2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS: First Drive

Whether tearing up asphalt, or cruising down it, the new Camaro evokes a passionate response

2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS: First Drive

The new Camaro SS is not the car that will save General Motors. Not because it’s a bad car or anything like that. It’s a terrific car. But GM needs a car with sales volume, and there aren’t 400,000 people in the marketplace each year for a sporty retro coupe with breathtaking performance. Nevertheless, this is a giant step back into the pony car wars, and this Camaro SS is a lethal weapon in this battle.

FAST FACTS

1. The Camaro SS 6MT is powered by Chevy’s LS3 6.2-liter V8 with 426hp and 420 ft-lbs of torque. The six-speed automatic uses an L99 V8 for 400hp and 410 ft-lbs.

2. Incredibly, for a car that looks this good and can hit 60 mph in 4.6 seconds it costs just $30,995 to start.

3. Unlike muscle cars of yore, the 2010 Camaro has a fully-independent rear suspension giving it a more comfortable ride and better handling.

THE RETRO CONTENDERS

The Ford Mustang was the first player back in the retro pony car arena when they redesigned the car in 2005. Dodge entered soon after with its resurrected Challenger nameplate and came out with its guns blazing in 6.1-liter, hemi-powered, SRT8 form.  Last into the fray is the Camaro SS, and it came to play with a 6.2–liter V8 that puts out 426 horses at 5900 rpm and 420 ft-lbs of torque at 4600 rpm.

Alas, the Mustang GT finds itself holding a knife in a gunfight, as the GT can only muster 315 ponies at this OK Corral. In fact, the V6 powered Camaro has almost the same power as the Mustang GT.  So if you want to bring a Ford to this fight, you’ll have to get something that says Shelby on it… or Roush.

Until then, it’s a close race between Chevy and Mopar, as the Challenger SRT8 and the Camaro SS put down almost identical numbers in the zero to 60 and quarter mile time categories. The SS hits 60 mph in only 4.6 seconds and takes just 13.1 seconds to run a quarter mile, reaching 109 mph. 

CAMARO IS TO CHALLENGER AS CORVETTE IS TO VIPER

But the Camaro SS and the Challenger SRT8 reach those performance numbers in quite opposite ways, just as the Dodge Viper and Chevy Corvette achieve similar performance numbers with different approaches. The Dodge cars are designed to evoke a more visceral and elemental performance envelope. Their cars are louder, with more violent mechanical sounds and feel when you stomp on the accelerator. The exhaust notes are strong and booming, and they want you to know (and anybody else near the car) that they’re ready to pop open a can of whup-ass any time you are. 

The Camaro SS and Corvette are much quieter and more refined sounding, from both inside and outside of the cabin. Their power comes on just as strong, but doesn’t give the driver the feeling that the car is working that hard to do so. You’ll get some satisfying growl as you get closer to the redline, but nothing like the Dodge. The Camaro doesn’t trumpet its arrival; it just shows up at the same time without all the huffing and puffing.  Which is the better recipe? Hey, with this one, it’s strictly “season to taste.”

FULLY-INDEPENDENT SUSPENSION REWARDING, ON TRACK AND OFF

Driving the new Camaro SS on the 4.2-mile Road America track, as well as the rural roads surrounding it, proved exhilarating and also held a few pleasant surprises. The fully independent suspension delivers excellent road feel and handling manners in tight turns. The variable ratio steering provides excellent on-center feel, and the fat Pirelli P-Zero tires on 20-inch rims help the Camaro track effortlessly through the corners, with little body roll. Then that sweet motor provides all the power and torque so you can crest the apex and let it rip.

What is so pleasantly surprising is how comfortable the ride quality is on the two-laners.    The suspension soaks up the broken pavement and railroad crossings with ease, and there are no jolts as would be expected with a car that can corner so well.

The 6-speed transmission has a pleasantly light clutch pedal (compared to the Dodge) and the close ratio gearbox shifts easily and with precision. I’m sure most folks will opt for the 6-speed automatic with paddle shifters, but it’s nice to know that Chevy still knows how to build a great three-pedal setup

Chevy didn’t skimp on the brakes, either.  Four-piston Brembos chomping on 14-inch discs haul the SS down from speed with ease, no fade, and good feel. That gives the driver the confidence to exercise the car the way it should be.

EXTERIOR DESIGN LIMITS OUTWARD VISIBILITY

Personally, I like the style of the interior cabin and the layout of the controls – more modern than retro, except that there is still a bit too much hard plastic in spots. But the seats are comfortably wide, yet supportive, and the leather feels rich, on the seats, door inserts, steering wheel and shift knob. This interior, as well as the exterior, is like no other car in the GM stable. The designers understood that even though the base models would have to be priced economically, the interior also had to have its own character, and couldn’t look like a parts bin special.

The styling is less retro than the Dodge or Ford and, therefore, is the freshest looking car of the trio. But some of the styling cues that look so good from the outside affect how you feel from inside the car. The windshield, and all the glass for that matter, isn’t very tall, so you feel a little limited for sight lines. And the rearview mirror intrudes into the view from the driver’s seat quite a bit. The rear glass is but a slit when trying to keep track of traffic behind you, and when looking for flashing police lights as you speed past blind driveways. The side mirrors offer you a good view of those sexy rear wheelwell bulges, but not too much more. And glancing over your shoulder puts the large C-pillar in play. The Camaro is a perfect candidate for a blind spot detection system. Also, the door panels come up so high it’s hard to get comfortable resting your left elbow on top of the door when the window is down. And tall folks will bang their head on the roof a few times before they’re conditioned to get low to enter. 

THE VERDICT

Still, Chevrolet has hit a home run with this car. It’s very well executed and mechanically refined. It’s a blast to drive fast and pleasant to drive slowly. Add in its performance and handling capabilities and it seems to be priced too low at $30,995 and just over $32,500 as tested. You get a lot of bang for that buck.

Whether it’s the best one of the three pony cars is a matter of personal taste and expectations for this type of car. But one thing is certain; the Camaro SS is worthy of carrying the Camaro name. In June of this year, the sales figures showed that Camaro outsold the Mustang 9,320 units to 7,362, with California dealerships having only a six-day supply.  

Older graybeards, like me, will buy a Camaro to help them recapture some of the memories of their youth. And young buyers will have this car to make the memories they’ll look back on fondly 40 years from now. One thing is certain – American car companies still know how to make cars that can stir driving passions that will last a lifetime.

RELATED READING

2009 Dodge Challenger SRT8
2010 Ford Mustang GT Review
2010 Chevrolet Camaro

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