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2014 Chevrolet SS Test Drive

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    Chevrolet

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    Chevrolet

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    Chevrolet

First person to paint a “48” on one of these wins.

The 2014 Chevrolet SS is the closest you can get to one of the cars Jimmie Johnson – or anyone, for that matter – races in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup series.

No, it doesn’t share any more than its name and face with the purpose-built, sticker-laden racers, but with a big, powerful V8 engine up front and rear-wheel drive, it at least has the same drivetrain layout, which is more than Toyota’s and Ford’s efforts can say.

If the SS looks familiar to you off the track, don’t worry, it should. Back before General Motors bailed on Pontiac, it was sold as the G8, which was itself a re-skinned version of a model GM builds in Australia under its Holden brand.

But while the G8 was a mass market effort available with a choice of a V6 or two different V8 engines, the much-updated SS comes one way: fully loaded. It’s a premium performance car, and the only option is a sunroof.

Even though it is a legit full-size sedan, the SS shares its platform and many components with the Chevy Camaro SS and weighs just 29 pounds more. This includes its 6.2-liter LS3 V8, here with 415 hp and 415 lb-ft of torque.

Chevy claims the rest of the SS is just as well-balanced, with its front-to-rear weight split near 50/50. A paddle-shifted six-speed automatic transmission sends the power to 19-inch wheels that fill up the arches beautifully, while meaty Brembo brakes are tasked with slowing things down.

The bodywork is understated, but dressed with enough bulges to let you know it means business. Inside, the SS is a vast improvement over the G8, and it’s fitted with Chevy’s latest touch-screen infotainment technology, a suite of electronic driver aids including blind spot alert and self-parking systems, and excellent sport bucket seats. There’s a good deal of plastic here and about, but Chevy adds enough leather and suede accents with red stitching to do right by its $44,470 price tag.

Make that $45,770, as the SS comes saddled with a $1,300 gas guzzler fee, thanks to its 17 mpg combined fuel economy rating – exactly the same as the new 6.2-liter V8-equipped Silverado pickup. That’s kind of sad, but the truck has an all-new engine with fuel-saving direct injection and cylinder deactivation that it shares with the 2014 Corvette Stingray, while the SS uses Chevy’s last generation small-block.

Fuel economy aside, the LS3 remains one of the greatest American engines of all time, and one prod of the gas pedal will convince you of that. Do that and the SS will settle on its rear haunches, tip its nose slightly to the sky and deliver a loud, throaty accompaniment to the speed that ensues. Leave the windows open for full effect.

Sixty miles per hour shows up in five seconds or so, and a quarter mile passes by in about 13. But there’s much more to the SS than straight-line speed. The chassis was originally developed with the help of a couple of engineers poached from BMW’s high performance M division, and it shows.

I still can’t get over how light and agile this big girl feels on a twisty road, even on snow tires. And no, I can’t give you one objective reason to buy a Camaro SS instead. The four-door seems just as quick, more stable in turns, offers an IMAX view compared to the gunslit windows on the Camaro, and you can bring the family and all their stuff along for the ride.

The only thing keeping it from perfection is the absence of one of GM’s magnetically controlled suspension systems, because the SS is tuned a little on the tight side. It’s not an issue if you’re going into this with your eyes open, but the adjustability would easily be worth the $1,795 Chevy charges for it on the Corvette. Nevertheless, the SS has some satisfying stuff, and not just on the street.

To check out its stock car chops, I took it to the dirt oval track at New Jersey’s New Egypt Speedway. In the rain.

I’m not really skilled at this sort of thing, but the SS clearly is. While its StabiliTrack stability and traction control system has no doubt been optimized for blacktop, its competition mode setting knows the way around clay pretty well, too. It let the tail slip out just far enough to make things look good before tapping various brakes and dialing back the throttle to keep itself off the wall, despite my worst efforts.

But even with the system turned off, I was amazed at how well behaved the SS was in these conditions, and I managed to keep both of us in one piece, just the same. I haven’t had that much silly fun since my last trip to a go-kart track, and I wasn’t behind the wheel of a behemoth there.

Look, $45G ain’t cheap, but you’ll pay that much for a compact import on par with this, while mid- or full-size models can go for twice as much. The only direct domestic competition comes from the Dodge Charger SRT and Chrysler 300 SRT, which have more power than the SS, but not quite the same slick moves, for a couple grand more.

What you don’t get with them is that NASCAR cred. Dodge pulled out of the series after taking the Driver's Championship in 2012, a few months before the SS debuted with a win at the Daytona 500 in the hands of Jimmy Johnson on his way to the 2013 season title.

Quitters never win.

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2014 Chevrolet SS

Base price: $45,770

Type: 5-passenger, 4-door sedan

Engine: 6.2-liter V8

Power: 415 hp, 415 lb-ft torque

Transmission: 6-speed automatic

MPG: 14 city/21 hwy