On June 28, 1966, GM held a press conference to announce the launch of the first Camaro. When asked by the press, 'What is a Camaro?' Chevrolet product managers responded, 'A Camaro is a small, vicious animal that eats Mustangs.' Well, On Wheels, Inc. recently got our first drive in the 2010 Chevrolet Camaro and five generations of Camaros later, it appears that vicious animal isn't satiated yet.
By now, anyone who has a PC, or a TV, or any other device devoted to the transmission of information, is aware of the fact that GM has brought the Camaro back for another go. Some have even jokingly referred to it as the Cama-roo in deference to the car’s Australian origins.
This is in fact the most international Camaro ever offered. The lead exterior designers on the project are from Korea and Russia, while the interior design director is an American. Cold weather testing took place in Sweden, hot weather testing took place in Death Valley, high performance testing for the SS model took place in Germany around the famed Nurburgring, and the cars are built in Canada.
So, right about now you’re saying; “Yeah, right on for all the cross-cultural, United Nations hyperbole, is the 2010 Chevrolet Camaro a true world-class performance car?”
Well, uh, no – not really.
It’s really, really good, but it’s not exactly world class.
Now before you start freaking all patriotic and calling us a variety of un-Americans, read on and let us explain.
On Wheels tested the Camaro SS with the 426-horsepower 6.2-liter V8 and a six-speed manual transmission. And while this is currently the ultimate iteration of the new Camaro, the volume model is expected to be the V6 version that produces 304 horsepower (and is said to get 29 mpg on the highway!). Unfortunately, the timing of the day didn’t permit us to get behind the wheel of that car. So while we can’t speak to the base model yet, we did become intimately acquainted with the Super Sport.
And in a word, WOW!
The 2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS really goes – and it goes really hard.
Acceleration is crisp and unrelenting and the shifter delivers positive shifts with great feel. You’d have to be extremely ham-fisted to miss a shift in this car. The clutch take-up is absolutely perfect, engaging exactly where you expect it. The pedals could be better placed to permit heel and toe downshifts, but with so much torque on tap, (420 ft-lbs @ 4600 rpm) setting the car into motion requires no finesse whatsoever. Ease off the clutch pedal, the engine takes over and you’re rolling. Plus, terrific acceleration from any speed is readily available, often without even downshifting.
Braking is absolutely first rate, you can dive right up to the braking point for a corner at amazing speeds, confident that the brakes will pull the car down in time as you set up your entry and blast through – time and time again – with absolutely no fade. The independent rear suspension system is a willing accomplice in all of this too. It takes a set and carries the car right on through. Body roll is negligible. A tremendous amount of information is transmitted through the seat of your pants. You feel absolutely connected to the Camaro SS at speed. The steering is nicely accurate with reasonably good feel, although truth be told, it could be a tad better. But that isn't to say it's bad.
Whether your thing is brutal acceleration off the line in quest of low 1/4 mile times, long distance straight-line high speeds, wicked sharp corner carving, or any combination of all of the above, the 2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS will play right along with you – no doubt. It's an absolute blast. We really enjoyed driving this car.
So, what’s up with all the ambiguity?
Well, in the press briefing, Chevy’s product managers and product planners took great measures to stress to us they see this new Camaro as more than just a muscle car. They believe it has the chops to go up against cars like the Infiniti G37 coupe, and the BMW 3-Series coupe. And while there is no doubt whatsoever the Camaro SS we drove is easily capable of outrunning both of those cars (but not necessarily the BMW M3) the level of sophistication those two cars deliver leaves the Camaro in a bit of a lurch. As good as the Camaro SS is, it just does not impart the same sense of quality and precision as the BMW and the Infiniti.
Part of this is because the Camaro’s interior design falls short compared to those cars.
Case in point, consider the way the broad swath of a dash sweeps away from the driver to the right with absolutely nothing on it, save A/C vents. Meanwhile, a grouping of four gauges reside out of the driver's line of sight, down on the center console ahead of the shift lever – rendering them virtually useless. You have to take your eyes completely off the road to read them. Even though there’s more than enough space to place those gauges in the dash to the right of the speedometer and tachometer in that strip above the A/C vents (canted toward the driver) where they'd be useful. Additionally, such placement would add interest to an empty area positively aching for something to do.
We get it's supposed to evoke the design of the original car, but the world's learned a lot about ergonomics since 1966 y'all. Things like this just aren't supposed to happen in a modern, world class, driver-focused, GT car. While GM was going all over the world, the company would have done well to get a German engineer to do the interior.
Similarly, the pod in the middle of the lower dash containing the audio and climate control switches probably seemed like a great idea when it was being designed and reviewed. But when the car is in motion, it becomes an overly busy amalgamation of closely grouped, similarly shaped, dials and buttons that requires one to shift their attention away from driving to decipher, select, and activate the desired function.
Then there is the question of size.
Photographs don’t really reveal how big the Camaro is. And frankly, neither does viewing the car in isolation. But when you’re behind the wheel of the Camaro on a narrow two-lane road, it comes right home to you – this is a pretty big car. To be honest, it's an issue for both the Challenger and Mustang as well. But if we're asked to judge the Camaro against the G37 and 3-Series Coupe, this is another area in which the Camaro does not deliver in world class fashion. Nor does the Camaro's look exude the understated elegance of those cars.
If GM’s marketers are counting on conquest sales from either of those two marques, we're afraid they’re in for some disappointment. The Camaro simply isn’t a world-class GT car. To get that from GM in anything other than a Corvette, we're going have to wait for the "V" version of the upcoming CTS coupe. However, all is not bleak. If GM's marketing team chooses to focus their efforts on the Camaro’s real strengths, rather than their flawed beliefs – and shape customer expectations accordingly – the General's looking at a runaway hit.
The Camaro SS is a highly exceptional American pony car. Viewed in that light, the 2010 Camaro is an absolute standout. The Chevy is hands down the best of its breed – period. It’s faster, more agile, and arguably better looking than both Challenger and Mustang. And if they'd set it down a bit lower over its tires and wheels it'd be even more of a stunner. Plus, Camaro's base V6 has the goods to blow both of those cars’ base V6 engines well back off into the weeds.
Bottom line, if you’re a big fan of the virtues of the classic American performance car, but you also want a car that handles on par with the finest cars from Japan and Europe – man, does GM have a car waiting for you.
The 2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS is indeed a vicious animal that eats Mustangs (and Challengers too).
We can't wait to drive the Z/28, there will be a Z/28...right?
2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS
Base Price: $30,995
Engine: 6.2-liter V8
Horsepower: 426 @ 5900 rpm
Torque: 420 ft-lbs @ 4600 rpm
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Drivetrain: Front engine/rear drive
Fuel Consumption (mpg): 16-city/24-highway