A week in the SS: A 2014 Chevrolet Camaro SS joins us

Sections: Chassis, Powertrain

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Red SS badging on our 2014 Chevrolet Camaro SS would be outlawed in Germany, but here in America, they stand for “SuperSport,” and the car makes good on those words. (Lyndon Johnson photo)

A friend of mine in Germany remarked to me one day how a car with “SS” emblazoned on it would not be legal there due to the association most Germans –or more accurately, German laws — still make with the Schutzstaffelthe authoritative “protective force” that during World War II committed a majority of the more heinous crimes of Hitler’s regime.

The 2014 Chevrolet Camaro SS shares nothing with those jackbooted thugs — except it is mighty authoritative, especially when you give a hearty shove to the skinny pedal with your right foot.

The powerhouse

The 2014 Chevrolet Camaro SS features GM’s strong-willed aluminum 6.2-liter pushrod V8 under its hood, with a GM-claimed 426 horsepower and 420 ft-lbs of torque providing plenty of motivation for the coupe that weighs in just shy of 4,000 lbs.

The power delivery through the GM HydraMatic six-speed automatic transmission with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters was much different than I expected. The Camaro would pin you back in your seat if you floored it from a dead stop — traction control did a great job limiting wheelspin off the line — but it wasn’t a head-snapping kind of acceleration. Instead of scuttling up to redline and banging out an upshift, the engine’s wide powerband makes the acceleration feel strangely calm, yet at the same time relentless.

The ability to obtain extralegal speeds before you know it while driving the 2014 Chevrolet Camaro SS is similar to the Porsche Cayman S I tested a couple of weeks earlier, except in the Cayman, the sensation of speed was more present. Perhaps that has a bit to do with the Cayman’s engine being right behind your ears and the fact that our tester was equipped with a manual transmission. Regardless, the Camaro SS, like the Cayman S, never feels like it’s about to run out of steam on the highway. Only the Camaro SS runs like a freight train at high speeds rather than a high-revving European sportscar. Because ‘Merica!

Tall trans tech

That freight train feeling has a lot to do with the flat, wide powerband of the engine as mentioned above, but it also has a lot to do with the transmission tuning of this hot rod’s 6L80 HydraMatic automatic transmission. First gear is relatively short, at 4.03:1, which aids in the car’s quick takeoff from a dead stop, I suppose. But the rest of the gears have long legs: Second gear is 2.36:1, third gear is 1.53:1, fourth gear is 1.15:1, and fifth and sixth gears are both overdrives, at 0.85:1 and 0.67:1, respectively. The final drive is also relatively tall, as performance car rear chunks go, at 3.27:1. A couple of generations ago, these ratios might have given the impression that the Camaro was too long-legged for its engine, but with 6.2 liters of locomotive-like power delivery under the hood of the 2014 Chevrolet Camaro SS, that’s not a concern at all today.

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(Lyndon Johnson photo)

The shift paddles on the steering wheel of the 6L80-equipped 2014 Chevrolet Camaro SS felt kind of plasticky, but they served their intended purpose. Like practically every other flappy-paddle autobox I’ve experienced, the Camaro SS shift paddles will only enable you to hold your desired gear until revs reach redline — which, as we point out above, will be a really fast speed in the upper gears — or until you start lugging down near idle speed. At either of those points, the transmission assumes control on your behalf so you don’t make yourself look stupid.

A final transmission-related note: The shift paddles admirably can be used just like the ones in the Subaru Forester we tested last year. There is an “M” notch on the shift gate, which gives you full-time paddle shifting. But even if you’re cruising around in “D,” which is the default automatic transmission setting, you can reach over and click the left paddle two or three times if you want to ratchet up the revs before executing a pass on a two-lane highway, for example. Once you’re back in sixth gear and/or your leave the paddles alone for a while, the transmission reverts to full auto mode. Very nice.

Put on the brakes

With all this “go,” one needs plenty of “woah,” and the 2014 Chevrolet Camaro SS does not disappoint. Its front rotors are an inch and a half larger in diameter than the non-SS Camaro up front, and a full two inches larger in diameter at the rear, at 14 and 14.4 inches, respectively. Clamping down on those big, ventilated rotors are big, fixed, aluminum four-piston Brembo calipers front and rear — likely a huge improvement over the stock, non-SS Camaro that has single-piston calipers front and rear.

Chevrolet is to be commended for tuning the brake response the way it did. The 2014 Chevrolet Camaro SS has big stoppers, but they won’t cause your eyeballs to fly out of their sockets every time you touch the pedal. Most Lexus models I’ve had the opportunity to drive in the last several months are quite grabby, by comparison, requiring me to be extra-conscious of my brake pedal inputs especially during the first couple of days of the test week while I adjust myself to the brakes’ response. The 2014 Chevrolet Camaro SS will stop in a hurry if you want it to, but you’re not likely to give yourself whiplash when someone unexpectedly pulls out in front of you, either. I find the balance of pedal force to brake response very nice in the Camaro SS.

Riding in a tank

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Don’t bother trying to check over your right shoulder before changing lanes. You won’t see much through that tiny quarter window or the rear glass because that huge C-pillar is right in your line of sight. (Lyndon Johnson photo)

If there’s one criticism I have of the 2014 Chevrolet Camaro SS, it’s the outward visibility from the driver’s seat. I’ve often heard it described as trying to drive a tank or bunker, and having spent a week craning my neck to see traffic lights and jamming my head sideways up against the headliner trying to see the lines while backing into parking spaces, I can now say I wholeheartedly agree with that assessment. I have never wanted just a few more inches of glass and mirrors that automatically tilt down while backing as badly as I did in the 2014 Chevrolet Camaro SS. Good thing it had a good blind spot monitor system, too. I’m a religious checker of my blind spots, but in the Camaro, that exercise is largely useless. The blind spots are truly blind spots, even when you turn your head and try to look out the rear quarter windows.

So the 2014 Chevrolet Camaro SS gets a lot of fundamentals right in the powertrain and chassis categories, but what about its infotainment setup? Does Chevrolet MyLink work as well in the Camaro SS as it has in other GM products we’ve experienced? Stay tuned for the answer in a later installment of the series.

Disclosure: Chevrolet provided the vehicle, insurance, and a tank of gas.

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