Preparing to shoot a few segments of Big Jon in 5 for BEER2WHISKEY in our upstairs studio at Barley's Taproom in downtown Greenville. That's owner Josh Beebe preparing for his closeup.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Hitting the Trifecta: My First Drive of Chevrolet's "Big Three" Performance Cars

Despite including Chevy products in many of the stories I do for my dot-com financial clients, I am not invited to the bulk of the media programs it throws. Consequently, I was doubly stoked when I received the nod to attend its recent performance-car-driving event in Palm Springs, Calif. 

It was a first opportunity for me to get behind the wheel of the all-new Chevrolet SS sedan, as well as the 2014 Corvette Stingray and Camaro SS convertibles.

I made the two-and-a-half-hour slog to Atlanta to catch an 8:15 a.m. flight. To save you the time of doing the math, that meant pulling away from my house in Greenville, SC at 3:45 a.m. Normally I go out and raise a little cane on Tuesday evenings. In this instance, however, reason prevailed and I stayed home, hitting the sack around 9:30. I could wax on and on about age, wisdom and discretion, but that would be just so much claptrap. I basically stayed in to save a little money in anticipation of the wallet-emptying blowout my upcoming South Florida trip will be.

Delta upgraded me to First Class for the nearly four-hour flight to Salt Lake City. I knew I would be driving that afternoon when I landed; so, I reluctantly took a pass on the bar cart, amusing myself instead by watching a couple of free movies. Yes, I could have done some work, but couldn't muster sufficient motivation.

I've spent a lot of time in the E concourse of the Salt Lake City Airport.
Getting to Palm Springs via Delta required the aforementioned Salt Lake City leg plus a nearly two-hour segment south to Palm Springs. A wave of nostalgia washed over me when I reached the E concourse at Salt Lake for the connecting flight. The Three Amigos always wound up there for a connecting flight to Billings, MT on our legendary Eatons' Ranch boondoggles. We would have a celebratory beer in the little bar squeezed back in one corner of the terminal. I was getting all misty thinking about it. 

The old fountain notwithstanding, the front entrance of the Parker is anything but picturesque.
 Chevy put us up at the Parker, a mere five-minute drive from the Palm Springs Airport. This was once a Holiday Inn and hasn't strayed too far from those roots – except that, no doubt, it's more expensive, probably a lot more expensive. I was there for the cars and not the hotel, but the front entrance looks like the backside of a strip mall. It was clean, cozy and comfortable enough, though. 

The Parker's common-area lounge.
Although there is nothing notable going on inside this structure, its gardens and outside areas spread out behind it are quite lovely. 

The Parker's sprawling gardens are beautiful.
Getting coffee before the restaurant opens at 7 a.m. is a bit of a challenge. That's tough on East-Coast folks whose internal clocks may have them up and out of bed by 3 or 4 a.m. Parker has a small conference center and I suspect a coffee urn or two lying about somewhere, but apparently filling one up and setting it out for early risers never occurred to its management, or maybe it did. Let them eat cake!

I was really fired up about driving the Chevy SS sedan. This marks the brand's first rear-wheel-drive sedan in almost two decades. Chevy pulled no punches with it. Assembled in Australia, it is based on the same Holden sedan as the now departed Pontiac G8. “Based on” being the key words here.

Chevy resisted the temptation of simply attaching a few new pieces and its bow-tie badge to the G8 to create the SS. Engineers at the event said roughly only 10 to 15 percent of the parts were carried over. 

The essential 4-1-1 is that it's powered by a 6.2-liter V8 that delivers 415 hp and 415 lb.-ft. of torque. Chevy clocked its 0-to-60 time at about 4.5 seconds. A six-speed automatic with steering wheel-mounted shift paddles hands off engine grunt to the rear wheels. Front Brembo four-piston grabbers help with the braking assignments.

This is a full-size sedan in every respect. It has a spacious backseat with an ample trunk pass through. Its 16.4 cu.ft. trunk can swallow plenty of stuff.

There has been a lot of attention to detail inside the SS. Stitched-leather surfaces, suede-like inserts in the door panels and sport seats, and night-time blue ambient lighting all contribute to the interior's upscale feel.

One thing I really like about the SS is that there is only one trim level. When you see one, you don't have to look for some tell that identifies which engine or trim level it is. Every SS comes with the same engine, transmission and content. It is loaded with everything from a color head-up display and dual-zone automatic climate control to a nine-speaker Bose-infused audio system and heated/ventilated front seats. Every SS features Chevy's MyLink infotainment system, navigation system and an eight-inch color touchscreen.

On the safety front are forward collision alert, lane-departure warning, rear cross-traffic alert, side blind-zone alert, eight airbags, and rear backup camera.

I put more than 100 miles on the SS during my afternoon drive. Program planners laid out a drive route that was perhaps the most challenging I've ever driven in a sedan. I walked away from that drive with no doubts about its remarkable cornering capabilities. Well planted and outrageously predictable, it really hunkered down in the turns.

If only these walls could speak...a bedroom in Frank's house.
Chevy took us off site for dinner our first night to Frank Sinatra's Palm Springs abode. I had been there a couple of times before. It's surprisingly normal. At least parts of it have been renovated since my last visit. After relating the story of how the sink in the master bathroom was chipped from some sort of altercation between the “Chairman of the Board” and one-time wife Mia Farrow to a couple of people, I was dismayed to find the master bath was one of the rooms that received a makeover. A little history gone.

Stay tuned for my reactions to the Corvette Stingray and Camaro SS.

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