Whenever a perennially popular car model disappears after a long life on the road, its fans start to think about the prospects of a modernized version. If only that old model could be revived - brought up to date, but retaining the flair of the original.
With its 2010 Camaro, Chevrolet has come impressively close to that goal, creating a 21st-century rendition of GM's familiar, long-lived "ponycar," which disappeared after 2002. The new sport coupe flaunts plenty of the enticements that made the original models so sought-after, but this is a "warts and all" creation. Chevrolet also has given the 2010 Camaro a couple of less-favorable elements - including horrid visibility.
Competing against the perennial Ford Mustang and recently revived Dodge Challenger, the Camaro comes in three forms: LS, LT, and hottest-of-all SS. To its many fans from the past, though, the Camaro is practically in a class all its own. Taking its heritage from the first-generation (1967-69) Camaro, the new version exhibits what Chevrolet calls "classic" proportions, with a long hood and short deck, plus a steep (67-degree) windshield.
With a 3.6-liter direct-injected V-6 engine beneath its enticing hood, the Camaro yields 304 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque, running on regular-grade gasoline. Manual shift gives it an EPA fuel-economy estimate of 17 mpg in city driving and 29 mpg on the highway. An automatic transmission boosts the EPA's city figure to 18 mpg.
In the Camaro SS, Chevrolet's 6.2-liter V-8 comes in two power levels, depending on transmission. With a six-speed manual gearbox, the LS3 V-8 generates 426 horsepower at 5900 rpm, and 420 pound-feet of torque at 4600 rpm. Dubbed L99 when mated with the six-speed automatic transmission, that V-8 produces 400 hp and 410 pound-feet. EPA gas-mileage estimates are 16/25 mpg with automatic and 16/24 mpg with manual shift. The L99 V-8 incorporates Active Fuel Management technology.
Built on a 112.3-inch wheelbase, the Camaro is 190.4 inches long overall, 75.5 inches wide, and 54.2 inches tall - hardly a small car. Standard 18-inch tires may be replaced by 19- or 20-inch rubber. SS coupes hold 20-inch wheels.
A classic "V" design motif highlights the car's nose, and a 2.5-inch power dome sits atop the aluminum hood. SS models get a simulated air intake in the upper front fascia, along with a larger lower air intake. Styling cues borrowed from Chevrolet's Corvette include twin sculpted "cockpits" accross the roof.
From the outside, the coupe's B-pillars are virtually invisible, to give the appearance of a pillarless hardtop coupe. "Gills" in front of each rear quarter panel are additional Camaro design elements.
LT and SS models can get an RS appearance package with high-intensity-discharge headlamps, a rear spoiler (on the LT coupe), special taillamps, and Midnight Silver 20-inch wheels. An ambient light package is available for the four-passenger cabin, where deep, recessed gauges sit in square housings outlined in chrome. An optional console-mounted gauge package (included in 2LT and 2SS models) displays oil pressure, oil temperature, voltage, and transmission fluid temperature.
Cloth upholstery is standard, but 2LT and 2SS models get leather-appointed seats. The three-spoke steering wheel has manual tilt/telescope adjustment. Cruise control and a rear defogger are standard. Also standard are side-impact and curtain-type airbags.
More than some retro cars, the Camaro retains a substantial amount of its ancestor's character. Drive a 2010 Camaro, and you can expect plenty of attention from passersby who fondly recall the original generations. Huge exhaust outlet enclosures at the rear help capture yearning glances. Even with the V-6 engine, the exhaust delivers a whoop-like, loud sound when accelerating relatively hard. Otherwise, it's reasonably quiet. Road noise is more restrained than expected, especially with such big tires.
The V-6 engine yields bountiful energy at start-up, and to pass or merge. Thus, there's not much need for a V-8, unless you're one of those who's never satisfied with a car's power output. Despite moving out assertively, the V-6 Camaro feels heavy overall - again, like the original. Accelerating from 35-40 mph, response may be markedly less than vigorous if a downshift doesn't take place.
Gauges are distinctive and deep-set, but relatively easy to read. So are the available auxiliary gauges, but they're positioned so low at the center (just above the console) that you can easily forget their presence.
Over-the-shoulder visibility is nearly non-existent, making outside mirror use mandatory. Tiny rear quarter panes help little (left not at all). Some drivers have complained of looking directly at the upper windshield header, due to the rather squat windshield. We didn't have this problem, but both the windshield and back window are indeed quite squat, though views directly to the rear aren't bad.
Handling excels, as expected - quite reminiscent of the original. But this Camaro isn't quick-steering sporty in character, by any means. Then again, neither was the original. Despite a taut suspension, the ride is reasonably smooth most of the time. In fact, you can eventually forget what kind of car you're in.
Getting inside isn't so difficult, and the 2010 Camaro's front seat is seriously comfortable. Don't even think about the backseat unless you're young and agile. A high-liftover trunk lid opens to reveal drop-down loading into a small space. The trunk can hold a couple of small roller suitcases, but little else. Hugely long doors can be a problem when parking, and could be more likely to sag eventually. Most notably, though, the modern Camaro feels far better-built than the original, which was distressingly rickety.
Camaro prices start at $23,040 (including destination charge) for the LS coupe with V-6 power. An SS coupe with manual shift stickers for $31,040. (8/15/09)
Camaro SS update: Enthusiasts who recall original Camaros almost invariably are thinking of the hot V-8 versions. Chevrolet followed through with a V8-powered SS coupe, yielding 400 or 426 horsepower.
More than V-6 Camaro, the SS comes across as a "toy car," packed with unnecessary power. It's essentially a fantasy machine for aging baby boomers, many of whom had (or craved) a potent Camaro at some point in the distant past. Built-in engine shake is coupled with a burbling exhaust note, clearly intended to titillate. They do, yet for most drivers, those sensations seem quaintly out of place in today's automotive world. Expect quite a lot of bouncing around, too. Jolting and jarring can be harsh on rough spots, though the ride is reasonably smooth on fine pavement. Clutch action with the manual gearbox is excellent, and the six-speed shifts positively, while demanding moderate effort. (2/22/10)
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