February 22, 2014 at 10:14 am

2014 Chevy SS: Daytona stud on and off the track

Chevrolet unveiled the 2014 Chevrolet SS on Thursday that will pace the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Daytona 500 on Sunday at the Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Harold Hinson / Chevy Racing)

This Sunday, a Chevy SS pace car will lead an all-Chevy SS front row to the green flag for the start of the 56th running of the Daytona 500.

The Chevy what?

If the Corvette was the 2014 North American Car of the Year then the four-door SS was the Stealth Car of the Year. This mild-styled wild child of Chevyís product lineup hides its true nature with a typically understated Chevrolet grille. But behind that inscrutable face are jaws of steel ó the same 6.2-liter stump-puller that powered the previous generation, C6 Corvette.

Ummmm, Dad, can I have the keys to the family sedan?

Eager to publicize its muscle-bound sport sedan, Chevy has made the SS its NASCAR brand (replacing the Impala). Itís a good fit. Despite general outward appearances ó well, the grille designs are similar ó NASCARs share little with the production cars on which they are based. Not body panels. Not engines. Not steering wheels. Heck, even the headlights arenít real. Theyíre decals (sorry to break it to you, kids. And Santa Claus isnít real either). NASCAR is a strict spec series with standardized V8 engines and body templates.

But at least the Chevy SS and NASCAR SS share the same basic architecture. Both are rear-wheel drive. Both use push-rod engines technology. Both engines are based on a Chevy small block engine. The same canít be said for the NASCAR Ford and Toyota entries. Ever seen a rear-wheel drive Camry V8?

When front-row qualifiers Mark Truex, Jr. and pole-sitter Austin Dillon finish their 500 miles around Daytonaís tri-oval Sunday, their SS steeds will go right into the trailer. But that SS pace car? Sheís street legal and good for another 350 miles on a full tank of gas.

Or less, depending on how heavy your right foot is. Donít let the wrapping fool you. This milk carton is spiked with moonshine.

Idling at the curb, the 2014 Chevy SS I test drove recently wouldnít turn a head. Unlike the last Impala-based SS that Chevy produced in 1996, the 2014 model gets its own look. Pity the designers didnít do more with the opportunity. Developed by GMís Australian brand, Holden ó the same mad geniuses that brought us the late, great Pontiac G8 sedan ó the carís lines are unremarkable and might be mistaken for a Malibu. Only the shark gills behind the carís front fenders ó and the chrome tipped dual exhaust ó hint at the beast within.

Maybe thatís the way Chevy wants it. Stealthy. A íVette in sheepís clothing.

Turn the key, and the carís cover is blown. The snarl will raise goosebumps on your back. Hair will sprout from your forearms. Your eyes will glow red. This family carriage is pulled by 415 crazed horses capable of 415 pound feet of torque.

Nail the throttle and youíll wake the dead. Zero-60 goes by in a just 4.5 seconds. The carís Brobdingnagian Brembo brakes ó concealed behind forged, 19-inch aluminum wheels ó will bring the rocket back to earth before the local fuzz can figure out where that thunderclap came from.

What, is there a sports car behind the big sedan?

The stealthiness extends to the SSís quiet, leather interior where you can listen to Beethovenís Concerto No. 5 even as you trail sonic booms. GMís capable MyLink system is voice-activated so you can call your business associate and tell him youíll pick him up at the airport in the four-door sedan ... um, the Malibu-like car ... the ó aw, heck: heíll know it when you rev the engine.

Muscle-car shoppers will note the Dodge Charger SRT8 comes with a bigger, 6.4-liter, 470 horsepower power plant. But the SS sacrifices brute power for surprising nimbleness. It eases effortlessly through back-road switchbacks, its power always on tap. Like its Corvette cousin, it benefits from perfect 50-50 weight balance and its 3,900-pound girth is a full 400 pounds lighter than the Charger. The result? The SSís eye-popping .95 lateral Gís in a Car & Driver road test blows away not just the Charger but also the Audi A6 and BMW M5.

All this performance comes wrapped in a $45,770 base price ó one more pleasant SS surprise. No leather markups. No thousand-dollar, accessory add-ons. Projecting SS sales of 3,000 units a year, GM hopes the halo super sedan brings spectators to Chevy showrooms after the SS race car brings shock and awe to the track.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com. or Twitter @HenryEPayne