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.
The new Camaro does an excellent job of bringing back and modernizing the style of the first-generation model.
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.
Turn-by-turn directions, downloaded from OnStar, show up on the instrument cluster.
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.
Chevrolet makes this three-line display useful for browsing iPod contents.
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.
With six speakers, the base audio system in the Camaro is mediocre. The sound quality is generally muddy, and sometimes it highlights odd frequencies. While testing with one track, the system highlighted a particular percussion instrument so much that it overwhelmed all the other instruments. Fortunately, you can upgrade to a Boston Acoustics system with nine speakers and a 245-watt amp, which would have to be an improvement over the stock system.
Cadillac power train
When the Camaro was delivered to our garage, we were disappointed to see it equipped with the optional six-speed automatic transmission. Earlier we had driven a 2010 Camaro with a similar power train around the track at Laguna Seca, and were underwhelmed. In automatic mode, the transmission downshifted late, killing power coming out of the corners. But spending a week with the Camaro gave us time to figure out the ins and outs of this transmission.
The Camaro LT uses the same power train as the Cadillac CTS, a 3.6-liter direct injected V-6 with the optional Hydra-Matic 6L50 automatic transmission, with a six-speed manual standard. The automatic transmission has a manual mode, but we didn't find that gear shifts were particularly quick.
The optional six-speed automatic is the same as used in the Cadillac CTS, and has sport and manual modes.
Manual mode really suffers from the ergonomics of the shifter buttons. Paddles peek up over the tops of the steering wheel spokes, but they are fixed, merely showing which side upshifts and which side downshifts. Buttons on the backs of the spokes are used for shifting, and they are very poorly placed, impossible to touch with a finger with hands at 10 and 2 on the wheel.
Moving the console shifter into the manual mode position, without touching the shift buttons, puts the transmission into sport mode, which is a bit more satisfying. In this mode, it will aggressively downshift, but only if you are really pounding it. We braked to about 30 mph before entering a curve, and the transmission stayed in fourth gear. On subsequent turns, we braked harder, bringing the car's speed down substantially, and the transmission downshifted to a good power gear, and held it until we got the tachometer close to redline on a straightaway. It can be a good transmission if you learn to modulate it, but the manual mode is virtually unusable.
The Camaro's engine puts out a more than adequate 304 horsepower at 6,400rpm and 273 pound-feet of torque at 5,200rpm, while getting an EPA fuel economy of 18 mpg city and 29 mpg highway. We never hit that highway rating, instead averaging 23.6 mpg, not bad considering the available power. The 2010 Camaro can also be had in SS trim with a 6.2-liter V-8 LS3 engine, the same as used in the base model Corvette. That engine makes 420 horsepower, for some serious drag strip bragging rights.
In the past, muscle cars weren't noted for their handling, yet the 2010 Camaro, with its standard sport-tuned independent suspension and stabilizer bars front and rear, keeps very steady in the corners. It leans just a bit when inertial forces are pulling at it in a corner, but that suspension keeps it from getting out of control. Its fairly short wheelbase also helps it pivot in a turn. With a weight distribution of 52 percent to the front and 48 percent to the back, the Camaro isn't perfectly balanced. During one emergency braking maneuver, the back end started to come out, but the car's traction control systems reigned it back in.
The 2010 Chevrolet Camaro LT earns its highest points for design, showing an excellent modern take on an older body style that excites onlookers. That design extends into the cabin, which, despite some cheap materials, still looks good. Chevrolet also managed to fit complex music management into a small screen. The placement of the shifter buttons is the only notably bad thing about the design. For cabin tech, we have to dock it for no onboard navigation system, as OnStar isn't quite as good as a full-fledged GPS device. And in general the car scores about average for cabin tech. Bluetooth and iPod integration are very useful features, but it doesn't reach beyond those basics. On the performance side, we weren't big fans of the automatic gearbox, but fortunately that is only an option. The 3.6-liter engine seems a good choice for this car, providing plenty of power, yet offering decent fuel economy at the same time.
|Model||2010 Chevrolet Camaro|
|Powertrain||3.6-liter direct injection V-6|
|EPA fuel economy||18 mpg city/29 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||23.6 mpg|
|Navigation||Turn-by-turn guidance from OnStar|
|Bluetooth phone support||Optional|
|Disc player||Single CD, MP3 compatible|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||Satellite radio, USB drive|
|Audio system||Standard 6 speaker; available Boston Acoustic 9 speaker with 225-watt amp|
|Price as tested||$29,400|