Ford Mustang, Dodge Challenger, and now the 2010 Chevrolet Camaro: this holy trinity of retro muscle cars is now complete. Each car, being iconic in its own way, will have its own set of fanatical adherents regardless of how well it drives or what tech is available. But the new Camaro may have the biggest fan base; during our week with the car people stared, took pictures, came over to chat when we parked, and nearly hit us as they swerved over lanes to get a closer look.
With its bulging hood and broad rear fenders, the Camaro certainly makes an impression. Our test car was also equipped with the RS appearance package, giving it meaty 20-inch wheels and a rear spoiler. We didn't think much of the fake wheel vents in the rear fenders, mere impressions in the sheet metal, as they have no practical purpose. But that's a small concern when the Camaro's bodywork makes it look like such a badass.
In the cabin, we were pleasantly surprised by its interior design. Sure, the materials, hard plastics, and a cloth strip look a bit cheap. But Chevrolet managed to blend everything together well, which at least makes the build quality look good. For example, the stereo head unit is nicely contoured, with smooth, simple surfaces around it. The big letdown was the squarish plastic surrounds on the instruments, which would look much better in metal.
There's no LCD in this dashboard, and no onboard navigation system available. Instead, the Camaro offers route guidance through OnStar, which we regard as an inferior solution. First, instead of simply entering a destination into a navigation system, you have to talk to an OnStar operator. Chevrolet did a good job of building route guidance into the car--once the operator sends the route, turn-by-turn directions are shown on the instrument cluster display and on the radio display, along with voice guidance. But if you get off-route, the system doesn't automatically recalculate, instead requiring a couple of button pushes to have a new route sent down from OnStar.
If you are out of range of the OnStar network, you don't have navigation. And if you are out of data range, the OnStar operator will read out the list of turns, which is saved as a recording that you can access as you go. Certainly OnStar requires less hardware than a navigation system, and has other useful features, but there are too many situations in which it just doesn't work, and when you might need it most.
OnStar can also cover hands-free calling, but Chevrolet makes a Bluetooth hands-free system available in the Camaro, so you can use your own phone. We paired an iPhone up to the system and got basic connectivity--the voice command interface let us dial by number, but it didn't download our phone's contact list.
The Bluetooth phone system comes as part of a reasonably priced, at $655, Convenience and Connectivity package, which also includes audio controls on the steering wheel, remote start capability, and a USB port for the audio system, the latter useful for iPod integration and playing MP3 tracks off a thumb drive. In May, a Microsoft engineer published photos of the Camaro's stereo integrating with a Zune MP3 player, but when we plugged a Zune into the USB port it wasn't supported.
The iPod integration works well, although the Camaro's radio display only shows three lines, which would make music browsing tedious except for the interface tricks the system employs. Pushing the right-hand dial activates a menu function, which lets you drill down through artist and album lists. Turning it quickly begins scrolling through letters, making for an alphabetical search, a good trick for digging through extensive listings. The stereo also has satellite radio and an in-dash single CD player that can read MP3s. Browsing MP3 CDs and USB drives merely shows music by folder.