2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS Review
By J. Smith
When asked it I’d like to drive a Camaro SS for a week and write a review, my initial reaction was “Can I fit this in my schedule?” Er . . . No. That wasn’t it at all. “Yes.” Nothing more need be said. “Just get it to me before it starts to snow.” “When is that?” “Anytime after Halloween is open season up here.”
And so, on a somewhat sunny afternoon in late October, I found myself taking delivery of a 2010 Camaro SS. Secretly, I hoped it was a stick. It was not. Both trannies pack a 6.2-liter V-8, but the auto contains 400 galloping horses and 410 foot-pounds of torque, compared to 426 horses and 420 foot-pounds for the manual tranny. I felt a little cheated. Until I read that the automatic does 0-60 in 4.6 seconds, besting the 4.8 seconds of the manual.
Upon sitting in the Camaro, I took several minutes to familiarize myself with the controls and switchgear. I then twisted the key—which comes in a super cool switchblade-like contraption—expecting to hear an unholy rumble. Instead, after a nonchalant roar, it settles into silence. I then slowly and nervously reversed the car out of my driveway and, moving the gas pedal in nanometers, crawled forward, too uncertain to give the car a real punch. I had never driven a car with this much power, so I was a little intimidated. I soon got over that.
And once you begin to grow accustomed to the power, a predatory mentality takes over.
Within a few hours, I was hungry—hungry to munch on flaccid sedans and corpulent SUVs. Hungry to lay a patch at the stoplight. Hell, it would squeal the tires when shifting, in manual mode, on the highway. Or in reverse. And fishtail on command. And leave anything other than a bone fide super car choking on its EPA-compliant fumes.
And the more I drove it, the more the emptiness in my belly reverberated. Driving a car this powerful is like wearing the One Ring—its unreal power possesses you to use it—USE IT!—as often as you can. With apologies to the Lord of the Rings trilogy, it will reduce lesser men to Gollum, while the more hardy learn to control, but never tame it. It takes a Herculean will to resist the impulse to leave tire marks on every road, hit triple digits while on a coffee run, or slam to a stop a few yards before the red light. Why? Because you can. And because the Beast must be fed and demands that you, the animal spirit that animates its lifeless steel and aluminum, make the appropriate sacrifices to its insatiable appetite. But first, let your eyes rest on the pleasant, yet menacing shape of the new pony.
The styling of the 2010 Camaro clearly draws its inspiration from the original 1967. The resemblance is immediate and obvious, but whereas the 1967 has gently flowing hip curves and a thin, slightly creased grill, the 2010 model greets the world with a visage twisted with malign intent, its origami-with-steel hips bulge out as if from a diet of steroids and growth hormone that would make an East German track coach blush. It is the difference between Kate Beckinsale circa Cold Comfort Farm—so delicately alluring—and circa Underworld. Or between old Starbuck and new Starbuck—don’t frak with the blonde lady.
The car certainly draws its fair share of stares. It is quite attractive—even my daughter and wife liked the way it looks. But with its steel gills just behind the doors, you know that this thing is a hunter, a shark looking for fresh kill.
And as you drive, with that massive power quietly somnolent but ready to be woken with a mere thrust of the right foot, you see those sculpted hips in the side mirrors, creating the impression of a ravenous tiger ready to pounce. You can feel the antisocial menace lurking beneath the steel in which the Camaro is shrouded. And it makes you willingly become the instrument through which it unleashes its fury at the world.
Perhaps its inner fury comes from decades of serving as the butt of jokes about a mullet-headed, inbred customer base whose more scholarly members are reputed to proudly display GED certificates on walls otherwise populated by rebel flags and antlers. Sure, the original Camaro was a beautifully sculpted automotive classic, but the second generation quickly turned from Euro-GT-inspired performance machine into sleazoid redneck-mobile. Even Joe Dirt drove a 1970’s F-body, albeit a Firebird. And the third generation F-body didn’t exactly move the Camaro up the automotive food chain. Sure, the fourth generation brought some respectability, with world-class performance available at bargain prices, but refinement was lacking, interiors were seemingly designed by Scrooge McDuck, and the reputation wasn’t so much “Do you have any Grey Poupon?” as it was “What goes best with possum—Natural Light or Milwaukee’s Best?” You’d be mad at the world too if that was your purported cultural legacy.
Today’s Camaro, however, is not about good ‘ol boys drinking whiskey and rye or driving to the levee. And it doesn’t listen to Skynard. It is mean, nihilistic. A predator. More Iggy and the Stooges than Confederate Railroad. And it doesn’t wear a goddamn mullet.
