Let’s see: 304 horsepower, a six-speed transmission, and 29 miles per gallon.
Wow, sounds like a great performer. It is–and that’s just the base model of the re-born, 2010 Chevy Camaro. The high-performance Camaro SS offers up to 426 horsepower and very respectable highway mileage in the mid-20s.
It may seem incongruous to bring fuel economy into the picture when describing the heart lust that most enthusiasts will feel when they lay eyes on the new Camaro, but in today’s economic and political climates, performance is inextricably linked with efficiency. Indeed, given the wild, seemingly unexplainable swings gas prices have endured during the last couple of years, it’s a relevant point. And with EPA-rated highway mileage numbers of 24 with the six-speed manual and 25 for automatic-equipped models (that also use GM’s cylinder-deactivating Active Fuel Management feature), the Camaro SS offers guilt-free, wallet-conscious cruising.
And while the performance and fuel economy can be quantified with instrumented testing, there’s an intangible quality with the re-born Camaro that is unlike anything experienced with previous models. You have to experience the car firsthand to understand it fully, but it essentially boils down to quality and attention to detail. This author has owned second-, third-, and fourth-generation F-cars–and has had plenty of experience with the first-gen models–so I don’t say this lightly: The 2010 Camaro is solid, with details that were obviously sweated-out during development.
For better or worse, earlier generations were fun as hell, but delivered those thrills on the cheap. The body structures tended to feel loose after 30,000 or 40,000 miles and build quality wasn’t the stuff of industry benchmarks. That’s not the case with the new car. There’s a satisfying heft to it that has nothing to do with its curb weight.
There’s also a reassuring familiarity to the 2010 Camaro that undoubtedly has much to do with its heritage design, but seeing that Camaro badge on the front fender is like walking into your high school reunion or signing up for Facebook–the years between contact with an old friend dissolve immediately. It’s hard to believe it’s been seven years since the last Camaros were built, but it’s very easy to pick right up again with the new car as if those years were only a few weeks.
We recently got some limited seat time in the new V-6 and V-8 Camaros, but it was enough to forge a strong impression. It was, indeed, like rekindling the relationship with an old friend.
FEEL BEHIND THE WHEEL It may sound strange, but the Camaro’s interior feels both expansive and intimate at the same time. Perhaps it has to do with a perception created by the exterior design, and expectations generated from dropping down into so many previous-generation models, but you expect the Camaro’s cabin to be smaller than it is. Once inside, you find ample legroom, elbow room, and even–for the first time in Camaro’s history–a usable back seat. Buy an extra child seat and lash it down back there. It’ll fit.
Ergonomically, there’s much to like, too. The steering wheel on all models is nice and thick. It feels substantial, which goes a long way in conveying an overall impression that it’s a true driver’s car. The same goes for the seats, which are firm and comfortable–especially the leather ones.
The instrument panel has detailed, rich-looking gauges set in binnacles that mimic the style of the 1969 Camaro, as does the optional auxiliary gauge package that is mounted in the center console. (Our only nit with it is the lack of the engine torque readout that was part of a gauge package in the late, lamented SSR.)
Lately, GM has been paying extra attention to interior details, and they’ve done very well with the Camaro. It looks and feels upscale, with rich-looking two-tone treatments. The grey interior components look a bit too grey, especially because they’re complemented with black components, but an optional interior lighting package adds a welcome degree of warmth. Also, the wide dash panel to the right of the instrument cluster is unadorned. It could really use a moderately sized chrome or brushed-aluminum “Camaro” badge.
UNDER THE HOOD Camaro’s LS and LT models come with a 3.6L, direct-injected V-6 rated at the aforementioned 304 horsepower, along with 273 lb-ft of torque. That’s terrific for a base-model six-cylinder, and is only a few horsepower shy of the Mustang GT’s 4.6L V-8.
The engine is smooth, refined, and, with the direct injection (DI) fuel system, incredibly efficient. If you’re unfamiliar with how DI works, fuel is introduced at the combustion chamber rather than the intake tract. It’s a more controlled fuel delivery system that enables a high, 11.3:1 compression ratio–on 87-octane pump gas, no less–that helps build power.
As for the Camaro SS, it offers two 6.2L engines, the LS3 and L99. The LS3 is paired with a six-speed manual trans and is rated at 426 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque. The L99 goes with the automatic trans and includes Active Fuel Management. Mostly because of the cylinder deactivation components, the L99 is rated at “only” 400 horsepower and 410 lb-ft.
Regardless of the version, the 6.2L engines embody everything enthusiasts have come to love in the LS engine family. They make great power, and the intake systems in the Camaro are tuned to exploit their melodious rev quality.
ON THE ROAD As mentioned at the top of the story, there’s a high degree of solidity to the new Camaro from the driver’s seat that is hard to convey, especially to those familiar with third- and fourth-generation models. We hesitate to bring up the previous generations when discussing the new car, because it’s the proverbial apples-to-oranges discussion, but it’s inevitable. So, if you’re familiar with the flexible feel of the third- and fourth-generation models, the new Camaro is like driving a piece of billet steel with four-wheel independent suspension.
