After what seems like a forever, the Camaro is back-and well worth waiting for. After debuting to compete with the Mustang, the GM pony car went through several generations before being retired in 2002. The concept version of its successor thrilled auto show attendees, but it took a long time to get a car into the showroom and onto the road.
The new car certainly has the right look-of the last of the first-generation cars-the '69, with voluptuous rear fender curves, pointed grille, and that hunkered-down look. So retro, yet with a modern sensibility; it attracted interest wherever I drove it. My son's high-school pals had their tongues hanging out when I arrived, and the gray-haired owner of a classic '69 gave it the thumbs up too.
As always, Camaros come in plain and potent versions. The LS and LT models represent the former and the SS, the latter. The thing is, even the LS and LT provide 304 horsepower from a direct-injection 3.6-liter V6. Isn't that Corvette territory? The car goes from 0-60 in just 6.1 seconds.
The sound of this advanced engine is hearty, and through a manual or automatic six-speed, you get EPA mileage of 18 City/29 Highway (auto) or 17/29 (manual) using regular fuel. I averaged 18.6 mpg.
The SS drops in a 6.2-liter V8, for 426 horsepower and 420 lb.-ft. of torque, so you can surely expect a rousing performance every time you place your foot on the gas pedal. At just under two tons, the Camaro runs great with either powerplant. You only need the SS if you must have a 0-60 time of 4.7 seconds.
My Imperial Blue Metallic LT test car had the six-speed automatic with TAPshift, so I was able to manually select gears, minus the clutch, if I felt like it. As usual, I let the car take care of itself most of the time. I would have enjoyed sampling the Aisin Warner manual.
I enjoyed my time inside the car. It's obvious that GM is learning how to produce quality looking and feeling plastics, and Chevy's current design language is exuberant, from Malibu to Traverse to Equinox to Camaro. It's got to be their best look since the 1960's.
A sweep from door to dash to door distinguishes these new cars; satin-finish trim on the gauges, steering wheel spokes and console keeps the car in league with the newly upgraded Mustang. Soft tan cloth surfaces in my test car felt welcoming and sporty too. The steering wheel rim, in cross-section, is an oval, not a circle, so when you lay your hands on the wheel, you get a nostalgic sense of a skinny 1960's rim, but when you grip, there's plenty to grab.
Driving the car, you can feel how substantial it is. Today's cars are structurally sound in a way a '60s car could only dream of, but you pay with fat windshield pillars. By concentrating on the road, the gratifying engine sounds and comfortable accommodations, I was able to avoid a sense of claustrophobia from the high window line.
For $22,995, including destination charges, the LS delivers a nice helping of goods, including an audio system with XM Radio, Driver Information Center, a year's worth of basic OnStar service for security, remote keyless entry, and Stabilitrak with traction control to keep you safe on the road.
Step up to the LT ($24,630) and at the 2LT level you get better sound-a Boston Acoustics 245-watt system with nine speakers-and handy things like Bluetooth for your phone and a USB port for your iPod. Heated front seats are nice on frosty mornings and their leather adds ambiance and aroma.
For $30,995, the SS delivers all the LT upgrades plus the aforementioned V8. You also get four-piston Brembo brakes for efficient stopping, and big 20-inch wheels and tires.
Unique front and rear fascias, a tougher grille, and all the scoops and spoilers you can use distinguish the SS. The instrument panel flaunts an SS logo for when you're inside and can't see them.
The EPA Green Vehicle Guide gives the V6 Camaro surprisingly good numbers: 7 for Air Pollution and, with the automatic, a 6 for Greenhouse Gas. That earns it the coveted SmartWay label-who would have thought?
Not much to nitpick about. I accidentally called OnStar one night when I went to adjust the mirror-I pressed the button unintentionally. The man who answered picked up in a few seconds-that's reassuring. The long coupe doors require careful handling in parking lots. The slim sunvisors were sometimes ineffective.
The Camaro is back. Go celebrate with a test drive.