2010 Chevrolet Camaro: Sure its good, but is it really a Camaro?

The routine for getting into a new press car is pretty simple: adjust the seat, adjust your mirrors, start the car, check your fuel gauge. But before I did any of that in our red 2010 Camaro SS, I rang up my father and kept him on the line as I fired up the LS3 V-8. “Recognize that sound?” I asked, blipping the throttle. He did.

My dad and I, you see, are Camaro guys. The Old Man owned four of them when I was growing up (one was actually a Firebird, but who's counting). The last of the run was a 1999 black Z/28 with t-tops, a Monsoon stereo, and of course, an LS1 V-8. Never mind its, shall we say, basic interior.

It will live forever as the first really cool car I ever drove. I memorized its performance figures, benched raced it against every car in existence (it’ll wipe the floor with a Qvale Mangusta), and detailed its finish obsessively. At one point, it must have worn twelve coats of Turtle Wax.

I share all this not to build up my dad--though he can, I’m sure, beat up your dad--or draw pity for my lack of a social life in junior high school. Rather, I’ve offered this longwinded introduction as a way of warning you that you’re not about to read an objective review of the Camaro. You’d have a better chance of getting a tough assessment of the new administration from Sasha and Malia Obama. For the short time I had the 2010 Camaro, I wasn’t concerned with its interior-material quality (so-so) or overall value (excellent). The only thing I needed to know about this new product from General Motors, which, by the way, declared bankruptcy yesterday, was whether it was really a Camaro.

I know what you’re thinking. “Of course it’s a Camaro – just look at it!” It certainly does have “the look,” as a handyman in the Ace Hardware parking lot succinctly described it. But there’s more to a car’s identity than styling. Iconic, long-running cars like the BMW 3-series and the Ford Mustang have a palpable identity that remains pure from year to year. That, you might recall, was where GM failed with the reborn and soon thereafter re-killed Pontiac GTO. It was fun and it was fast, but in a million ways large and small, it wasn’t a GTO.

You can imagine my relief then, when I tugged on the Camaro’s door and found it was as heavy as the lid on a bank vault. Perfect. Camaros don’t have wimpy, tinfoil doors. I broke my thumb in the door of my dad’s 1990 RS, and, by God, seven-year-olds better keep their hands clear of the hinges on this new car. The overwhelming sense of happy familiarity continued to wash over me as I took in the new interior. You sit low in the cockpit, and stare out at a menacing hood bulge. Even the poor outward visibility brought back fond memories, mainly of sitting in the back seat on trips to Disney World and not being able to see a damn thing.

With my dad dialed, I started her up. Yup, that’s a GM smallblock. I’m sure the 3.6-liter V-6 Camaro is a great ride, and its strong fuel efficiency makes it the right choice for most people. But you haven’t really experienced a Camaro until you’ve sat in one with a rumbling, barely detuned Corvette engine. Just as I remembered, the exhaust note is both quieter and indefinably meaner than what comes on a factory Mustang (I’m sure Borla and SLP will be happy to help you raise the volume).

I spent about four hours driving in and around Ann Arbor, looking for a safe, police-free place to do a burnout. I couldn’t find any (welcome to Ann Arbor) but had enough seat time to become convinced. Rattle-free and well-tuned though it may be, this is no BMW 5-series with fake side vents.

The main drawback, not surprisingly, is weight. Words like “light” or “nimble” have never applied to the Camaro, but this one is about about 400 pounds heavier than the last model. I also don't understand why the V-8 is marred by a cheap-looking plastic engine cover. Is this for all the people who will be paying $35,000 for a Camaro SS but don't want to see its 425-hp engine? My biggest issue though, both as a car reviewer and a Camaro guy, was with the trunk. It may sound silly, but my dad’s Camaros were work vehicles. We used them to carry home plywood, tools, and even furniture. The new car’s trunk is not only small, but it also, inexplicably, has a tiny opening. That eats into the Camaro’s blue-collar identity and will likely deter a few buyers.

Even discounting the limited cargo space, the new Camaro won’t be for everyone. I’m not sure how the average Infiniti G37 driver would take to the Camaro’s relatively Spartan, dark interior and lumbering on-the-road feel. I am certain, though, that this new car, despite its Australian breeding and its modern suspension, is indeed a Camaro. And in a topsy-turvy world where even GM can go chapter 11, it’s good at least to welcome back an old friend.

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