And speaking of the suspension system, the independent rear–the first ever in a Camaro–delivers a ride quality that can best be described as refined, particularly over broken, heaved pavement that would send the solid-axle, fourth-gen cars skittering sideways. We fully expect serious street/strip enthusiasts to quickly swap in a solid rear axle, but racers have done remarkably well putting big power through the familial rear axles of the Pontiac GTO and G8.
As delivered, however, the Camaro soaks up bumps and potholes rather than bounces off them. It’s a compliant ride, with predictable, confident handling traits, but with automatic-equipped SS models pushing about 3,900 pounds, the overall heft of the Camaro is a factor. Fortunately, the LS-based V-8 engines make plenty of low-rpm torque to help build momentum, but the new Camaro is a relatively large car. It is about two inches wider, nearly three inches taller, and has an 11.2-inch-longer wheelbase (but approximately four-inch-shorter overall length) than a 2002 Z28, and it weighs about 450 pounds more. The physics of those dimensions are undeniable, but the longer wheelbase aids both the ride comfort and back seat space.
When the full reserve of the 6.2-liter engine’s torque is called up, however, the Camaro’s pounds seem to quickly melt away. The Tremec TR6060 six-speed manual trans has noticeably smoother action than the fourth-gen models’ T-56, and we didn’t have any problem making that darned 2-3 upshift, but the throws could be a little shorter in our opinion (a Hurst short-throw shifter will be offered soon).
A launch control feature is offered with the manual trans. Through creative engine management, it enables no-lift shifting that is said to maximize acceleration. And while we generally prefer manual shifting, we think most enthusiasts will find automatic-backed SS models to be surprisingly lively. It’s true that the Hydra-Matic 6L80 six-speed automatic adds to the curb weight, and its complementing L99 engine gives up 26 horsepower when compared with the LS3/manual combination, but the engineers did a great job at dialing in the torque converter and shift points. The transmission kicks down immediately and without hesitation. A slushbox it ain’t.
STACKED UP AGAINST THE COMPETITION The Camaro is the third of the revitalized ponycars to enter the fray, hitting dealership lots in an admittedly tough market. It’s going up against the facelifted 2010 Ford Mustang and unabashedly retro Dodge Challenger. The Mustang has worked well for Ford in recent years, crossing all kinds of demographic lines, while the Challenger is too fresh to draw any conclusions.
The Mustang is considerably smaller and lighter than either the Challenger or Camaro, but it’s also the least powerful. The Mustang GT’s 4.6-liter V-8 is rated at 315 horsepower, while the Challenger R/T delivers 376 from its 5.7-liter Hemi. As we mentioned, the Camaro SS offers up to 426 horsepower, making the more expensive Challenger SRT8’s 425-horse 6.1-liter engine a more direct competitor with it.
It looks to us as if the Camaro SS offers the best value. It has a more modern chassis and suspension system–and way more horsepower–than the Mustang, and power on par with the more expensive Challenger SRT8. It all looks great on paper as well as the street, but the true test plays out this year as performance enthusiasts vote with their checkbooks.
Engines LS/LTSS Type 3.6L V-6 (LLT) 6.2L V-8 (LS3/L99) Cylinder block cast aluminum cast aluminum Bore (in/mm) 3.70/94 4.06/103.25 Stroke (in/mm) 3.37/85.6 3.62/92 Displacement (cu in/cc) 217/3564 376/6162 Cylinder heads aluminum aluminum Compression ratio 11.3:1 10.7:1 Valvetrain DOHC, variable valve timing OHV, Active Fuel Management (L99) Max engine speed (rpm) 7000 6000 Ignition system distributorless, coil-near-plug distributorless, coil-near-plug Fuel delivery high-pressure direct injection returnless, multi-port injection Horsepower 304 at 6400 426 at 5000 (LS3) 400 at 5000 (L99) Torque 273 at 5200 420 at 4500 (LS3) 410 at 4500 (L99)
Transmissions/axles LS/LT SS Six-speed manual Aisin Warner AY6 Tremec TR6060 Six-speed automatic Hydra-Matic 6L50 Hydra-Matic 6L80 Final drive ratio 3.27 3.45 (man); 3.27 (auto)
Chassis/suspension Front multi-link MacPherson strut with direct acting stabilizer bar, progressive-rate coil springs and fully adjustable camber, caster, and toe Rear multi-link independent, progressive-rate coil springs over shocks, fully adjustable camber and toe Steering variable-ratio rack-and-pinion Steering ratio 16.1:1
Brakes LS/LT SS Type 4-wheel disc w/ABS 4-wheel disc w/ABS Calipers, front single-piston, iron 4-piston, aluminum Brembo Calipers, rear single-piston, aluminum 4-piston, aluminum Brembo Rotor diameter, front (in) 12.64 14.00 Rotor diameter, rear (in) 12.40 14.40