As General Motors emerges from bankruptcy and all the talk of the car that will save GM is the Volt, a funny thing happened on the way to the production of “the cars American’s want to drive”(™V.I. Obama). America did find in GM a car that they wanted to drive. In fact for the month of June that single model out sold both the entire Buick and Cadillac brands in their entirety. The new halo car for GM and Chevy is the Camaro.
For the month of June, the Camaro sold a touch over 9700 units. Quite a remarkable feat in the current economic unpleasantness. Unlike many of their other models, dealers are getting full MSRP with no incentives. If the buyer can get financing, they are going right out the door.
Why is it that the new Camaro is moving so well? I believe there are a number of factors here. Number one: in an era where there is little innovative styling going on, designers (not just in the car industry) have fallen in love with retro styling because it’s easy. The new Camaro IS retro, but not in a patronizing way like most others are. The new Camaro feels like a natural evolution of the Gen 1 67-69 series in much the same way the current 997 series Porsche 911 feels like a natural evolution of the original 63-69 911.
For the last six months to a year we have been told by those in power that we will all be driving small, fuel efficient, bland, uninteresting appliances for the most part. CNBC’s Larry Kudlow calls them “little green go-karts” and while the American spirit of independence, individualism, and rebellion has been beaten almost out of existence, a small flame still lingers. I think the Camaro represents that spirit, much like its rival the Ford Mustang. Something that the average person can reach for, even if it’s not the V8 model, to say that those in the ivory white towers will not dictate to them what they can and cannot choose to drive.
The lines are classic sports/muscle car, no matter it be American, British, Italian, etc. – a long front end, a compact passenger compartment and a short rear section. While I’m not always a fan of the move to the 19″ and larger wheels that have been the trend in the last 5-7 years, the 20″ wheels on our test car looked good and did a nice job of filling in the massive wheel wells.
This last point brings up my major beef with the new Camaro and I wanted to get it out at the top of this review. The car is too large. It’s a bit too long, way too wide and it is 500 pounds too heavy. While we didn’t have a chance to drive it over the scales to verify, the official measurements have this coming in a couple large deluxe pizzas shy of 3900 pounds. 3860 is the official number for the V8 equipped SS that we drove with a six speed automatic.
Weight is the enemy of all car design. In the last decade to decade and a half the weight creep on cars has been astounding. Thanks to more electronics in cars these days, elaborate engine electronics, sat nav, stereos, bluetooth, active handling, more governmental demands for crash worthiness, demands for more quiet interiors by the consumer, increased complexity of emissions equipment and now hybrid systems have added close to half a ton in weight on most cars.
I will give three personal examples. My 1983 Mustang GT with me in it weighed 3016 pounds, my 1992 Mustang LX 5.0 weighed 3285 pounds and my 1983 Mercedes 300SD, a FULL SIZED car with a diesel motor, weighed 3795 pounds. I think that last number really puts things in perspective. A luxury four door diesel car weighed LESS than the current Camaro SS. I will say this though – the Camaro was nearly as quiet, and rode almost as well as the Mercedes. The question then arises: Is that last bit really a complaint for a muscle car, or have our minimum standards changed that much?
Climb into the Camaro and their are two things that you notice immediately. One, because the windshield is raked back so dramatically the area you look through makes it feel like you are driving in a chopped 50 Merc. The other, much like the same custom Merc, is that the visibility to the left rear for the driver is nonexistent. You will be relying on your mirrors and an involved twist which requires you twisting your head to the left to peer around the side of the drivers headrest to see out the back window when making a lane change or to see if anything is looming in your blind spot. While I will often complain about all the technology in cars today, this is one situation where a blind spot warning light in the side mirrors could be useful.
In the interior the fit and finish is pretty good, save one spot in our test car that was pretty obvious. Much has been made by others of the hard plastic on the dash, and I agree with them, though it looks good. I’m not sold on the orange plastic inserts in the doors that wrap around the dash. Chevy did attempt something similar to Ford’s mood lighting with it though, as the top edge of this on the doors had a lighting feature that, had it been better implemented with a stronger light for the whole length of the door panels, could have been interesting. The front seats are good, though not great. They could use a little more lower lumbar support. In a 200 mile trip to Indiana to visit my grandmother, I found myself moving around a bit trying to get comfortable after about 90 minutes. While there is not much room in the back seats you can fit an adult back there as long as you don’t slide the front seats back too far. At that point the leg room goes from tight to nonexistent.
