2002 Chevrolet Camaro
This 2002 review is representative of model years 1998 to 2002.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
To this day, I remember the 18-year-old who drove a white Chevrolet Camaro when I was in high school.
She was older than I was, shapely, blonde, had all the guys captivated—and she had that car.
At such an impressionable time in my life, I became convinced that good looks, a Camaro and seemingly tolerant parents were all that were needed for a grand life.
Today, of course, my view of life—and cars—is more complex.
But the memories of those early days are back vividly this year as I watch Chevrolet phase out its long-running Camaro and the Camaro's sister car, the Pontiac Firebird.
The automaker blames increased competition and changing consumer tastes for Camaro and Firebird sales that have gone from a high of 448,413 in 1978 to just 61,196 last year.
With Camaro production set to end in August 2002, anyone wanting to recapture the memories of this low-slung, expressive, sporty car and experience again its raw, muscle-car power had best act fast.
Marking an anniversary, too
And even before the Camaro's last hurrah was confirmed in September 2001, Chevrolet had announced it would mark the Camaro's 35th year with a special 35th anniversary edition package that adds bright red paint, dual, silver-colored stripes and embroidered leather seats to top-of-the-line, V8-powered Camaros. It's just the kind of showy dress you'd expect for a legendary muscle car taking its last lap.
Popularized by youthful baby boomers, the Camaro debuted as a 1967 model intended to compete with Ford's hot-selling Mustang. In later years, the Camaro came to be known as much for its high-tech power as its low-slung, sporty styling.
Even at idle, the 5.7-liter overhead valve V8 under the hood had a deep rumble, and it was ready to propel the car forward with barely a touch of the accelerator.
At highway speeds, the Camaro shot past other cars with a loud, raw performance that's not found in many of today's more refined cars.
The anniversary package is offered on V8-powered, SS-packaged cars only, so these versions have more horsepower—325—than the 310 in "ordinary" V8, Z28-labeled Camaros. Note the 5.7-liter V8 is based on the muscular platform of the Chevy Corvette's V8—a fact that appeals to many muscle-car enthusiasts.
Even if I had the test Camaro turned off, though, I could be reminded of the showy power within by simply gazing at the front of the car where a forced-air induction composite hood differentiates SS cars from lesser Camaros.
The tester came with a six-speed manual transmission, complete with optional Hurst shifter. There was some notchiness in the feel of the lever.
There's some 340 lb-ft of torque in this car, enough to make the optional traction control a much-used feature, I discovered.
But fuel economy, for a subcompact, can be poor. The Camaro is rated at just 19 mpg in the city with V8 and six-speed manual.
The car's suspension transmitted a good amount of road activity to riders. It wasn't always harsh, but it was there in either vibration or some mild jolting.
Going over speed bumps at slow speed brought a flood of old-car memories as the Camaro body sort of jostled as first the front wheels, then the back ones, traversed the large asphalt humps. It's a sensation not often found in more modern cars where body rigidity and high-tech chassis developments create a different kind of ride.
In contrast, it has been nearly a decade since the rear-wheel-drive Camaro had its last major redesign—for 1993—and its suspension today retains a short/long arm design in the front and a Salisbury rear axle. Still, the Camaro's power-assisted, rack-and-pinion steering responded crisply to commands.
Big, 17-inch tires shared road noise with riders. And remember, this is a rear-wheel-drive car with rear-wheel-drive handling.
It takes some care getting into and out of the Camaro, since seats are low and doors are long and can easily bang into adjacent parked vehicles.
The shoulder strap on the driver seatbelt in the test car seemed to have a permanent tangle that made wearing the belt uncomfortable.
And there was wind noise on the passenger side of the car between the soft convertible top and the door window.
Convertible cover can reduce cargo space
Much of the Camaro's deep, rectangular trunk was taken up with the "boot" that protects the roof fabric from the elements when the roof is down.
I squeezed a few bags of groceries into the trunk, with the boot still in there. But I had to load extra groceries into the Camaro's interior.
Total trunk space is a meager 7.6 cubic feet, which is close to the 7.7 cubic feet in the Ford Mustang trunk. It's more than the 7.2 cubic feet of the Mitsubishi Eclipse convertible.
Note that you must lift items up and over the Camaro body to get them inside the deep, rectangular trunk. On the test car, the struts that were supposed to help lift the trunk lid didn't work automatically. I had to push the lid all the way to the position I wanted and the struts would hold it there.
The Camaro's back seats are basically two sculpted spots in back that could be uncomfortable for sizable rear ends. Back-seat riders don't have a side view out, either.
Prices can get up there
But prices can vary, and resulting prices, depending on trim and options, can hit the upper $30,000s.
For example, the test 2002 Camaro Z28 Convertible anniversary car had a window sticker price of $37,865.
Buy for an investment?
Charlie Vogelheim, editor of Kelley Blue Book, and his staff aren't looking for any big jump in value of most Camaros. Vogelheim noted that the Camaro has been a high-volume model, so it's not exactly a rare item after all these years on the market.
Additionally, though plenty of Camaros have been available in recent years, the car has been a slow seller, which indicates demand isn't likely to push up prices.
And since Camaros haven't been advertised much by Chevy in recent years, awareness has fallen off.
"There will be that core group of aficionados" who may have Camaros that have special parts on them that make them unique, Vogelheim said, adding that those models could become more valuable over time. But that's not likely to be the case for mainstream Camaros.
Additionally, Chevrolet officials acknowledge that "Camaro" is the fifth most-recognized name in the auto industry. But they insist there are no current plans to bring back the Camaro as a new model sometime down the road.