Contrary to Chevy’s marketing fluff, the all-new 2010 Camaro is not a “sports car for the 21st century.” In fact, we’d go so far as to say it’s a sports car for the 20th century.
|1. SS models with the manual trany get the LS3 engine with 426-hp and 420 ft-lbs of torque while automatics get the L99 with 400-hp and 410-ft-lbs.
2. The Camaro SS is capable of a 0-60 mph time of 4.6 seconds!
3. The Camaro SS starts at $30,745 ($40,995 CAD).
Let’s be honest here. A 21st century sports car would probably use a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, with some sort of hybrid assist and a dual-clutch transmission with an aluminum chassis and carbon fiber body panels to keep weight down to a minimum. It would not be a classically front-engine, rear-drive heavy hunk of unaerodynamic steel powered by a thirsty V8 engine.
RETRO INSPIRED, BUT WITH A MODERN DESIGN
No, the Camaro is very much a car of the 20th century, despite it’s more-progressive-than-the-others (Ford and Dodge, we’re looking at you) design. It’s inspired by the mid-century golden days of the American auto industry and updated with more modern technology. And judging from the folks we see driving Camaros, it seems to appeal to those born around the middle of the last century too.
But allow me to qualify that last statement. By appeal, I don’t mean, “think it looks cool.” Heck, pretty much everyone thinks it looks cool, with the wild design of the new Camaro sure to turn as many heads as a Lamborghini Gallardo.
MODERN TECHNOLOGY, BUT A DATED CONCEPT
The driving experience, however, has vastly less universal appeal. Sure there’s plenty of modern technology used in the new Camaro, from traction and stability control to a six-speed transmission, six airbags, a fully-independent rear end, power windows and locks with remote keyless entry, air conditioning and even a driver information center on the dash to give trip and fuel economy information.
Despite all this, the Camaro is still very much just a modern interpretation of classic American iron. From a performance vehicle standpoint, it’s backwards engineering; taking an inherently un-sporty platform (big and heavy) and making it perform.
And again, to be honest, the Camaro does perform quite well. The massive brakes are up to the task and the 20-inch rims with big Pirelli tires help the car hold on in the corners and get the power to the ground on the straights. Controlling all the torque is much easier than expected and unlike muscle cars of yore, the back end doesn’t want to step out with the lightest touch of the throttle – even in the wet.
Make no mistake, the Camaro will drift a turn with the best of them, but it’s very much up to the driver. We really like how predictable the car is in this sense and how easy it is to keep the back end out in a controlled manner. The steering could definitely use some work, however, with a school bus sized steering wheel that requires a lot of input and isn’t very responsive to the driver’s commands.
Gone is much of the body roll from the V6 model, thanks to larger sway bars and stiffer springs. The tight suspension does, however, result in a compromised ride quality. This proved particularly annoying on our tester as every time the car passed over a joint in the highway the passenger’s size dash creaked.
But even with the stiff suspension, reduced body lean and capable brakes, the Camaro still feels clunky and huge and in no way feels “tossable” or delivers anything close to a driving experience that might be characterized as “dynamic.”
Even with revisions, it’s inherently an archaic design and it shows through in so many other ways. The clutch pedal is long and the shifter is heavy and notchy. We already mentioned the rather disconnected steering feel and when combined with a massive (almost 4,000-lb) curb weight, enormous size and extremely limited outward visibility, it doesn’t inspire driving confidence.
OUTDATED OR NOT, YOU HAVE TO LOVE THE 426-HP V8
If there’s one typically American muscle car trait that has been carried over, and one that we can get behind, it’s the engine. The V8 is something Detroit has perfected.
Sure it’s hardly the height of engineering, like, say, BMW’s almost equally powerful 4.0-liter eight-cylinder block, but the 6.2-liter mill under the hood of the manual transmission Camaro SS has 426-hp and an impressive 420 ft-lbs of grunt to move the several tons of steel with tire shredding speed. (Automatic transmission models actually get a different engine with 400-hp and 410 ft-lbs of torque).
Perhaps it’s our jaded auto journo background, or perhaps it’s the car’s size, but it doesn’t feel rocket ship fast. Then again, the numbers speak for themselves, with the car hitting 60 mph in an amazing 4.6 seconds.
Even better than the speed though is the car’s sound, with a seriously throaty V8 rumble and growl when you put your foot down. It’s reasonably quiet under light load but can really bellow when called upon. And the best part is the loud crackles the exhaust shoots out when slowing to a stop.
As for fuel-economy (not that SS shoppers will be all that concerned about it) Chevy did a lot of marketing with the new Camaro to promote its excellent highway rating, which, when combined with the V6 engine’s sophisticated direct-injection system, is all part of the 21st century pitch. That’s the V6 though, and the V8 is rated understandably lower at 16/24 mpg. We, however, managed significantly less with 16 mpg our average.
CRAMPED AND POORLY DESIGNED INTERIOR
And what review of the new Camaro would be complete without some good old interior bashing. Since we first sat in a new Camaro, we can’t figure out why this car got such a claustrophobic and low-grade cockpit. Perhaps GM just didn’t expect it would be such a big seller.
It’s particularly surprising when you consider just how much improved GM interiors have become as of late. Still, the materials are generally low grade; especially the extra plasticky gauge surrounds, although the new audio equipment is nice. And we do like the attempt at emphasizing the car’s performance with gauges for the things like the oil pressure and temperature (standard on 2SS trim model), but they probably would have been better up high, rather than hidden behind the shifter.
Another annoyance is the steering wheel mounted audio controls that are angled away, making them somewhat awkward to operate.
And what’s with the massive swath of plastic on the doors? Strange indeed…
On top of all this, for the Camaro’s tremendous size, it has all the interior room of a coffin and anyone over 6’1” would be best to steer clear of the sunroof (a $900 option) as it reduces headroom further.
We really didn’t like the V6 Camaro and had high hopes that the SS model’s more hard-core approach would appeal to our innate car guy sensibilities. And to a limited extent, that is true. We love the car’s sheet metal, the big V8 engine and have to admit the handling is pretty good, as are the brakes.
As a complete package though, we’d much rather be driving the Mustang GT, although Ford is certainly losing the battle in the style and horsepower departments.
While a car like the Mustang has evolved over the decades, the Camaro is more of a new world meets old mash-up, resulting in a fast car that’s a blast for a quick rip on a Sunday afternoon, but that just becomes cumbersome for pretty much anything else.
And while its not something we’d want in our garage, we do understand the Camaro has more appeal to the mid-life crowd. That being said, there are two ways to see a car like the Camaro SS. The first is in the eyes of a middle-aged buyer who won’t mind the tiny windshield, small mirrors, poor visibility and non-dynamic driving experience, because that’s what the original cars were like back then. Or you can see it as a member of Generation X or Y: as a car that is both cool looking and fast, and that has a long list of modern technologies, but that is ultimately a product of the 20th century. The 21st century can do better.