The Iggy comparison goes deeper than mere attitude or geography. The Camaro SS has raw, brutal power. It can be summoned instantly, ready to seek and destroy, giving you all the danger of a trip to hell. It overwhelms in torrents of torque. It has so much power that is available so fast . . . that the worst thing about it is that most of it can’t be used. Ever. In any situation that doesn’t take place on a track. But more about that later. Let’s take a look inside.
The interior draws less praise than the outside. Many decry the quartet of rectangular gauges housed just ahead of the shifter—too small and out of the line of sight. True, all true. At the same time, they have just the right slightly retro look, yet add serious sporting panache by providing useful information, should you ever need it. And the black leather seats were quite attractive, with contrasting white stitching—even my non-gearhead wife praised their style. The leather feels supple and soft, yet strong. And the seats are not merely aesthetically pleasing, but also both supportive and comfortable. The heat for the seats—yes, it can get cold enough in mid-October to use them in Michigan—works swiftly.
The driving position is nice and low, although the high waistline creates visibility problems. The rear window is high, and the rear side windows are miniscule, although they drew praise from my daughter, serving as her personal little windows to the world. The C-pillars, however, are immensely obscuring, the effect being maximized by the high waistline.
The rear seats, although nicely formed and supportive, have about as much room as you’d expect, which I very little. It could be worse. The Audi TT or an old MGB GT, for instance, has far worse rear seats. I sat in the rear and found it to be completely cramped for my 5’11” frame. But my seven-year old daughter and her booster seat fit in nicely. Getting in and out was somewhat bothersome, but eminently do-able. And when it comes to a car like this, do-able is good enough. Let’s face it, in a car like this, all you really need to do is convince yourself that (a) you can fit your kid(s) back there and (b) part (a) involves neither severe pain nor the removal of any body parts. The Camaro satisfies both. For tots at least.
But not all is happy in the Camaro interior. Vast expanses of hard, dark plastic cover the cabin. It is both unattractive and feels cheap. And the frameless door glass causes a chintzy-sounding ka-klunk when the door closes, a sound somewhat reminiscent of American iron of the 1970s and 1980s. And the doors are long and heavy, having more in common with a 1976 Cutlass than any contemporary vehicle.
Size and weight problems are not confined to the Camaro’s doors. It’s 75.5” wide, 190.4” long and weighs 3913 pounds with the automatic. To put this in perspective, the 1967 SS Camaro weighed 2920 pounds and the 2010 Mustang GT weighs 3533 pounds. Although you can’t feel the weight in handling at speed, it limits the car’s ability to flick through traffic. Its size also hinders lane changes and certainly discourages darting in and out of lanes. It feels quite large while driving it, and the relatively poor outward visibility makes it difficult to estimate the distance between vehicles. Indeed, the massive C-pillars create large blinds spots that make it difficult to see whether there’s a vehicle in certain areas at all. In short, it will take the corners with ease, but on a track with other cars, or, more likely, the interstate, you’d probably get schooled by Miatas and Minis.
But outside of slicing through traffic, the Camaro cannot be beat by anything in its class. Or most things out of its class. The driving experience is a strange mixture of brutality and refinement. Yes, refinement. The engine is hushed, even on the freeway, even at speeds in excess of . . . well, when it’s going real fast. Perhaps too hushed, but it certainly won’t dismay your neighbors. And the freeway drive lacks much in the way of road noise or even wind noise. It favorably compares with my relatively silent Chrysler 300.
And the ride, while sportingly firm, is by no means harsh. It rides more like a European grand touring machine than a Detroit muscle car, yet handles with confidence and even poise. I recall driving my old man’s C4 Vette and his 1987 IROC. Both handled well—the Vette was one of the surest-footed steeds of the day—but they also punished the driver, riding like an ox-cart over the ruined roadways of Michigan, each bump or pothole greeted with a loud “thunk,” each dip in the road inducing squeaks and rattles. The 2010 Camaro SS has none of that.
But that refinement succeeds in hiding the brute underneath only so long as your right foot doesn’t push the accelerator pedal in more than a half-inch or so. Anything more than that and the V-8 gods roar to life, the RPMs soar, and you’d damn well better keep a tight grip on that wheel and hold it with a firm hand. The Camaro unleashes effortlessly brutal power in biblical torrents and tsunami-like waves. At the same time, it doesn’t needlessly brag; the only outward indications of the power lurking under the hood are two discreet SS badges, on the grille and another on the trunk lid. Once the driver strikes the pedal with necessary enthusiasm, the engine revs with the fury of a Greek god scorned, accelerating at what seems like warp speed. Everything else stands still when hyperdrive is activated.
