Don't count on the Chevrolet Volt to rescue General Motors. The extended-range electric car is a fascinating science project and great for wowing policy makers, but few car enthusiasts are that committed to saving the planet. What most of us want is a sexy-hot ride that doesn't cost a fortune. Enter the reborn Chevy Camaro - the ultimate red-blooded, blue-collar fashion statement and GM's best hope of driving itself out of the ditch.
The Camaro's six-year absence really did make hearts yearn for a Ford Mustang foil. Dodge's Challenger revival eased some of that ache, but true Chevy fans would sooner pine for the old days than defect. After GM announced that the Camaro concept wasn't a tease, 14,000 believers affirmed their faith by placing orders.
Now that GM's Oshawa, Ontario, assembly plant is cranking out cars, we've test-driven V-6 and V-8 versions of the fifth-generation Camaro. Our first revelation: Chevy has mounted a classic Trojan horse offense. Under its 1969-esque cover, the Camaro is armed with such 2009 weapons as direct injection (V-6 only), an independent rear suspension, and six speeds in every transmission. Chevy's strategy is to reward the faithful and to lure fresh recruits away from imports.
The irony is that true import flavor is part of the Camaro's recipe. Four years ago, Bob Lutz and GM design chief Ed Welburn cooked up this car as a buzz builder and Chevy brand resuscitator. After their 2006 Detroit auto show concept rocked the car world, the business case supporting a production model gained momentum. GM's Holden division in Australia offered two vital resources: a can-do attitude and a global rear-wheel-drive chassis code-named Zeta that arrived here last year beneath the Pontiac G8.
To deliver a Camaro that held true to the Lutz-Welburn inspiration, GM engineers in Michigan and Melbourne hewed a tight coupe out of the large G8 sedan by moving the Zeta rear axle forward six inches. To clear the room needed for twenty-inch wheels and tires, the front suspension was moved forward, track widths were increased, and the windshield was shifted rearward and given a more upright stance. After revised suspension geometries, larger brakes, and other changes were added, the Camaro's Zeta Two underpinnings shared little with the G8's Zeta One blueprints other than common engineering.
Concurrently, the V-8-powered concept was expanded into a full range of meek-to-mean Camaros. The menu includes LS, LT, and SS series with two trim levels, three engines, four transmissions, and two suspensions, plus an RS package consisting of twenty-inch wheels and tires, HID headlamps, and a rear spoiler. Prices run from $22,995 for the stripped LS V-6 to more than $37,000 for a well-equipped SS V-8.