Between 2003 and 2006, General Motors produced a pickup truck with an identity crisis. Its retro styling echoed that of a vintage Chevy pickup truck. A retractable hardtop roof gave it convertible status and it was equipped with a muscle-car-style V8. And if that wasn’t enough of a confusing mash-up, GM dubbed it the Chevrolet SSR. Those initials stood for Super Sport Roadster.
That’s just scratching the surface of the SSR’s quirkiness. Reviewer Doug DeMuro walks us through more details of this eccentric truck in his YouTube video.
An unusual design mix
In the 2000s, GM was stumbling toward its 2009 bankruptcy. In general, the automaker made uninspired-looking cars with only a few exceptions. One was the futuristic Pontiac Aztek crossover, designed by Tom Peters, later praised for his popular Corvette and Camaro designs. Another was the Chevy HHR station wagon, which was almost a contemporary of the SSR that shared some of its retro styling.
GM designers were willing to take an expensive risk on the convention-defying SSR. It borrowed design features such as the front end, roof, and chunky rear bumpers from the Chevrolet Advance Design pickup truck of the late 1940s. GM designers might have also been influenced by a convertible pickup such as the Dodge Dakota from the late 80s.
And as convertible designs go, the SSR’s is ingenious. The retractable top is made from several segments of metal that look like a solid hardtop when it’s up. It can be operated either automatically or manually. But manual operation requires that it must be tightened into place with a special tool.
Trunk or truck bed?
The SSR has one prominent feature that seems to have a split personality. Some folks might call it a trunk, and others a truck bed. But GM calls it a tonneau. Basically, it’s a truck bed protected by an enormous, flat metal cover that works like a trunk lid.
Popping the tonneau lid open seems tricky. A driver must first use a key fob or press a hidden button in the glove box. Then, to drop the tailgate, he or she pulls on a small round handle that is puzzlingly identical to the SSR’s door handles. Reversing the process to close it is no simpler. However, the lid can be completely removed so that the tonneau can be used as a surprisingly spacious truck bed.
Interior quirks and amenities
A few of the SSR’s interior features have a kind of flawed whimsy. One is the retro shifter that resembles an old-timey knobbed stick shift. And that might have been a cool design choice except that the gears aren’t labeled on the selector. The driver has to look at the gauge cluster to be sure of the gear the truck is in.
Other oddities include four cigarette lighter power sockets that are randomly scattered throughout the interior and the truck bed. The truck’s power window switches are located directly next to the traction control button on the shifter panel, making a mix-up likely.
The SSR has three versions of power seat switches to move the backrest, but they’re all pointless because there’s no back seat. The portable cup holder that can be moved from the passenger side to the driver’s side of the console is just plain silly, at least until it’s moved to the driver’s side. Then it becomes a hindrance because it bumps against the driver’s leg.
But on the plus side, the SSR does have comfortable leather seats. Another plus is a tire kit that contains a tire inflator and sealant behind the driver’s seat in its own special compartment. GM added this feature because the truck has no spare tire.
What it’s like to drive the SSR
With a 5.3-liter V8 engine that delivers 300 hp, it seems as if the SSR should be fast enough. DeMuro tells us that its acceleration is middling but the four-speed transmission is smooth. The 2006 model year had an LS V8 engine that he hoped would be faster. Here’s the fact check on that: the LS made 395 hp with an automatic transmission and 400 hp with the manual.
The SSR makes exhaust sounds that resemble those of a powerful muscle car, which DeMuro likes. The particular model that he’s driving gets attention on the road because it’s a screaming purple color last seen on a 1971 Dodge Challenger.
He admits the SSR is rather like driving a GM truck with its harsh ride, unimpressive handling, and so-so interior materials. The weirdest thing about this truck, he claims, is its styling and not the truck itself.
DeMuro concludes that the SSR, while interesting, fails at being both a pickup truck and a sports car. And since only about 22,000 Chevy SSRs were sold, car shoppers weren’t convinced that this combination was worth shelling out $41,000 for. In 2019, however, these trucks still hold their value.
Is the world ready for a reboot of the SSR, though? Convertible pickup trucks like the Jeep Gladiator or Ford Bronco are shaking up the automotive industry. But it’s hard to say if another truck-roadster hybrid would appeal to truck lovers in the 2020s.