, its trunk filled with sacks of canned goods for the poor and his heart brimming with Sunday morning benevolence.
Little did they know.
To paraphrase Professor Didley, the SS might look like a farmer, but those 4-inch duals protruding from its generic rear rumbled with the distant fire of a deep-breathing 6.2-liter V-8.
The SS is the first full-size rear-wheel-drive sedan from Chevrolet in nearly 20 years.
This one, however, came mostly from General Motors' Holden division in Australia, a notable bunch that also built the last Pontiac GTO and late, great Pontiac G8 - both cousins of the SS.
Like those vehicles, the SS rides on a taut, independent front and rear suspension, blisters the pavement with a Corvette-derived engine, and can boil up muscle-car performance numbers.
As I mentioned in a recent review of the 2014 Dodge Charger SRT8, the new SS is also the Charger's most direct competitor.
One of the first things you'll notice is that the SS looks as if it spends its gym time jogging while the bulky Charger loudly pumps steel.
At about 3,930 pounds, the SS weighs 440 pounds less than the big-bruiser Charger and yet gets about the same fuel economy - 15 miles per gallon in town and 21 on the highway, compared with the Dodge's 14/23.
I can't explain that, particularly since the Dodge has a slightly larger engine (6.4 liters) and a less-efficient five-speed automatic.
Nonetheless, with the SS, think growl, not roar.
Up front, for example, it wore a fairly innocent-looking blacked-out grille with Chevy's big corporate gold bow tie in the center.
Below that was a larger, more sinister grille, also blacked out, but it wasn't sufficiently evil to scare slow-moving traffic out of the way.
A raised hood with a fairly subtle power dome in the center flowed into a slightly raked windshield and sleek top.
I didn't care much for fake vertical grilles behind the front wheel openings, but a nicely chiseled character line ran from there to the taillamps.
Another line up high gave the sides a touch of lean muscle, but you have to kind of study the car to see it.
One look at the SS' tires and wheels, though, should make this sedan's antisocial intentions clear.
Polished 19-inch wheels were shod with meaty 245/40 tires up front and serious 275/35s in back.
And just listen to it idle. Like the Charger, the SS shakes lightly at stoplights with a great cam-induced shudder.
Its stout V-8 - the only engine available in the car - is derived from the 2013 Corvette's LS3 engine, cranking out tire-spinning torque down low along with an aggressive power curve that stays pushy all the way to 6,000 rpm.
The engine's 415 horsepower, incidentally, is 55 less than the Charger's.
But punch the SS, and it emits a lusty little intake moan, lunging forward with enough energy to briefly spin its tires at any speed under 30.
In fact, the SS felt more responsive to me than a Camaro SS with the same basic engine, zipping to 60 in 4.5 seconds, according to Car and Driver - 0.3 of a second slower than the Charger.
Although sudden acceleration could occasionally catch the six-speed automatic between gears, it was mostly a willing - and snappy-shifting - accomplice to the Chevy's lusty V-8.
Handling clearly separated the SS from the Charger. While the Charger muscles into corners and hangs on, the SS turns in more rapidly and cleanly, settling into curves more deftly than the Charger.
The steering also felt better. Like the Charger, the SS' steering was a bit numb at dead center, but it was better weighted and livelier than the SRT8's.
Throw the SS into a really fast corner and it responds with minimal body lean, able to gracefully handle some meathead mashing on the throttle in the midst of a drift. (It was all for research, Boss.)
Like the SRT8, the SS rode firmly but felt more supple. Though the car would move backseat passengers around some on bumpy roads, it delivered little jounce or harsh rebound.
Likewise, the SS offered more refinement and better materials inside than the Charger - and my SS, at $45,770, was nearly $7,000 cheaper than the SRT8.
Its black interior, for example, had a relatively spare dashboard with a leather-like hood over the instrument panel, stitched on the edges in red.
Everything on the dash and door tops was formed in low-gloss, high-end looking plastic.
Black suede trimmed the midsection of the dashboard, which flowed comfortably around a semi-swoopy, highly functional center stack.
Although the door panels were mostly black plastic, they had suede centers and padded armrests.
Meanwhile, black seats with perforated centers and highly supportive bolsters were trimmed in red stitching.
While the SS appears to be no larger than many midsize sedans, it provides more than adequate leg- and head-room in back.
You could easily stuff a couple of big, noisy teenagers back there, though I suggest you bind and gag them first.
Look, I'd take either car. I love the big Hemi V-8 in the SRT8. But the SS feels more developed and refined, offering better handling, a slightly smoother ride and almost as much straight-line performance.
It comes down to this: Do you want a knife or a scalpel? They both cut deeply.
2014 CHEVROLET SS:
-Type of vehicle: Four-door, five-passenger, rear-wheel-drive sedan
-Fuel economy: 15 miles per gallon town, 21 highway
-Weight: 3,931 pounds
-Engine: 6.2-liter V-8 with 415 horsepower and 415 pound-feet of torque
-Transmission: Six-speed automatic
-Performance: 0 to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds
-Base price, excluding destination charge and tax: $43,475
-Price as tested: $45,770
SOURCES: GM's Chevrolet division; Car and Driver