PRO’s: Beautiful exterior and interior, capable of total hoonage if called upon to do so, great handling.
CON’s: Poor visibility, lazy power delivery, poorly designed steering wheel.
FINAL THOUGHT: A 100% pure muscle car that will provide you with all the tire smoking, power-sliding fun that you’ll ever need.
I was first introduced to the new Chevrolet Camaro back in 2009 at the New York International Auto Show. At the time I was hanging out with the Editor-in-Chief of Cardomain.com, Rob Enaudi and as luck would have it we were fortunate enough to get an interview with General Motors’ current Vice President of Global Design, Ed Welburn. We talked for awhile about the happenings inside of GM and then turned the conversation towards the then new 2010 Chevrolet Camaro. We spoke about its design, power and the impact that it was going to have on the market. Mr. Welburn then asked if we’d driven one, and since these things weren’t even on the road yet our obvious answer was, no. With that and a quick phone call, Ed Welburn told us that within an hour there would be a 2010 Camaro SS 6-speed waiting out front for us to play with. He wasn’t lying and because of that we ended up having one hell of an afternoon.
2011 is less than two weeks away, and as luck would have it, I came once again to find myself in the possession of yet another Chevrolet Camaro. This time it was a bright Inferno Orange 2011 Camaro SS with black racing stripes and an eye-popping two-tone interior. When you first set eyes on the Camaro you notice it really is like no other car on road. Its squat bulldog styling is low slung and muscular telling the world that the car means business. In fact if you look at the Camaro concept car that debuted back in 2006, you’ll notice that the production version is almost identical, which is something that rarely happens in the automotive industry. I could now go into a bunch of detail about its muscle car lineage and how it pays homage to the Camaro’s built from 1967-1969, but I’m not going to on the assumption that you’re already aware of that. I mean lets face it, when you hear the name Camaro you automatically think, muscle car.
Making the production car so close to the original concept doesn’t come without some concessions. Visibility for example is definitely not one of the Camaro’s strong suits. A chopped roof line combined with big rear pillars and tiny rear view mirrors mean that you’ll constantly be checking over your shoulder to see if anyone is around before you make that lane change. It’s annoying, but if you want this car, it’s something that you’ll just have to deal with.
The interior of this particular car was not for the faint of heart, but then neither is the Camaro. Two-tone inferno orange double-stitched leather comes across like a right hook to your jaw, especially when combined with the plastic orange inserts that run through the door panels and dash. It’s totally in your face and makes no bones about being loud and obnoxious. Some people will say that it’s gaudy and poorly done, but truth be told, I loved it. Remember this is a muscle car, not some boring family sedan. If you want boring go buy a Toyota Camry, if you want fun and excitement, then buy a Camaro.
The nicely sculpted front seats are not only stylish, but comfortable as well with their 6-way power adjustments. Side bolstering is good and they kept me solidly in place as I took the car through some tight and twisty turns. Being 6’4″ though meant that as far as head room goes, I was pretty much at the limit. For example, if I wanted to take the Camaro to the track I doubt I’d be able to squeeze a helmet on and maintain comfort. Visually I found that the seats fit the car very well and offered a great blend of modern and retro styling that really complimented the cars exterior. If there is one major drawback to the interior however it would have to be rear seat room. Yes the Camaro does have rear seats, but unless you’re 5’4″ or under I’d suggest taking the bus.
Up front the retro theme continues with a big analog speedometer and tach that are split by a digital information center. Move to the center of the car and you’re greeted to a very intuitive center stack that contains climate and audio controls. I should point out that Chevrolet decided to go with rubber grip dials for the climate and audio controls.
These not only feel great to the touch, but are easy to grip. I know it may seem like a little thing, but drive this car everyday and things like this really begin to matter. Head south and you’ll see an additional four gauges that give you oil pressure, oil temp, voltage and get this… transmission temp, which is something not usually seen on new cars.
I feel I also have to mention that I absolutely hated the steering wheel. Don’t get me wrong, it’s beautiful with its orange stitched leather wrapping, but as far as comfort goes, it sucks. For one, the spokes are WAY to big and prohibit you from getting a good grasp and secondly, the controls for the audio and information center are simply too small. On a positive note the interior gauges look kick-ass at night when they’re illuminated and really compliment the Camaro’s overall look and feel.
Once you’re done taking in the Camaro’s looks you’ll finally get around to driving it, which is something that I think you’ll fined quite enjoyable. The Camaro SS is powered by GM’s 6.2-liter V8 that puts out 426 hp and 420 pound-feet of torque. Power is mated to a 6-speed manual gearbox with a Hurst short-throw shifter.
It’s a good mill, but I have to say that throttle response did seem a bit lazy. Before I get into my driving impression you need to understand that even though this is a new car that’s packed full of technology, it’s still a muscle car, not a track weapon. Sure you can take it on the track, but it’s not what this machine was designed for, so remember that before you go and try to school Porsche 911′s with it.
With all the electronic nannies that are put into cars these days I was afraid that the Camaro wasn’t going to be as fun as I’d hoped. Thankfully though burnouts, doughnuts and the occasional powerslide can be accomplished with ease. Disengage the traction control, bring the revs up to about 4 grand, dump the clutch and matte the go-pedal and presto – instant tire smoke. Instructions for the doughnut are exactly the same, just make sure to turn either left or right when pressing the gas. As for the powerslide… well, I’ll let you figure that one out for yourselves.
*Note the NYPD cruiser parked next to us…
The Camaro’s ride definitely has a sporty firmness to it which means you will feel bumps and road imperfections, but not so much that it will break your back. I’m not sure if I’d want to drive it across the country, but as a daily driver or occasional road trip car, it wouldn’t be too bad. The Camaro’s power delivery is something that honestly, I couldn’t quite get a handle on. Now I know this car will hit 0-60 mph in about 5 seconds, it’s just that it didn’t feel that fast to me. Accelerating through the mid-range was deceiving as well. Time and time again, I’d drop a gear and whack the throttle only to find out that the heads-up display was telling me that I was going much faster than I actually thought I was. What that all means is that this is a deceptively fast automobile and one that you need to keep tabs on when you’re driving it.
Handling wise the Camaro always felt rock solid and planted. Dive hard into a corner and you’ll notice minimal body roll, with just a hint of under steer. Disengage the traction control and you’ll find that you can slide the ass of the Camaro around with ease, while still maintaining total vehicle control. The SS is also shod with four piston Brembo brakes and while they provide good feedback, I felt that braking could have been better.
As mentioned, this tester was equipped with a Tremec TR 6060 six-speed manual transmission and while the tranny itself was just fine, the baseball sized ball-shifter was not. First off it’s just too big and second, it’s not completely round so getting a good grip on it was next to impossible. Aside from the goofy sized knob though, the Hurst short-throw shifter made blipping through the gears a piece of cake. Chevrolet also did fairly well on getting the exhaust note down. Slam the gas pedal and you’re greeted with a deep throaty growl that makes the Camaro’s presence known. Lift off the throttle and even more fun are the burbles and pops you’ll hear on deceleration.
*My original encounter with the Chevrolet Camaro almost 2 years ago.
After driving the 2011 Chevrolet Camaro SS around for a solid week I can tell you that Chevrolet got it right, as this is a 100% full-on muscle car. It’s fast, powerful and makes all the right parts of your body tingle, while at the same time delivering to its owner a 1960′s era thrill ride in a modern day wrapper. Oh and by the way, if you click on the above video you’ll see my first impression of Chevrolet’s Camaro SS back in early 2009.