Thumbs Up: This car looks good, it’s well screwed together and it’s a blast to drive.
Thumbs Down: Low roofline requires entry gymnastics.
Buy This Car If: You want a comfortable and entertaining muscle car with a bowtie on the grille.
It’s virtually impossible to grow up in America and not have a few stories related to the Chevy Camaro. My cousin had a ’69 Camaro with an acid dipped body and a big block motor. Some of my high school classmates drove Camaros or Firebirds, and my old racing partner used to run a Z28 1LE in SCCA SSGT competition. I’ve lusted after the first generation cars for years, and probably could have funded my retirement if I’d sunk money into a ’69 SS / RS instead of wasting it on college tuition. So it goes.
When the fifth generation Camaro debuted as a concept in 2006, I was pretty underwhelmed with the design. It was neither retro nor contemporary; instead, by attempting to blend the best of both worlds, I thought the designers had missed their mark. I wondered who’d be lining up to buy the new Camaro, since it wasn’t nearly as good looking as the retro Ford Mustang or the retro Dodge Challenger.
It turns out that lots of people were lining up to buy the new Camaro, which outsold both the Mustang and the Challenger until last month. Offered at a variety of different performance, trim and price points, the new Camaro became the “must have” car of 2009 and early 2010, and a week spent driving the 2SS version clearly showed me why.
First, let’s talk about the styling: the car looks much better in the flesh than it does in pictures. The low roof and high beltline give the car a street rod look not often associated with production vehicles from a major manufacturer. The muscular rear flanks give the car some attitude, even more than that of the the first generation. Unlike the “smiley face” of the Mazdaspeed 3, the front grille and lidded headlights of the Camaro aren’t friendly at all. In fact, the car seems to dare you to stand toe to toe with it.
In my opinion, the best angle of the car is a rear view, looking down the lines of the rear fenders. Chevy did a great job in styling the rear end, and there are some great optical tricks on the car. The high fender line, black under tray and slightly downward facing spoiler minimize the size of the rear, and let’s face it – baby got back. The trunk is huge, but not particularly tall; you’ll have no problem fitting golf clubs or suitcases in there, but you’re certainly not going to get a TV or a lawnmower in there without some disassembly.
The new Camaro isn’t a small car, but it never feels ungainly behind the wheel. I could see using it for the occasional track day, but make no mistake about it: you’ll be going through tires and brake pads like an obsessive-compulsive goes through bars of soap. That’s quite a bit of mass to throw around in corners, but the performance suspension of the 2SS package feels more than up to the task. The Brembo brake package, however, eliminates the spare tire and replaces it with a compressor and can of sealant. Make sure you leave enough tire to get home on, otherwise you may be testing the Camaro’s OnStar system sooner than you think.
Critics (including myself) have panned the Camaro’s interior. It has a lot of high points, but is let down by the acres of drab black plastic that run from the center console to the passenger door. From the driver’s viewpoint, the console gauges (included on 2SS models) go a long way towards breaking up the bland, and the instruments are first rate. I wasn’t originally fond of their tunnel styling, but after a week of driving the Camaro they really grew on me. The front seats are superb, and as good as any I’ve had in a non-luxury vehicle. Bolstering is sufficient for aggressive cornering, yet not intrusive on day-to-day comfort. If I owned a vacation house in another state, the Camaro would be the ideal choice to swallow up both highway miles and twisty backroads in between point A and point B. I also loved the leather wrapped steering wheel, one of the few I’ve ever had big enough for my hands, complete with properly positioned thumb cutouts. It’s a funky shape that may not fit everyone, but it fit me perfectly.
Some have complained about the Camaro’s outward visibility, but I never found it an issue (then again I drive an FJ Cruiser, so maybe I’m not the best authority on outward visibility). There’s a rear proximity sensor that helps you judge if anything is behind you, and the mirrors give adequate visibility. The low roofline, combined with the high beltline, give the new Camaro’s interior an intimate feel. You may have to do some yoga to get in the car without smashing your head on the roof, but once you’re there it’s a great place to spend time.
That’s not the case with the rear seats, which should be considered ‘for insurance purposes only’. They’re plenty comfortable to sit in as long as the front seats are moved forward, but even drivers with average length legs will crush rear seat passengers’ knees. If you need a car to routinely haul four adults, this isn’t it.
Under the hood is a 6.2 liter V8 rated at 426 horsepower with the manual transmission and 400 horsepower with the automatic. I’d previously driven the automatic version of the Camaro SS, and came away unimpressed with the horsepower. That simply wasn’t the case with the six speed manual; there’s a significant difference on the butt dyno between the cars, and I can’t emphasize enough how much better the six speed felt than the automatic. The manual transmission completely transforms the car, and makes it very entertaining to stomp the fun pedal when the tach gets north of 3,000 RPM. Should you not want Big Brother assisting your driving, Chevy also allows you to turn off their Stabilitrak system for maximum enjoyment on track days. Despite the Camaro’s horsepower, it never felt high strung and I got the sense you’d need to push the car hard to find any bad habits. I certainly didn’t come across any, and I drove the car hard enough.
Despite the car’s 6.2 liter motor and my enthusiastic driving style, I managed a respectable 16.1 mpg during my week of driving. Most of my miles were city driving, and the car is capable of much higher numbers on the highway. In fact, driving to an old airfield to shoot the pictures I managed about 22 mpg on the highway without trying very hard. The EPA rates the car at 16 city and 24 highway, and both are in line with what I experienced.
As equipped, my tester came with the 2SS package (including a Boston Acoustics nine speaker stereo system, Bluetooth phone connectivity, a USB port, the center gauge package, heated front seats, leather seating, Universal Home Remote, door ambient lighting); the RS package (including 20” wheels, body colored roof molding, high intensity headlamps, and unique RS taillights); a sunroof and polished aluminum upgraded wheels. The sticker price was $37,365, which seems like a fair price for this much content.
If you want to buy the fastest muscle car on the market today, or the one with the highest horsepower, the 2010 Camaro 2SS isn’t it. If you want to buy a well appointed muscle car that’s surprisingly comfortable and wickedly entertaining, the Camaro 2SS may be just what you had in mind. At the very least it’s worth a test drive before you put money down on something else. You may be surprised at how much you like the Camaro; I know I certainly was.