In the hardcore performance world that I live in, when each new year of General Motors performers show up in print or online, my eyes automatically go to the most powerful model. Being a Bicentennial baby meant coming of age when 250-horsepower V-8s were about as good as the General got, and Chevy’s woefully underpowered V-6 offerings cemented a rep as little more than buzzy boat anchors. With 1980s GM providing 135-horsepower this and 170-horsepower that, you can see why it was almost mandatory to shoot for the top model when considering a performance Chevy.
Thankfully times have changed, and no vehicle drives that point home like the 2010 Camaro. During its development, many GM lovers were fully expecting a standard, 200-odd horsepower V-6 in the base car. So when it was blessed with the Cadillac CTS’ 304-horse, direct-injection V-6, lots of eyebrows were raised.
Sure, the 426-horse SS has gotten a ton of positive ink as a complete performer with 13-flat quarter-mile times, but with GM on pace to easily eclipse 50,000 Camaro sales in a short production year–with a huge number of them being V-6s–there are a lot of “secretary” cars out there. Which begs the questions: What about this V-6 version? Is its powertrain competent enough to lug around the heavier fifth-generation Camaro in the manner suiting card-carrying car guys? Or would the loss of over 100 horses transform this spectacular-looking ride into just another peppy GM rent-a-car? And considering the style-heavy cabin and massive rims and tires: they look great, but how user-friendly are they? Will this sharp machine be comfortable enough for quick and long jaunts alike? Will the suspension soak up bumps and impacts from the 20-inch rims? Or will the backbones of bespectacled auto scribes everywhere have to take a beating in not-so-comfy interiors?
Recently, GM was kind enough to loan me a V-6 Camaro so I could find out. It was a Silver Ice Metallic LT car wearing the optional RS package: “halo” headlights with HID lamps, a rear spoiler with unique taillamps, and big 20-inch rims. And with the six-speed automatic trans, it was also just about as far away from the top-dog 426-horse SS six-speed manual as you can get.
One of the first things I noticed is that the seating position and visibility is similar to past Camaros, yet better: with the low roofline and small windows it can be a little tough to see out of, and extra care must be taken with checking the blind spots. The sport bucket seats sit higher than those in the F-bodies of yore, are wide, and offer acceptable support for the kinds of shenanigans that the V-6 Camaro demographic will likely be involved in. There is good forward visibility even with the car’s hood bulge. The tilt/telescope steering wheel has a good feel to it, with the paddles for the auto’s paddle-shift feature set in the center of the spoke. I found the most comfortable hand position right above nine and three, although with my smaller hands I had to make do with hitting the paddles with my pinky.
Embedded in the throwback instrument panel are an analog 160-mph speedo, eight-grand tach, and fuel and coolant gauges. A digital info center sits in the middle. To the right are the retro-look HVAC and XM radio controls–arguably the best design elements in the Camaro’s interior.
My right hand fell onto the rubbery shift ball that controls the auto trans–other than its nice texture it’s otherwise unremarkable. Below the shifter, letters “D” and “M” allow easy changes from full-on automatic to paddle shifting. Above it is the traction control button. Express down and up driver and passenger windows, cruise and rear defrost, a built-in compass in the digital display, and cool flip/rotate side A/C vents are all nice features.
Turn the key and the V-6 comes roaring to life–credit the throaty exhaust system for making this little engine sound much larger. Once rolling it becomes immediately apparent that this is a huge departure from earlier fourth- and third-generation cars. The chassis stiffness is solid, and Camaro’s typical shakes and rattles were nowhere to be found. With the GTO, G8, and Camaro under its belt, GM’s Holden team has proven it can build solid performance machines for the American market. While sitting in traffic the refined V-6 is invisible–the same cannot be said for the knockout styling, as the Camaro was garnering just as many looks as the Ferrari 360 in front of me.
Once out on the open road, a firm prod of the throttle unleashes all 304 horses. Acceleration is brisk with the standard 3.27 gears, and the paddle-shift function allows spirited–if not immediate–upshifts. The pull is especially impressive in two places: from a dead stop with the steep 4.06 first gear ratio doing the work, and when the vehicle speed is favorable enough to avoid a “Shift Denied” message on the digital portion of the dash. In these instances, the Hydra-Matic 6L50 6-speed will downshift into the 217-inch V-6’s upper-rpm range, even rev-matching for you in the process. At 3,700-plus pounds there is no doubt that this is a heavy car, but even with the auto it’s easy to see six-second zero-to-60 blasts, and 14s in the quarter–times that make 1980s V-8s jealous.
The fully independent sport FE2 suspension–featuring a dual-bar strut system and .87-inch stabilizer bar up front, and coil-over shocks and a .85-inch bar in the rear–feels good at speed, as the 4.5-link independent rear takes a set and confidently eases the car through corners. My RS package’s 20-inch rims and Pirelli tires hung on to the road admirably, with GM’s StabiliTrak electronic stability control waiting in the wings just in case. The ride was firm but not rough–the IRS is a hell of a lot better than even the last-generation’s live axle, especially over uneven surfaces like railroad tracks and pockmarked roads. Though you definitely feel some thumps over the largest of bumps, the solid suspension and body transmit them like much more expensive imported sports cars do. When it comes time to shut the party down, 12.6-inch front and 12.4-inch rear discs work with the ABS system to provide confident, repeatable stops.
Old-school knuckle-dragger that I am, I’d choose the SS over the base Camaro only because of its extra 122 horses and 147 lb-ft of torque. But catering to the lunatic fringe is no way to run a car company, and Chevy was smart enough to raise the bar on the base Camaro–and build ’em in droves. A high-tech and powerful V-6 was just the ticket to rope in all of those would-be import buyers who want style, refinement, and performance wrapped into one. This is a very well-balanced and comfortable car that is easy to use every day–and with the RS-equipped Camaro’s MSRP floating in the $26,000 range, it’s a bargain to boot.