Never heard of the tiny burg of Unadilla? Don't worry-until we moved to Michigan, we hadn't, either. Not much more than a speck on the map, Unadilla is essentially a handful of houses and a couple of stop signs. But it's also where the 2010 Chevrolet Camaro threw a Lake Huron-size wrench into all our pony-car perceptions.
The '10 Camaro won't see showrooms until next March, but General Motors let us take a V-6-powered engineering prototype for a quick spin down the lumpy forest roads just northwest of Ann Arbor. We came away more than a little surprised. The Camaro's basic ingredients are simple. One: GM's rear-wheel-drive Zeta platform (as found in the Pontiac G8, albeit tweaked for more sporting duty). Two: Struts up front, a multilink setup in the back, and a retro but not too-retro skin. And three: A 304-hp version of GM's direct-injected, 3.6-liter V-6, paired with either an Aisin six-speed manual or a GM six-speed automatic.
That ingredient list may look relatively tame, but don't be fooled-in a huge break with tradition, the cheapest new Camaro you can buy next year will be no weak sister. There's no other way to say it: given a winding, twisting back road, this sucker moves. Weight is a tad on the high side-manual-transmission models check in at about 3740 pounds, automatics twenty pounds heavier-but the engine and the chassis are an astoundingly competent pair, matching a respectable amount of linear thrust with a remarkably unflappable and composed suspension. Mild understeer at the limit can be booted into controllable oversteer, and pockmarked, off-camber asphalt can be dispatched at full throttle with nary a sneeze from the Camaro's rear end. If you've been raised to believe that any pony car worth its salt is a bucking and snorting stick-axled anachronism or a pudgy, face-lifted family sedan, then it all comes as a bit of a shock. The same goes for the wholly respectable steering feel, restrained ride comfort, and relatively quiet cabin.
Nevertheless, our drive was in an unfinished prototype, and we can't render a final judgment just yet. But to dig up an old chestnut, hear us now and remember us later: if the prototype Camaro is any evidence, then Chevy is about to lay some serious welcome-to-the-new-century pain on its pony-car competition. And if we had any doubts about the future of the gas-guzzling, increasingly irrelevant concept of Detroit muscle, then consider those doubts gone-the next Camaro is set to be modern, surprisingly relevant, and very, very good.