By Roger Boylan
The 2010 Camaro is an instant classic. It’s fast, affordable by you and me, and comfortable. It’s solidly built, on the chassis of the soon-to-be late lamented Pontiac G8. It’s quiet at speed. It’s one of the best-looking cars on the road. It’s economical; the V6 gets nearly 30 mpg on the highway on regular fuel, so it would make a fine commuter car. And most of all, it’s not boring. Yes: On the basis of a week’s exposure, I proudly proclaim myself a Camaro guy-and I was driving the “base” V6 model. In a word, I loved the damned thing.
“That’ll be the day,” I’d have said, if you’d told me, way back when, that I was a future Camaro fan. I’d always thought the previous iteration of the Camaro was loud and ill-bred, like the boy racers in Woodlawn and Passaic who drove them down Main Street on Saturday nights (regulation pack of smokes tucked into T-shirt sleeve, of course, and hairgel duly lathered on) and the suds-swilling oafs who congregated around them on state fair days and at tailgate parties. Camaros? No thanks, I sneered; not for this member of the urbane urban elite. Well, that’s over. I’m sub-urbane now, decidedy suburban, and a member of no elite; and man enough to admit I was wrong. And more than man enough to whine I WANT ONE.
Actually, I never drove any of the previous generations, so I’m unable to make any first-hand Camaro comparos, although, admittedly, I’ve been biased in favor of the new, fifth-generation iteration ever since my maiden voyage in the SS-V8 model at the Austin Auto Show. Still, I’m fairly confident the new Camaro is, in most ways, light years beyond the old one, which expired in 2002. For starters, cursory Web research informs me that the Cadillac-sourced 3.6 V6 engine in the 2010 “base” model boasts 304 hp, a full 104 more than the ’02 3.8-liter V6 (and 9 more than the ’67 Camaro SS V8), and 273 lb.-ft. of torque, as opposed to 225. Consumer reviews of the ’02 refer repeatedly to noise and vibration, and imply shoddy construction, sadly familiar complaints among GM customers in the old days, whereas one of the best things about the new Camaro (and other new GM products I’ve driven) is the feeling of truck-like solidity it imparts, with no rattles or squeaks. Its smooth highway ride is a consequence of the independent rear suspension, another change from the live rear axle that was so highly prized by drag racers, one hears; well, I’m no drag racer, so I’ll go for the comfort zone, thanks very much.
And of course the design of the new Camaro is a dramatic departure from automotive banality. The car is stunning: sleek, aggressive, and resonant of the glories of sporty Chevys of yore. Look down on it from above and you’ll see the same fastback styling as the 1963 split-window Corvette. Along the flanks are “gills,” as you’d find on an actual shark, or a ’60s Corvette Mako Shark concept, where they were cooling vents. They’re fake on today’s Camaro, but no more so than the landscape in a Brueghel painting; it’s what’s evoked that matters. Also shark-like is the tapered nose that culminates in a long low brow, beneath which are simple round headlights like the ’69 Camaro’s. This is a car you can just goggle at. Go on, goggle some more.
Camaros are priced very aggressively. The base Camaro LS is a steal at an MSRP of $23,040 including destination. I mean, honestly. Throw in a decent trade and a little judicious haggling and you can drive off in a Camaro for little more than the price of a Kia. The next model up, the 1LT, comes in at $24,675 including destination, and the 2LT of my test car starts at $27,375. My test car came in under-the-radar silver, with the 2LT package decked out in RS garb (spoiler, 20-in. wheels, fancier front fascia, high-intensity headlights, recessed tail lights: add another $1,450). It had a splendid six-speed automatic with manual shifting feature (buttons I fiddled with once, then left alone), as well as a top-notch six-speaker AM/FM/XM/CD/MP3, etc., etc. sound system, Bluetooth and USB port, leather shift knob, a nice fat leather-clad three-spoke steering wheel with audio and cruise controls, remote starting and heated seats for those icy Texas mornings (it got down to 75 last night), good old OnStar Safe & Sound, a limited-slip differential, 6-way power driver’s seat, and integrated foglamps. The car comes with electronic stability control plus traction control, anti-lock brakes, frontal airbags, front side airbags, airbag curtains, and a tire pressure monitor, so you should be safe enough, if you resist the siren song of cell phones, text messages, and/or intoxicants while at the wheel (and you will, because you’re not an idiot, are you?). This is all in the 2LT V6, mind you. Step up to the Camaro SS and you’d pay a still-reasonable $31,040 for the 6.2-liter V8 with auto (400 hp) or manual (426 hp) gearbox and four-piston Brembo disc brakes. Of course, options would add several thousand to the SS’s price.
The only place where the otherwise brilliant designers stumbled a little was the dashboard, with its squared-off gauge cowlings and vertical speedometer and tach numbers, a la ’64 Bel-Air; cute, and very retro, but as a detail, perhaps a little tacky. Still, the memory of phantom Chevys stays with you as you watch that needle inch closer to…80; and the tackiness of yesteryear can miraculously morph into the retro design success of today. The HVAC controls are intelligently laid out, with big easy-to-use knobs, as this writer has long recommended (could the GM design mavens be reading Autosavant?), and a small but perfectly legible stereo/CD/radio monitor. Otherwise, up front there’s a surprisingly vast expanse of hard plastic but only a modest-sized glovebox. The front seats are stoutly bolstered and very comfortable, once you find your ideal seating arrangement. The back seats? Forget it. Use ‘em as parcel shelves, or as an extension to the trunk (which is actually quite decently sized, but difficult of access, behind a high sill). Only smaller passengers can fit back there, and they will not be happy travelers. But who cares? This is a sports coupe, after all. Dad‘s car.
Being fortunate enough to live on the edge of the Texas Hill Country, I usually take my test vehicles out for a spin through the high chaparral and lonely hills, frequently with the theme from Lonesome Dove on the CD player, or in my head. Not to have done this with the Camaro would have been a grievous oversight. In fact, it and I spent a glorious half-day together roaming the sun-baked trails between San Marcos, Wimberley, the Devil’s Backbone, and Blanco; and not a highway patrol officer did we see. Good thing, too, because we weren’t exactly trundling along. Others were, in their farm trucks or Town Cars, but they were soon reduced to dots in the rear-view. The Camaro’s V6 rushes you forward with the force of many another car’s V8. I’ve read 0-60 test times of 6.1, 5.9, and even 5.7 seconds; based on my experience, I’ll call it an even 6, but it feels faster. The automatic transmission is stellar, kicking down at just the right time and upshifting seamlessly when you want it to. The steering is admirable, well-boosted but not excessively so, contributing to no-worry handling, even on tight switchbacks. Brakes? Yes, fortunately, and definitely very much so, with no fade I could detect. Visibility was great fore and aft, less so alongside, what with the thick A-pillars and narrow rear side windows; but such is the design compromise one expects in a coupe. Rounding off this banquet of qualities, as I mentioned at the beginning of the article, is the V6 Camaro’s fuel consumption: 18 in the city, 29 on the highway, per GM’s claims. I averaged 22.5 in both city and highway driving, much of it vigorous, and a few times managed to top 35 on the highway, with a canny combination of cruise control and easy coasting.
So: Hats off to Chevy. The new Camaro is a car for the ages. For the price, there’s nothing like it in Stuttgart, Tokyo, or Turin.
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