Fortunately, the brakes do an admirable job of stopping the 3900-pound predator with authority. The pedal has a little travel—the first inch or so is a little mushy for my taste, but you soon learn where it begins to grab and measure your force suitably. The 20-inch wheels sported Pirelli P Zero 245/45ZR20 tires on the front and 275/40ZR20 tires on the rear. These tires have been assigned the exceedingly difficult task of planting those 400 horses squarely on terra firma. And, despite their best efforts, they all too easily fail. They lose grip from a complete stop with even half throttle, and it takes the traction control to stop the car from fishtailing with reckless abandon. I would strongly prefer a softer rubber that would put more of the power into acceleration rather than marking the Camaro’s territory, but the average consumer is likely more concerned with longevity than performance. I suspect that the culprit, however, is not Pirelli so much as the engineers in Warren.
I shudder to think what it would be like driving this thing in the snow without winter tires—or even with winter tires. But the traction control—which can be disabled—functions well enough, although even the second or so it takes to engage can be too long with a heavy right foot. I do, however, have empirical knowledge of how the Camaro SS performs on wet roads—it rained nearly every day I had it. You have to keep the throttle in check even more on wet roads; if you floor it even at freeway speeds, it will hydroplane.
Whether the road is wet or dry, the massive power takes some getting used to. In a normal car, if you need to pull out quickly, you simple introduce the gas pedal to the interior carpeting. In the Camaro SS, however, such a clumsy maneuver is downright dangerous. In fact, unless you are already traveling at least 30 MPH or so on a straight road, flooring the SS is for the foolhardy or brave. You have to train your leg to find the optimal pedal position for each situation. Mistakes will be made in this process, but you will be a much better driver for it.
And yet it is a very compliant beast. If your base instincts can be kept in check, you can take the kids to school, commute to work, and even go grocery shopping without any trouble. My family easily fit a week’s worth of groceries in the trunk, which it quite roomy, even if the opening is rather small and awkward. To be fair, however, I didn’t exactly hit the EPA fuel economy estimate of 16-MPG city, 25-MPG highway. I averaged 16.5 MPG, which was no doubt distorted by enthusiastic driving.
Like all cars, it has its quirks and foibles. You can’t lock the car while the key is in inside the car but not in the ignition. Nor can you unlock it manually without setting off the alarm. The automatic tranny comes with a manual shift mode, with paddles on the steering wheel, as well as a sport mode. In manual shift mode, it does not upshift—not that I tried to push it to block-melting RPMs—nor does it downshift when floored. I floored it while in sixth gear going about 45 MPH, which provoked tepid acceleration.
In sport mode, the tranny holds gears longer and shifts more aggressively. I did not notice any performance gain, but what I did notice is that it hesitates on downshifts in sport mode. And when it does downshift, it goes into a lower gear than in regular mode. It actually startled me at first—what the hell is that sound? It took a moment to realize that it downshifted into a lower gear for more power on tap, producing a sudden RPM surge.
On the whole, excepting some cheap interior bits and clunky door glass, the 2010 Camaro is a very impressive vehicle. Taut handling, sporty yet comfortable ride, strong brakes, and breath-taking performance. And all at a relatively bargain price of $36,980*—for this level of performance and, yes, refinement, nothing within $10,000 comes close. The only consternating aspect is that it has such incredible performance that it can rarely be used. You quickly grow impatient at traffic lolling around at a mere 70 MPH, or cars that can’t get to said speed in five or so seconds. Other drivers become turtle-like obstacles. And, once having partaken of the fruit of the tree of knowledge, normal cars—ones that lack the ability to hit 60 MPH in 4.6 exhilarating seconds—simply do not seem worthy.
But that is no matter. Chevrolet hit a home run, Kirk Gibson-style, when all the chips were down and its corporate parent is surviving on the generosity of the American taxpayer. Decades from now, when we take our grandchildren to virtual playgrounds in cars that have to be dutifully plugged in every evening, we will tell them, with a gleam in our eyes, about how you could once get plentiful, brutal, petrol-powered performance for a few hundred bucks a month.
*As tested—2010 Camaro 2SS ($34,595 ) with 6-speed auto ($1,185) and RS package ($1,200). Destination included. A base SS can be had for the low price of $31,595 (destination included).
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