From the June 2003 issue of Car and Driver.
Put "SS" side by side, and most automotive people will call up images of 1960s Chevy muscle cars—Impalas, Chevelles, and Camaros, big cars with big engines that delivered big power.
But for some, SS evokes the numbers 4-5-4, as in 454SS (July 1993), Chevy's hot-rod truck that laid patches and startled pedestrians in the early '90s. Based on a regular-cab, short-bed C/K pickup, the 454 was accomplished at stoplight launching and donut dancing. Under its hood was a huge 7.4-liter V-8 producing 255 horsepower and, more significant, a pavement-splitting 405 pound-feet of torque at only 2400 rpm. With all that twist available so low on the power band, the rear-drive 454SS could rip to 60 mph in 7.1 seconds and trip the quarter-mile in 15.7 seconds at 87 mph. Looking back 10 years, those numbers are still respectable.
With time comes progress, and Chevy's latest screamer truck, the Silverado SS, is refined where the 454 was crude. It's still plenty quick, mind you, but it now goes about its business like a seasoned veteran rather than a hotshot rookie. Swiftly. Deliberately. Controlled.
Step up to the SS, and the first thing you notice is how the monochromatic trim-grille, fascias, and ground effects emphasizes the lack of chrome. Besides three "SS" badges adorned with the shiny stuff, the only other trim pieces that resemble anything metallic are the gold-colored bow tie on the grille and the aluminum-hued air ducts in the bumper. Dressed in black, as our test vehicle was, the SS appears downright stealthy and garners plenty of gawks and furrowed brows from passersby. Blue and red are available as well, but we're partial to the "Back In Black" garb.
Highs: Aggressive design, extra cab space, sports-sedan performance.
Likewise, shades of charcoal and black dominate the interior. Leather-covered front buckets and a rear bench seat are standard, as are white-face gauges and an "SS" badge to the right of the stereo unit.
If the SS looks lower than a standard Silverado, that's because it is. Riding on a Z60 high-performance chassis, the truck sits nearly an inch lower up front and a full two inches in back. The sport suspension uses torsion bars in front, two-stage leaf springs in back, and monotube shocks at all four corners. The 275/55SR-20 Goodyear Eagle LS tires, mounted on 8.5-inch-wide wheels, result in a track increase of almost three-quarters of an inch.
The ride is still trucklike, and it can get bouncy over rough tarmac, but it is surprisingly plush and compliant over just about every other surface. Moreover, the SS always feels firmly planted to the road, unlike many trucks that seem to suffer from float syndrome. This translates to impressive grip when the going gets fast—the SS pulled 0.74 g on the skidpad, inspiring confidence during hard cornering. The four-wheel disc brakes come into play here, too. The 12.0-inch-front and 12.8-inch-rear rotors account for drama-free performance and stop the pickup in 185 feet from 70 mph.
Lows: Slower than a Lightning or SRT-10, 40 grand for a pickup still doesn't sound right.
GM's Quadrasteer four-wheel steering isn't offered, and the reasoning is simple: The system adds substantial cost and weight, and increasing weight in a vehicle with sporting intentions is like telling a jockey he needs to bulk up. Sure, a tighter turning circle would be welcome in a vehicle this big, especially when parking, but the power recirculating-ball setup does a commendable job. With its quick 14:1 ratio and low-effort feel, the steering makes easy work of city driving and doesn't feel terribly out of place when the road ventures into the country. There's still a sense of disconnect with the front contact patches, but otherwise, the overall feel and linearity are top-notch among trucks.
Unlike its GMC Sierra Denali cousin, which is powered by an LQ4 version (325 horsepower and 370 pound-feet of torque) of GM's Vortec 6.0-liter OHV V-8 engine, the Silverado SS uses the LQ9 variant—motivator to Cadillac's Escalade lineup—that bumps the compression ratio from 9.4:1 to 10.0:1 and boosts output to 345 horses and 380 pound-feet. Higher compression means higher-grade fuel, and Chevy recommends premium unleaded only, as opposed to regular unleaded used in the LQ4. Chevy estimates fuel economy at 12 mpg city and 16 mpg highway—we saw 13 mpg overall, so expect to drop some serious coin at the gas pump.
Mated to GM's heavy-duty 4L65-E four-speed automatic, the LQ9 powers the SS from standstill to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds and through the quarter in 14.8 seconds at 90 mph, nearly a full second quicker than the 454. With the SS's stirring exhaust, flooring it becomes addictive. Chevy says it's tuned "for a throaty NASCAR-inspired roar," but to us, it's more like the reverb of James Earl Jones talking and gargling simultaneously. Either way, the vibe emanating from the single 3.5-inch ovoid outlet pipe is deep, guttural, a bit raspy, and constantly burbling like a small-block beast. Very American, and music to our ears.
