The 2010 Chevrolet Camaro is easily the most-anticipated new car of the 2010 model year, with head-turning styling, gobs of power, and an amazingly reasonable price. Does the all-new 2010 Camaro live up to the hype? Read on. Price range $22,995 - $38,905, EPA fuel economy estimates 16-18 MPG city, 25-29 MPG highway.
First Glance: What dreams may come
Imagine you meet the girl -- or guy -- of your dreams. She, or he, is everything you ever wanted in a mate: Gorgeous looks, fantastic body, reasonable price, choice of 304 horsepower V6 or 426 hp V8. (I realize I'm pushing the metaphor a bit here, but bear with me.) She's/he's perfect! So you go out for a long drive on a twisty road... and to your complete disbelief, you find that the two of you aren't really hitting it off.
That's how it went with my 2010 Chevrolet Camaro test drive.
Let's start with the looks. Chevrolet's goal wasn't to re-create the original Camaro, as Chrysler did with the Dodge Challenger; rather they seem to want to tap into the broad appeal of the Ford Mustang. Chevy figures that about one-third of Camaro buyers will be nostalgia-seekers, and the rest will buy the Camaro because it's cool in the here-and-now -- "21st century sports car" is their term. (We'll debate that later.) There are cues from Camaros of the late 60s, but it's a thoroughly modern design, and if you think it looks cool in pictures, you should see it in person. Some cars look like they're going fast when they're standing still. The Camaro looks like it's going to beat you unconscious, strap a silly hat to your head, invite a couple of other Camaros over to take photos of you, then e-mail them to all your friends and co-workers. Call me crazy, but I like that in a car.
In the Driver's Seat: Cold water
If you've ever dived into an ice-cold lake on a warm sunny day, you know what it's like to climb into the Camaro's cabin after admiring the exterior. In a word: Eew. In 27 words: It's a sea of dour grey plastic, with the gauges and climate/stereo controls crammed into two small clusters as if huddling together for warmth and companionship.
At least, that was the first Camaro I drove. The second -- I drove 5 total, in case you're counting -- looked better, with a tan trim strip breaking up the ocean of grey and an auxiliary gauge pack ahead of the shifter. Chevy explained that these were pre-production cars, and that only the $22,995 Camaro LS will get the battleship treatment. Nicer Camaros (LT and SS) will have painted-polycarbonate trim, like this. Still pretty dreary, if you ask me, which is a shame -- there are some very nice design details that get lost in all that plastic. It's not as dull as the Dodge Challenger's cabin, but it lacks the retro cheeriness of the Mustang.
The short windshield gives the driver a pillbox gunner's view of the world, and the low driving position (despite a height-adjustable driver's seat) and big, broad hood make it hard to see out. Over-the-shoulder visibility is lousy, but well-shaped side mirrors make lane changing easy. Still, maneuvering in heavy traffic had me reaching for the Rolaids.
The back seat is easily accessible and comfortable for people of all shape and sizes, provided they don't have legs. And the trunk is big at 11.3 cubic feet, but the small opening means you can't actually put anything inside.
On the Road: It could have been so good...
The Camaro's base engine is a 3.6 liter V6 that delivers a healthy 304 horsepower, 96 more than a Mustang V6 and only 15 less than a Mustang V8. Thanks to direct fuel injection, it delivers respectable fuel economy on 87-octane gas. The SS gets a Corvette-sourced 6.2 liter V8 good for 426 hp -- one more than the Challenger SRT8 -- with the manual trans, but only 400 with the automatic. The manual's clutch is difficult to modulate and the shifter is sized for people with Hulk hands, but the automatic is top notch, with a Sport mode that always knows which gear to pick and does so with firm, solid shifts, just like an old-time muscle car.
Personally, I like both engines. The V6 delivers lots of punch with reasonable decorum and the V8 makes marvelous noises, though if you opt for the stick-shift you have to rev it up to 3 or 4 grand before it really starts to haul the mail.
What about handling? The Camaro certainly grips the road well, but it goes through the corners with a slightly disconnected feel, as if the chassis isn't 100% fluent in whatever language the steering wheel is speaking. V8 models have a stiffer suspension (plus huge brakes) and drive a bit better, and both versions ride comfortably. But the Camaro's width -- exaggerated by the slit-shaped windshield and broad hood -- is intimidating on narrow roads. Chevy wants the Camaro to take on proper sports cars like the Nissan 370Z, and while the Camaro delivers a 426 hp V8 for about the same price ($30,995) as the Z's 330 hp V6, there's more to a sports car than power. The Camaro just isn't in the same league.
Journey's End: There's someone out there for you
Normally, my failure to fall in love with a car isn't that big a deal. I drive a lot of new cars, and they can't all make my heart go pitter-pat. But I fell in love with the Challenger, despite its dreadful interior and overly-cushy ride. And I fell in love with the Mustang, even though it drives more like a farm implement than a sports car. On paper, the Camaro is a better car than the Dodge or the Ford. And yet... to put it bluntly, Camaro, I'm just not that into you.
Now, it's not as if I disliked the Camaro. I'm a huge fan of the styling, the power of the V6, and the noises from the V8. I was impressed with the comfortable ride and pleasant around-town demeanor, especially in the six-cylinder car. And I'm all over the value. Think about it: 304 hp for $23k. That's $1,300 less than a top-of-the-line Honda Civic! And 426 hp for $31,000? You won't find more bang-for-buck than that. Still, it was clear that neither one of us was going to invite the other up to our apartment after the test drive. (And not just because the Camaro wouldn't fit through the door.)
I know a lot of people are going to fall in love with the Camaro, and I'm glad -- this is a gorgeous car, and I can't wait to see it on the road and listen to it go by. I'd even like to try a second date, if Chevrolet will let me borrow another one (not that they're likely to after reading this review). But a long-term love connection with me and the Camaro? I'm afraid it ain't gonna happen. So much for getting everything you want. -- Aaron Gold