2010 Camaro LT V6: First Drive
By Chris Haak
While we have not yet had the luxury of a week-long press loan of the all-new 2010 Chevrolet Camaro, we are still managing to sneak in as much seat time as possible at various media events. Roger Boylan had Autosavant’s first drive of a 2010 Camaro SS at the Austin Auto Show last month, and a few weeks ago, I had the opportunity for our first drive in a V6-powered Camaro. Sadly, the V6/automatic combo is just about the least-sporting variant of the Camaro possible, but hey, at least it had a 304-horsepower engine, six forward speeds, and even shift paddles. This isn’t a 90-horsepower four cylinder base car as the 1982 Camaro sported.
The Camaro is a really good looking car in person. I’m a big fan of its shape. Not only does it have a look of a F-22 fighter jet crossed with a 1969 first-generation Camaro, but also looks remarkably similar to the silver concept car that first made its debut at the 2006 NAIAS in Detroit and has been relentlessly hyped by GM for the past 3 1/2 years. The aggressive stance, chopped roofline, and large wheels are all carried over intact from the concept (the huge wheels are optional or dealer-installed). The heritage styling cues are all still there, but it’s also most certainly a 21st-century design.
Some of the neat exterior touches were BMW-style halos around the headlamps (optional) and giant 21-inch wheels (I’d actually prefer smaller ones). While the car has classic Camaro long hood, short deck proportions, the car still looks very modern thanks to its short front overhang (far shorter than the 1969’s) and the extremely aggressive chop on the roof. While the first-generation car had a cozy interior, at least it had decent visibility, including from the rear quarter windows, but those windows are all but useless in the 2010 car. The hulking rear quarter panels are an interesting styling feature that exaggerates the first-gen car’s gentle hip bulge, and the other key features of the 1967-69 generation are there, yet re-interpreted, such as the rear fender vents, the horizontal character line bisecting the doors and fenders, the gentle arch from the front fenders to the top of the door, and the upswing below those aforementioned useless rear windows. The backlight in the 2010 Camaro is significantly more sloped than in the 1969 car, which results in a sleeker look but a less practical trunk opening. GM’s design team chose a less practical shape for the new Camaro, which may not have been a bad decision, since most Camaro purchases will be emotional rather than rational ones.
Inside the car, GM gets credit for spending the time and money to craft an interior that cashes the checks that the heritage-inspired exterior is writing. The interior is at least as interesting as the exterior, with dual rectangular hoods over the primary gauges (just as they were in the ’69) and the famous quartet of optional gauges (oil pressure, voltage, transmission temperature, and oil temperature) at the front of the center console, at just about the worst possible spot from an ergonomic standpoint that they could possibly be. The radio and HVAC controls are large and easy to use, and finally mark the end of GM’s use of one-size-fits-all, rectangular radios. Compared to the Dodge Challenger, the Camaro’s interior design is far more interesting and appropriate for a retro-styled sports coupe, but I’d actually give the Challenger the nod in terms of interior materials between the two. The only disappointment in the interior, aside from an overabundance of hard plastic (though you’re getting a heck of a chassis and drivetrain for the price) is the large expanse of style-less plastic on the passenger side of the dashboard. The first-generation Camaros had a metal glovebox from the middle of the passenger side dash to the bottom, while the 2010 car’s glovebox is almost beneath the dash.
The Camaro felt really solid on the road. It’s a big car, and it never lets you forget that, whether it is because of the car’s weight (nearly 4,000 pounds) or just the car’s width. Exacerbating the size issue is that extremely short greenhouse; the inside A-pillars are considerably shorter than any other car I can remember driving – ever (about half the length you’d expect them to be, and they’re really thick). The base of the windshield is almost impossible to reach from the driver’s seat while wearing a seatbelt because I had the seat adjusted to a spot close to the floor so that my head didn’t hit the ceiling. It’s definitely similar to the sensation of sitting in a bathtub, which I didn’t feel so much in the Challenger SRT8, but actually did in a Lincoln MKZ.
I found the front seats to be right up my alley – firm, yet comfortable, and covered in decent leather. Also, the front seat had enough headroom for me – a 6’4″ tall driver – with the driver’s seat reclined slightly, but I only had about an inch or 1/2 inch of clearance. At least the huge square fenders at the front of the car were visible at all times. The back seat, however, was ridiculous. For a 4,000 pound car (hardly a “compact car” anymore, in spite of what the interior dimensions say), it’s very odd to see such a small back seat. I wedged myself back there briefly, and found that my head was against the window (in the Genesis Coupe, my head was against the headliner, which isn’t any better). I would literally have to lose several inches off of my torso to fit into the back seat comfortably. I’m sure kids could ride there comfortably enough, but it won’t be easy to squeeze my kids’ forward-facing seats into the back seat of a Camaro (or to convince my wife to let me take the family in the car on anything but a short trip in the first place).
The shift paddles were odd – they were little flanges at the top of the steering wheel spokes that were static; instead, the flanges marked the location of electronic buttons hidden out of sight at the back of the spoke (they reminded me a bit of the hidden audio controls that first-generation Jeep Grand Cherokees had behind their steering wheel spokes). The buttons still worked, but an actual paddle would have been preferable to a plastic flag noting where a button was hiding below it; the disadvantage of GM’s approach (aside from it being somewhat difficult to find the buttons in the first place if you’re a driver unfamiliar with the car) is that a paddle fixed to the steering column behind the wheel would have allowed actuation at any steering wheel angle; the Camaro’s setup makes it nearly impossible to effect a mid-corner gear change with the buttons. At any rate, the button on the left handled downshifts and the button on the right handled upshifts.
Left to its own devices, the transmission didn’t want to shift quickly, particularly in automatic mode. In manual mode, using the shift paddles, the car changed gears a little more quickly. Power, however was sufficient (unfortunately, not excessive) as long as the engine was kept in its sweet spot above 5,000 RPMs via a lower gear. The engine pulled OK, but just didn’t have the instantaneous response that a V8 would have. The steering felt really good – the wheel was very thick (though the spokes are positioned very far back from the rim, making it difficult to rest one’s hand on the spokes if so inclined).
I only spent a brief drive in the Camaro, so can’t comment on my own fuel economy observations, but on a day of journalists having their way with the Camaro, and in some very hilly roads, the trip computer showed 19.8 miles per gallon, which seemed pretty good. I know that if I drove my Cadillac CTS the way I drove the Camaro during my time with it, I would not be hitting 19.8 miles per gallon; 16-17 would be more like it. The EPA rates the 2010 Camaro V6/automatic at 18 city/29 highway (the V6/manual is rated at 17/29, the V8/automatic at a very respectable 16/25, and the V8/manual at 16/24).
Based on an admittedly limited first drive, GM has succeeded in building the best base car in the three-car pony car class. While styling is generally a subjective measure, I find the Camaro’s appearance to be the best-looking among the three cars, and the interior is the most interesting design of the three, though perhaps in third place in terms of interior materials. It’s a heck of a performance car bargain that left me more than eager to spend a week with a V8/six-speed manual Camaro SS to really get a feel for the best that this car has to offer. For now, though, the first taste was a good one.
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