The day of reckoning has arrived: Chevy’s new Camaro has left the assembly line keen to butt heads with the , , Coupe, and other pretenders to the pony car throne. We tested two SS V-8s to find if the long wait has been worthwhile.
No Angry Kitchen Appliance
The new Camaro looks like the first-generation (1967-69) updated with fancy footwear and a smattering of Corvette cues. The hiked beltline and squished roof gives it a menacing but also heavy appearance. Greenies will surely christen this revival their new poster child of wretched consumption because the Camaro SS offers a choice between two rumbling 6.2-liter V-8s (400 hp with 6-speed automatic, 426 hp with 6-speed stick). Smoke this, tree huggers: thanks to super-tall gearing, both deliver mid-20s highway mileage, thereby skirting the EPA’s guzzler stigma. Also, the 304-hp 3.6-liter V-6 (labeled LS or LT) alternative scores 29 highway mpg with an automatic.
SS Camaros can be distinguished by their standard 20-inch wheels, hood scoop, and rear spoiler. The front slot–actually on the front fascia, not the hood–is decorative. During our suburban-Detroit intro drive, the new Camaro generated a wake of raised-thumb salutes. The horsepower oppressed are restless.
1969 Remixed For 2009
The Camaro’s shoulder-high door tops and thick windshield pillars, coupled with a roof that curls over your ears, helps create a claustrophobic vibe inside. While the interior layout is attractively configured, the only respites from molded-plastic monotony are a run of cloth through the doors and dash and the leather seating surfaces and steering wheel wrap included with the up-level trim. (Cloth is standard.) Tasteful textures, painted panels, and chrome door handles add a sparkle here and there, but those expecting Camaro to match Mustang‘s real metal interior trim will be disappointed. The console-mounted gauges are a silly affectation. The tach and speedometer are also housed in square-cornered pods, but at least they’re properly located and legibly marked. One nice touch is an LED light pipe that runs around the dash to uplift the evening-cruise mood.
Not so nice are the squishy bucket seats, which lack both lateral and lumbar support. The standard tilt-telescope steering column has a crude manual-adjuster mechanism that knocks the driver’s right knee. Those with a tall build will feel headliner brushing their locks, while those compact of stature will see the high top of the instrument panel, wipers, and the raised center portion of the hood in their view ahead.
Entry to the rear seat is restricted by high sills and front buckets that don’t readily scoot forward. Passengers in the penalty row ride with their hair pasted onto the roof (those 70 or more inches tall) and a view through tiny triangular portholes. Leg and hip room are sufficient when front occupants don’t hog all the fore and aft space. But don’t forget: this is a stylish coupe, not a soccer mom’s utility tool.
Access to the trunk is through one of the highest and smallest openings available in any recent automobile. To stretch the utility of the 11.3-cubic foot cargo hold, there’s a handy back-seat pass-through portal.
While the square-cornered tach and speedometer and the console-mounted secondary instruments are strictly old-school, there are a few electronic goodies to placate today’s gadget fans.
Chevy did not feel the urge to offer a full navigation system in the cost-conscious Camaro, because the OnStar-based alternative works surprisingly well. The top Camaro comes with a one-year Directions and Connections plan that provides turn-by-turn route instructions – both verbal and visual – on demand.
All Camaros are equipped with a sound system with CD-ROM and MP3 play capability, XM satellite reception, and an auxiliary input jack. The deluxe version of the SS adds Bluetooth wireless mobile phone connectivity, a USB port, a 245 watt amplifier, and nine loudspeakers. Also included is a wireless interface module that facilitates routing portable media material through the car’s sound system.
Corvette as Organ Donor
The Camaro’s V-8s are kissing cousins to the Corvette’s 6.2-liter engine, so rumble and reverb come standard. Except for a slightly lazy electronic throttle, there’s nothing to complain about in the power department, as the manual transmission Camaro SS easily thumps both the Challenger SRT8 and the latest Mustang GT.
Although the wide-ratio Tremec box requires a heavy hand and its economizer skip-shift function is annoying during moderate acceleration, first and second are superb for squirting around town and the ultra-overdrive sixth gear rolls you down the interstate with barely a burble. Meaty back boots, a limited-slip differential, and stability control are all standard. One handy feature is an electronic launch-control program that delivers just the right amount of smoky burnout for dramatic root beer stand exits.
The 6-speed automatic alternative turns in acceleration figures only a tick slower than the stick. Two handy modes are available with the shifter slotted into the lower M position. The Sport mode has a shift schedule programmed for maximum acceleration. The Manual mode, engaged by pressing either of the two spoke mounted “TAPshift” buttons, holds each gear until the driver calls for a shift. The only bummer is that the plastic paddles visible behind the spokes don’t handle the shifting.
The Aussies who developed Camaro’s chassis did a superb job of tuning the strut-type front suspension and a rubber-isolated multi-link (independent) rear suspension. The Camaro SS not only handles brilliantly, it also has the best ride in the pony car class with secure grip over bumps, supple damping, and adequate body control.
Turn in is razor sharp, and balance is commendable. Drift fans need only select second gear, add boot, and apply counter-steer to impress the impressionable with their car control. Feedback from the road is lacking until the tires work up a sweat but the steering is quick, the leather-clad wheel spokes feel right, and the Pirelli P-Zero rubber bites the road like a Gila monster.
The Brembo 4-piston rigidly mounted brake calipers provide predictable pedal feel, no fade, and excellent balance during all-out stops. One of the developmental hurdles cleared at the Nürburgring and on GM’s Milford Road Course was demonstrating true race-track readiness. Thanks to its stout brakes and lubricant coolers plumbed into both the engine and manual transmission, Camaro has the stamina to run flat out through a full tank of fuel.
The Camaro SS’s combination of price, performance, and panache topples the existing muscle car order. The Hemi-powered Challenger SRT8 is too heavy to keep pace and the face-lifted Mustang GT is trumped by Camaro’s sophistication and speed. Loyal Chevy fans who’ve waited six years for this day finally have the car than they deserve. The new Camaro also has the breadth of character needed to draw defectors back from the import brink. Before the fuel runs out, drivers who’ve been content with four- and six-cylinder power – hot or not – should experience life on the road with a 400-plus horsepower thumper under their hood.
- Base price: $30,995 (1SS Model; 6-speed manual)
- As tested: $35,380
- Options: 2SS Trim Level – $3185
- RS package – $1200
- Engine: 6.2-liter OHV 16-valve V-8
- Horsepower: 426 hp @ 5900 rpm
- Torque: 420 lb-ft @ 4600 rpm
- Transmission: 6-speed manual
- Drive: Rear-wheel
- L x W x H: 190.4 x 75.5 x 54.2 in
- Legroom F/R: 42.4/29.9 in
- Headroom F/R: 37.4/45.3 in
- Cargo capacity: 11.3 cu ft
- Curb Weight: 3859 lbs.
- EPA Rating (city/highway): 16/24 mpg
Tires: Pirelli P-Zero
Front size: 245/45 YR-20
Rear size: 275/40 YR-20