One mega huge improvement on the new Camaro over the previous generation is that you can actually see and get to the spark plugs and most other areas of the engine with no issues. Another improvement is – If you need to pull the motor for some reason you don’t have to put it on a lift and drop the entire K-member and suspension. All my hot rod friends thought this may be the single best thing about the car!
Now the part that all of you really care about: How does the car drive and perform? It drives quite nice, thank you. The steering has a nice weight to it and going down the highway it tracks nicely, even with the big wide tires. Throttle response can be interesting though. Let me go into further detail about this…
If you buy this car the first thing you need to do is get yourself some sort of aftermarket plug-in tuner or take it to a performance shop that can tune it for you. I’m not sure if this is because of emissions, mileage or what, but you can literally feel the computer running through different fuel strategies in the gas pedal! It feels like it’s hunting for some optimal balance, and I’m not kidding about this as I had two other people take turns at the wheel and they noticed the same thing. In doing this it also might clean up some issues with the transmission. The car feels like there is another 20-40 horsepower just waiting to be unlocked.
Our test car was equipped with the six speed auto box, as a manual was not available for testing. While 85-90% of the time it worked just fine, there were moments that were frustrating. There are times when you are rolling along and you give the throttle the full stick, and there is no response for half a second, like the transmission can’t decide which gear to choose. The other issue is in the “manual” mode. There are buttons on the back of the wheel, rather than paddles, and by selecting up or down doesn’t always mean you get that gear and certainly not with speed you’d want. Under part throttle it’s OK, but driving at any kind of spirited pace, there is a lag that will frustrate you.
With all that said, the 435 horsepower LS3 is a riot! It is, as the Brits might say, a proper American V8. It has big torque from off idle so that you can drive with a light foot on the gas and still accelerate at a good pace. It revs to 6200 RPM with ease and never feels out of breath, other than having to schlep two tons around. We were going to take the car to the drag strip for some proper (and legal) acceleration tests, but it rained on the the two days that we could have gone.
I often joke that there are more curves, twists and switchbacks on the road leading up to Laguna Seca Raceway than there are in all of the state of Michigan. It’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not much. With that said, the Camaro handles pretty well, but it’s not at an elite sports car level by any stretch. Unless you are doing track days or auto crossing though, you won’t care. Day in and day out the car is fun to drive and doesn’t wear on you.
No matter where you go in this car, people young and old, men and women will flock to you to ask about the car, want to look at it, and have their picture taken with it. If you are shy, trying to keep a low profile or your time is really valuable to you, this is NOT the car for you. I can’t think of anyone I ran across who had anything but a strong positive reaction to the car.
Many jokes have been made about the new Camaro that if you buy it you need to get your mullet wig to go with. While switching the XM radio over to the Hair Metal station and having The Scorpions, White Snake and Motley Crue blast out seems very natural, it seems more like it’s taking a few minutes bringing back memories of high school. It feels almost as natural to just roll around in town in the car with XM tuned in to Chill.
For a car with the power and weight this has, the mileage it returns is more than reasonable. We got 18 in the city and on the trip back from Indiana just after I shot this pic it ticked over to an average of 25 for the highway. The highway trip was with the cruise control at 76-77MPH and I was NOT trying to be easy with it in in town driving so I would say these are numbers you can get with ease.
For better and for worse the Camaro has matured and grown up. It doesn’t mean that it can’t still go out and have a lot of fun mixing it up like it did “back in the day” but in that time it’s gotten a bit heavier, a bit wider and mellow. It might not have quite the edge it had at one point, but it’s more than just a weekend warrior.
It’s hard for me to come up with a number for the final rating. I’ll say 7.9 out of 10, and that probably would have been an 8.2 or more had the car had a manual transmission. Chevy has every right to be proud of this car. While it seemingly took forever for them to bring it to market, it may single handedly save the company. As a long time hard core Mustang owner and fan, I would spend my own money for this car, though I think I’d have to order that Kenne Bell Supercharger kit for it. After all, like Mark Donohue said, “If you can make black marks on a straight from the time you turn out of a corner until the braking point of the next turn, then you have enough horsepower.”
Oh, and speaking of Mr. “The Unfair Advantage”, forget the Transformers edition Camaro. I want the Mark Donohue Special Edition!
Final conclusion, the Camaro SS is a bottom of the ninth, two out, 0-2 count walk-off home run.