There is nothing apologetic or half-assed about the current line of Chevy Camaro. The car is more of an engine delivery device than a passenger vehicle, existing to go very fast in a straight line while looking intimidating en route.
We had a chance to test drive one for a week while in The Motor City recently during Chevrolet’s 100th Anniversary proceedings and found the reengineered muscle mobile to be a strong, loud and meaty chunk of car – especially considering its reasonable price tag compared to mid-range foreign performance cars.
In the family tree of GMC sports and muscle cars, the Camaro sits somewhere in the middle. A proud survivor resurrected above and beyond the memories of the Chevy Nova or Pontiac Trans Am, it’s still looking up longingly at the perches held by the modern Dodge Challenger and Chevrolet Corvette.
The natural enemy of the Ford Mustang, the Camaro shares many of the same strengths and weaknesses even in the 21st Century. Designed as an accessible American sports car with a 2011 price point starting around $23,500 for a V6 model and reaching $35,100 for the tricked-out V8. There’s adequate power for misbehaving in that 3.6 liter, 312 horsepower V6, but you need the 6.2 liter, 426 hp in the V8 models to pin your ears back.
While handling has improved over its 70’s and 80’s ancestors, the Camaro comes off merely adequate when it comes to responsive handling. It can feel powerful and confident since it will go where you point it, but the independent rear suspension doesn’t have the same deft feel of similar set-ups in European or Japanese performance cars. Still, the Camaro has come a hell of a long way from the days of the straight rear axle, fishtailing festival of eras passed – even if the current suspension lends this evolved muscle car a beefy, industrial feel.
The interior is comfortable enough with electronic driver and passenger seats and adjustable zone climate control. But the heaviness of the doors and ruggedness of the drive plays into that wholly American, “hunker down” drag racer mentality you might expect from a hot dogs and apple pie Chevy.
The driver’s seat sits you so low in the car that you’ll feel like you’re somehow suspended below the chassis – as though you’re swimming on the pavement more than rolling above it. To accompany that subterranean positioning, the windshield is an angry slit – giving the car the sinister look of arched eyebrows. If you don’t get your seat and steering wheel positions correct for your physiognomy, that windshield can limit your visibility. Buyers should take their time and adjust those controls until they’re assured of a clean line of sight.
Our review edition for the test drive was the well-appointed RS convertible, with its AM/FM/CD/Satellite radio, power everything and a holographic heads up display (borrowed from recent upgrades to its big sister, the Corvette) that projects speed, fuel status and other data into a 3D readout in the windshield. Note: While adjusting your seat for optimum comfort and visibility, you should also adjust the height and angle of the HUD to keep it fully in view.
The soft top roof mechanism was fool-proof, and the canvas cap retracts easily enough. There’s adequate front seat leg room even for a lummox like me. But, once anyone anywhere near 6 feet in height settles into the front buckets, the car essentially becomes a two-seater. You might be able to get a vent doll into those rear stalls, but who are kidding otherwise?
But, the Camaro is not and never was intended as a people or cargo carrier. It’s a square-jawed, squint-eyed powerhouse perfect for cruising from light to light and more than ready to rev its engine beside any other $30,000 sports car.