Chevrolet Camaro — Power personified

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

When we first witnessed the Chevrolet Camaro concept at the Detroit Auto Show a few years ago, we were disappointed. Frankly it looked as if someone had clipped together the front end of a Cadillac CTS and the backend of a Corvette; although it did have Camaro like flat sides. It certainly didn’t look like the line up of ‘69’s they had rolled out as part of the show as they tried to convince us the new Camaro had roots.

It really wasn’t the direction we had envisioned Chevrolet taking a Camaro revival. Perhaps because we had studied the new Dodge Challenger at the same show and fell in love with its retro styling, our thinking was skewed toward a replica of the original Camaro. The Challenger concept was the spitting image of the four-decade-old original and it was stunning.

Likewise, the new Ford Mustang takes the retro theme to a high level integrating modern styling themes with high doses of the late ’60s.

We wanted the same treatment for the new Camaro. While the Camaro concept retained some design cues of the past, it was too modernistic for our taste.

The second time we saw the Camaro concept it had gone through a couple of changes. The fact that Chevy hired or convinced Jay Leno to drive it into a Bob’s Big Boy drive-in not far from his then Burbank studio created some excitement and distraction. But in truth it started looking better.

The last time we saw the car before public introduction was at the California Advanced Design Studio that GM has hidden away in North Hollywood, California. The Camaro was in full-blown production trim.

Now that it’s here, now that we’ve spent time with it, and now that we have the luxury of looking at it from all sides and all angles on the street and in the driveway we have made a near 180 degree turn. It is still not exactly what we would like but we were totally won over by its muscular lines, delightful short front overhangs, menacing grille, high beltline, and optional 20-inch wheels.

Add it up and it’s a winner. It’s a stunning coupe..

And it was the object of attention virtually everywhere we traveled during our seven days behind the wheel. We emerged from a barbeque restaurant one evening to find a crowd of about 20 people milling around the bright yellow Camaro.

After breakfast at a favorite morning haunt, we spent 20 minutes giving people a look inside, under the hood, in the trunk. People slowed on the highway, one time hemming us in on an interstate to get a look, one guy with cell phone camera in hand.

We’re not as high on the interior layout, but it’s unique and interesting and not without merit. The optional gauge package at the base of the center console is a particularly neat touch.

Overall we think it a job well done by GM designers.

General Motors has also pulled off another coup infusing the Camaro with a V-6 base engine that simply blows away the V-6 choices in the Mustang and Challenger.

In fact, the sophisticated 3.6-liter direct injection V-6, inherited from the Cadillac CTS, is so good that it could stand on its own without the benefit of the monster 426-horsepower V-8 that comes in the top trim SS edition. Mated to either a 6-speed automatic or a 6- speed manual, the V-6 is the personification of efficiency and performance, a combination that fits in neatly with today’s emphasis on frugality.

The Camaro V-6 with its 304 horsepower and 273 pound feet of torque is rated at 18 mpg city and a startling 29 highway.
Figure in a 0-to-60 time of around six seconds and a quarter mile time of 14.5 seconds at around 100 mph and you have one heck of a 25 grand machine.

The V-6 engines in the Challenger and the 2010 Mustang are almost afterthoughts. The 3.5-liter Dodge engine generates 250 horsepower and 250 pound feet of torque mated to an outdated four-speed automatic; and the Mustang’s 4.0-liter V-6 makes 210 horsepower and 240 pound feet torque mated to a five-speed (auto or manual). Highway fuel mileage for the Dodge and Ford are 25 and 24 respectively. Base price is nearly identical in all three brands.

But don’t think we are not waiting anxiously for a turn in the 6.2- liter V-8 edition. It has been measured in a tire-smoking 4.8 seconds from 0-to-60 and 13 seconds at 111 mph in the quarter mile.

But here’s the thing, especially if bragging rights are not high on your priority list. Base price of the SS V-8 is $30,995 compared to the $22,995 for the V-6. Gas mileage is 16/24 compared to 18/29 and insurance costs are surely higher.

Unlike the competition, the V-6 is so good and comes with a manual transmission that it begs the question, is the V-8 really worth the extra cash outlay and the higher insurance costs?

Boosting an independent rear suspension, the Camaro in either guise has exceptional handling traits. We were impressed; perhaps surprised is a better description, of our V-6 test car’s ease at confident and safe handling of the twists and turns on our favorite winding back stretch of asphalt at speeds we wouldn’t recommend in your vintage Camaro. And the handling prowess comes with no loss in ride comfort.

If you need to come down from speed quickly, the Camaro has you covered with brakes that will stop the car from 60 mph in less than 110 feet.

And another thing that applies to daily driving and can be equally important in the routines of the day — the Camaro has a tight turning circle of 37.7 feet. The car feels big and perhaps for that reason we were amazed at our ability to make a tight U-turn without running over the curb.

The front seats in our test car were comfortable, and we had no problem finding an excellent driving position. We sent our usual backseat passenger into the rear, and to her delight she had no trouble entering and exiting and finding decent legroom. While she had no head room problem, we can see where it might be a concern of anyone six-foot or taller or for someone with a long torso.

There are some downsides, particularly in terms of design where form sometimes trumps function. For instance, glass area is limited with gun-slit-like windshield and side windows, which compromise visibility. And be forewarned the doors are huge and heavy.

While all Camaro trim levels — there are five — come with considerable standard equipment, there are numerous desirable upgrades and options. Unfortunately, one of them is not navigation. We are a bit puzzled that navigation cannot be purchased in an all-new car of this caliber.

There are three V-6 trim levels (LS, 1LT and 2LT) and two V-8 trims (1SS and 2SS). All come with full power equipment, 18-inch wheels, air conditioning, satellite radio, antilock brakes, stability control and full-length side-curtain airbags.

Our 1LT test car came with the RS Package, a worthwhile add-on, for $1,750. The package includes the striking 20-inch “midnight silver” finish wheels, high intensity headlamps, rear spoiler and unique tail lamps. The test car also came with the six-speed automatic, a $995 addition, and a convenience package that includes Bluetooth connectivity, a USB port and steering wheel controls for $655. Bottom line was $28,030.

We advise going to the web site and taking a tour of the Camaro.

General Motors is facing extraordinary problems these days. But the Camaro is a shining light as to what is still very right with the former automotive giant.


Base price: $22,995; as driven, $28,030
Engine: 3.6-liter V-6
Horsepower: 304 @ 6,400 rpm
Torque: 273 foot-pounds @ 5,200 rpm
Drive: rear wheel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating: 2/2
Wheelbase: 112.3 inches
Length: 190.4 inches
Curb weight: 3,741 pounds
Turning circle: 37.7 feet
Luggage capacity: 11.3 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 19 gallons (regular)
EPA rating: 29 mpg highway, 18 mpg city
0-60: 5.9 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Ford Mustang; Dodge Challenger; Hyundai Genesis Coupe

The Good:

• Head-turning looks
• Outstanding standard-equipment V-6 engine
• Unique interior styling

The Bad:

• Big heavy doors

The Ugly:

• Compromised visibility with gun-slit windows