Short Take Road Test: 2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS V8
By Steve Siler of Car and Driver
Since the last pill-shaped F-body Camaro rolled off the line in 2002, the long-fought, often contentious pony-car game has been one of solitaire, played solely by the Ford Mustang. The Mustang went all retro in 2005, and the ensuing craze prompted Dodge and Chevy to rouse their own dormant nameplates (and fans) to take on the foeless leader. Dodge was first in 2008 with its resurrected Challenger, and now — just as Ford is launching its significantly updated 2010 Mustang — Chevrolet has finally commenced production of its reborn Camaro, completing the new-age pony-car trifecta.
While we will save the official comparison test for later, we can aver that the neo-Camaro offers the freshest and most modern package of the three. Built as it is on GM's superb Zeta full-size platform, the Camaro sports a fully independent suspension along with evocative, contemporary styling that thankfully misses being totally retro. We entered into this first test of the long-awaited 2010 Camaro with high expectations. Indeed, with a 304-hp, 3.6-liter V-6, the base Camaro is nearly as powerful as the Mustang GT, so we were champing at the bit to see what the Camaro could do in SS form with a 6.2-liter V-8 stuffed under its hood.
How Quick Is It?
On a drive that took us along the scenic roads east of San Diego, California, we also found the Camaro's roadholding to be quite stellar — it grips with 0.92 g on a skidpad — thanks in part to the independent multilink suspension out back and the stickiness of the fat, Z-rated 245/45-front and 275/40-rear Pirelli P Zero tires mounted on 20-inch wheels. The variable-ratio steering rack delivers great on-center feel, similar to that which we've praised on the Camaro's platformmate, the Pontiac G8.
Stick to the Stick
We recognize, however, that the only way some customers are going to get a Camaro in their driveway is to specify the six-speed automatic, which comes with shift buttons behind the steering-wheel spokes. In manual mode, the left button actuates downshifts, the right, upshifts; and gears are held until you ask for the next one. Chevy also added a sport automatic mode, selected by simply moving the gear lever down into the M position. Doing so raises the shift points higher (perhaps too high), holds gears for longer (perhaps too long), and forces downshifts to happen more abruptly and aggressively during deceleration. We found that driving in sport mode made for rather ungraceful jerking during a spirited mountain-road romp, so we preferred the predictability of shifting for ourselves using the wheel buttons, even if the shifts came after the usual manumatic delay. Our advice is to stick with the stick, if at all possible.
Quiet + Calm Ride = Surprising Comfort
Other surprises include the eerily serene ride and the utter absence of wind noise. Particularly at freeway speeds, the Camaro's Zeta roots pay dividends, with the suspension striking a brilliant balance between lively, grippy roadholding and wonderfully compliant damping. Meanwhile, the SS offers decent feedback through the steering wheel. You could cruise down Woodward all day in this thing and never feel beat up. Try that in a '69.
Also disappointing are the hard plastics that we had hoped were banished from GM interiors, but they've clearly found their way into the Camaro. Furthermore, the inset dashboard trim piece that was to be rendered — at least optionally — in a cool illuminated band of light-tube trickery has become a cloth insert. It looks good in a contrasting color, but it's drab when it matches the rest of an all-black cabin. And finally, as great as the high-mounted "squircle-shaped" gauges and cool center stack look, the script is tiny and the buttons can be ergonomically challenging in operation.
But the Camaro is beguiling. It has a strong design and a strong heritage and delivers seriously strong acceleration. Especially given its aggressive pricing ($22,995 for the base V-6, $30,995 for the SS), it is likely to do well with its established fan base and should even earn a few more admirers in its new life. And not insignificantly, the EPA just gave it excellent fuel-economy ratings. Could it be better? Absolutely, but at least its deficiencies involve its interior detailing more than its dynamics. Besides, in these tumultuous, unpredictable times, we should celebrate the mere fact that cars like this are here at all. Welcome to the herd, little pony.