Although the 454SS excelled at smoky burnouts and fishtailing runs through empty parking lots, the Silverado SS is more about subduing those hormonal overloads. It comes only with an extended cab and only with a full-time four-wheel-drive system featuring a locking rear differential and a viscous limited-slip center differential that continuously splits torque 38/62 front to rear. The system can also deliver nearly all available torque to one axle when the other is slipping. Mash the throttle, and all you'll get is a brief chirp. But for Chevy, that traction gives the SS an advantage over the competition—Ford's F-150 Lightning and the upcoming Dodge Ram SRT-10. Because when the snow falls, the rear-drive Ford and Dodge must be parked, whereas the Chevy, fitted with standard mud-and-snow radials, is drivable.
It may be a winter guy, but the SS's power and performance numbers still fall shy of the heroics of the Lightning and SRT-10. The 380-hp Lightning howls to 60 in 5.2 seconds and through the quarter-mile in 13.8 seconds. Dodge estimates exactly the same numbers for its zany 500-hp Viper V-10-powered SRT-10.
Still, it's hard not to refer to the SS as a sports truck. For such a big, heavy vehicle, the SS puts up acceleration, braking, and handling numbers that are more akin to those in our last V-6 sports-sedan comparison test. Yes, the Lightning and the SRT-10 are faster, more legitimately sporting trucks, but the SS offers the space, versatility, and all-season capability the others don't.
The Verdict: No longer a bad-boy truck, the SS has matured into a gentleman's sport hauler.
Now if Chevy would only install the Z06's 405-hp LS6 V-8 under the SS's hood, that would make it a true Super Sport.
I don't like trucks. There are only three reasons to buy a truck: (1) You're in the business of stealing sofas, (2) you're trying to commit suicide by hammering your kidneys to death, (3) you're a drugstore cowboy. Yeah, yeah, I know, they sell more trucks today than cars. But what for? Do you see anyone hauling hay bales in them? And the plush interiors are car copycats, and almost all of them handle as if you were sitting on top of an overinflated medicine ball. But . . . hold a gun to my head, and I'll take this one. Why? 'Cause it drives and feels . . . just like a car, a very powerful, fast car that handles not at all like a truck. Class dismissed. —Steve Spence
I always hated pickups. They were far too big and clumsy for daily use. When Home Depot started renting them by the hour, there seemed to be no reason to buy one anymore. Then I started hauling show cars and race cars and discovered that pickup beds are great for holding clanky tools, smelly fuel and oil, and the parts that fall off the cars. Our long-term GMC Sierra C3 was the tow truck I first warmed up to. Now Chevy has taken that truck and added horsepower, torque, shorter gearing, and bigger wheels, while subtracting only 1200 pounds of caboose capacity. The only thing better than owning this SS would be living next door to a friend willing to swap his SS for my Corvette. —Frank Markus
Forty grand is a ridiculous amount of money to pay for a pickup truck. GM builds more than a half-million full-size pickups each year, so where are the economies of scale? It's not that the SS is any more egregiously priced than a lot of the full-size pickups, it's just that I really like the thing because it's fast and practical. When I saw the low-rent, manual climate controls, I started fantasizing that maybe the price was low enough that even I could afford one. Oh, well. Those with the dough, however, will enjoy an extremely comfortable and refined pickup with the smoothest and most satisfying truck powertrain available. —Larry Webster
2003 Chevrolet Silverado SS
Front-engine, 4-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door pickup
PRICE AS TESTED
Pushrod 16-valve V-8, iron block and aluminum heads, port fuel injection
Displacement: 364 in3, 5967 cm3
Power: 345 hp @ 5200 rpm
Torque: 380 lb-ft @ 4000 rpm
Suspension (F/R): control arms/live axle
Brakes (F/R): 12.0-in vented disc/12.8-in vented disc
Tires: Goodyear Eagle LS, P275/55SR-20
Wheelbase: 143.5 in
Length: 227.6 in
Width: 81.5 in
Height: 72.2 in
Passenger volume: 114 ft3
Cargo volume: 57 ft3
Curb weight: 5240 lb
C/D TEST RESULTS
60 mph: 6.3 sec
90 mph: 14.8 sec
Rolling start, 5–60 mph: 6.8 sec
Top gear, 30–50 mph: 3.4 sec
Top gear, 50–70 mph: 4.3 sec
1/4 mile: 14.8 sec @ 90 mph
Top speed (governor limited): 109 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 185 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.74 g
C/D FUEL ECONOMY
Observed: 13 mpg
EPA FUEL ECONOMY
Combined/city/highway: 13/12/15 mpg
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