INNER VOICE ONE: Lord help me, but I kind of want a V-6 Camaro.
INNER VOICE TWO: Er...what? Come again?
I.V. ONE: Yep, that's right. A Camaro. Without a V-8.
I.V. TWO: What are you, a kindergarten teacher?
I.V. ONE: Uh, no...
I.V. TWO: A grandmother?
I.V. ONE: No...
I.V. TWO: A hobo. That's it. You must be a hobo. Or maybe a decorator. Interiors? That your thing? Wait - did someone give you roofies? Can you even hear me now? What's your name? Do you know where you are?
I.V. ONE: No! Yes! I mean no! You know what I mean! Hey! Seriously!
I.V. TWO: Yeah, sure. Right. Whatever. Look, I don't have time for this. Lots of manly stuff to do and all that. Busy schedule. Call me when the 400-horse V-8 drops, willya?
I.V. ONE: But the six has the horsepower of a...
I.V. TWO: Sure, sure. Go play with your dolls or something. What's hot now, Barbie? Those Bratz things? I don't really care. I've gotta go.
I.V. ONE: (sigh)...
You know how it goes: On one hand, you can't even fathom buying a pony car - or a sports car, or even a minivan, for that matter - with the smallest engine on offer. It just wouldn't be right. Like moths to a high-octane flame, most sane human beings are drawn to pavement-peeling power and torque. In the perfect little world inside the car enthusiast's head, the one where real-world needs rarely intrude, tire-smokin', ass-haulin' thrust is Priority One.
On the other hand, faced with the reality of gas prices and the almighty bank account, most of us have to be realistic. Even with tall gearing and technologies like cylinder deactivation, big engines suck a lot of gas. And just like horsepower, gas costs money. In an age where dino juice hovers at or above four bucks a gallon, that's no small concern.
And so we've come to the tipping point. For the past forty years, six-cylinder pony cars have been both embarrassing and practical, weak sisters that made lots of sense but little in the way of tire smoke. No more. I have driven a prototype of the 2010 Camaro LS, I have felt the politically correct, environmentally friendly thunder of its 3.6-liter V-6, and I have one thing to say:
I want one.
Laugh all you want (and yes, the above inner-voice exchange actually occurred inside my head), but there's a reason: For the first time in history, the base Camaro is no slouch. The V-6s found in the current Ford Mustang and Dodge Challenger SE (240 and 250 hp, respectively) are smooth, economical engines, but they're by no means asphalt shredders. The six-cylinder Mustang and Challenger exist because of their relatively good fuel economy and their accessible, Joe-Everyman MSRPs. The base, V-6-powered 2010 Camaro, on the other hand? It's going to be cheap. But it's also going to be fast. And that ain't just numbers talking.
Yep, we drove one. Two, actually.
General Motors recently let us loose in two prototype Camaros, each equipped with the company's direct-injected, 304-hp, 3.6-liter V-6. These were fully functional, so-called "99-percent" engineering prototypes, cars that behave and feel almost exactly like a production 2010 Camaro will. Being prototypes, the examples we drove were cosmetically rough - think zebra-stripe camouflage, sandpaper paint, and trailer-park interiors - but the behind-the-wheel experience was essentially that of a finished, bug-free production car.
What we discovered during this drive was pretty impressive, but it wasn't totally unexpected. Let's dispense with the obvious first: The '10 Camaro behaves a lot like a Pontiac G8, largely because it shares both a platform (Zeta) and a drivetrain with GM's most sporting four-door. But there's more to it than that. Due to the relatively restricted nature of our drive (a GM engineer was present at all times), we weren't able to obtain test results or steal off to the dyno or go visit Mulletville for some man-on-the-street reactions, but we can offer some subjective impressions. What we can't do is guarantee that, once you've driven one, you won't start thinking about a V-6, too.