Chevrolet SSR

The cruising season has reached its peak in America, and Chevrolet's new SSR has been crowned this year's king of cool. Born out of the States' obsession with pick-ups, the SSR is the world's first truck-based, 300bhp V8-engined, two-seat roadster.

The SSR fits the bill for cruising California-style, but might look out of sorts in rural Britain. Great for posing at 30mph on the boulevard, yet out of its depth at anything more, it'll appeal to fashion fans and Americana enthusiasts. Limited numbers will come to the UK through specialist importers.

The cruising season has reached its peak in America, and Chevrolet's new SSR has been crowned this year's king of cool. Born out of the States' obsession with pick-ups, the SSR is the world's first truck-based, 300bhp V8-engined, two-seat roadster.

Described as a cross between the Plymouth Prowler and America's best-selling Ford F150 pick-up, the SSR rivals automotive fashion accessories like the Hummer H2 and Ford Thunderbird.

Development began three years ago, and the first 25 'Signature Edition' SSRs were built earlier this year. Parent firm GM kept the first of these production models for itself, while the second car was sold on Internet auction site eBay for $137,850 - nearly £100,000.

All the Signature Edition versions are purple (GM calls it Ultraviolet). But if that's not your colour - or you don't have the $100,000 required to get behind the wheel - you'll be relieved to know production models are on their way to dealers, priced from $41,995 (about £29,996).

Surprising For the record, these examples will be available in Corvette red, black and the yellow you see here. To protect the value of Signature cars, purple won't be offered until 2005. Inside, there's a surprising amount of space for a vehicle that appears to have put image ahead of practicality.

Refinement is better than expected, too. The 300bhp aluminum 5.3-litre V8 spins eagerly into life before settling to a near-silent idle. Shift the four-speed auto into gear and press the throttle - the exhaust note grows to a distant roar. You barely sense any vibration from the engine, and the growl from the tailpipes is so low you feel, rather than hear, it.

Stomp the throttle pedal and the unit will rev quickly to its 5,500rpm shift points. However, as the SSR weighs nearly 2,270kg, acceleration is lively, but not impressive - GM claims the 0-60mph sprint takes 7.6 seconds.

Most amazing is the two-piece metal roof. To drop it, you hold your foot on the brake, then push a single switch. The process takes 20 seconds - which is fast by any standards -and it's a marvel to watch, too. A steel cover over a compartment behind the seats rises at the front, and then small hydraulic cylinders slide two steel panels in an arc rearwards into this cubby. You're guaranteed a crowd. But don't race off too quickly because, while on-lookers are sure to be impressed, it's unlikely you will feel the same about the driving experience.

Although the steering is rack-and-pinion, the column shakes laterally on even the smallest bumps. This is so dramatic that anyone who's unaccustomed to the flexibility of a ladder-frame truck will think something has broken.

But it's the worst part of the heavy roadster's driving experience. Enormous 19-inch front and 20-inch rear wheels mean grip is fantastic, although the front tyres howl loudly in corners before the SSR begins to understeer dramatically.

As is the case with so many fashion statements, the SSR is ultimately a car best enjoyed from the pavement, rather than from behind the wheel.

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