Serving as part of the Chevrolet line since 1967, Camaros wont be around much longer; nor will the related rear-drive Pontiac Firebird, which shares mechanical components but has its own look. The victims of sagging sales in recent years, both are scheduled to disappear after the 2002 model year with no replacements planned. Fords archrival Mustang has been outselling the muscular GM duo by far.
If GM has any replacement in mind to attract youth-minded buyers, its the forthcoming SSR, which blends sports car virtues with the practicality of a pickup truck the special vehicle of choice for so many younger buyers these days. Nevertheless, Automotive News reports that Camaro sales rose a bit during 2000, to 42,131 units.
Chevrolet refers to the Camaros heritage as Performance, American Style, blending traditional rear-wheel drive with a pushrod V-8 engine. Camaros actually come in base V-6 and Z28 (V-8) forms, and as a hatchback coupe or convertible. For 2001, the Z28s LS1 V-8 engine gains 5 horsepower, as does the V-8 engine in the high-performance SS variant of the Z28. Shock absorbers on all models have been retuned to improve ride and handling.
Looking as aggressive and brawny as ever, Camaros rank as the last remaining remnants of the muscle-car era. At 193.5 inches overall, a Camaro coupe is just a few inches longer than a Chevrolet Malibu sedan but is a full 6 inches shorter standing little more than 51 inches high from ground to rooftop. Convertibles have a power top and a glass rear window with a defogger. Coupes can be equipped with an optional T-roof. Designed from the outset as a soft-top, convertibles are built right at Chevrolets Canadian plant in Sainte Therese, Quebec.
Tires are P215/60R16 on base Camaros. In addition to V-8 power, the Z28 has a performance ride and handling suspension and P235/55R16 tires on alloy wheels. The SS option package for a Z28 brings a higher-powered V-8 engine plus a functional hood scoop, distinctive rear spoiler, tauter suspension and bigger Goodyear 17-inch tires on special aluminum wheels. The SS coupe and convertible also have a forced-air composite hood, special SS badging and a low-restriction exhaust system.
Camaros seat two in the front bucket seats with enough space to stretch out a bit. Two small people can fit in back, which features a fold-down seat, but even children might feel cramped in the rear. Standard equipment includes air conditioning, cloth upholstery, intermittent wipers, a cassette stereo, tilt steering wheel, tachometer, map lights, visor mirrors, automatic headlights and a theft-deterrent system.
Base convertibles have standard power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, a rear defogger, cruise control, fog lights and a power top with a three-piece hard boot cover. All models except the base coupe have a 500-watt Monsoon sound system.
Under the Hood
Three engines and three transmissions are available in Camaros. Base models have a 200-hp, 3.8-liter V-6 and either a standard five-speed-manual or optional four-speed automatic transmission. In the Z28 coupe and convertible, a Corvette-inspired 5.7-liter V-8 develops 310 hp and teams with either a six-speed-manual or four-speed-automatic transmission that are identically priced. The SS package also boasts the strongest powertrain a 325-hp version of the V-8 that drives either the manual or automatic transmission. Dual front airbags, daytime running lights and all-disc antilock brakes are standard. Traction control is an option on all models.
Still popular among middle-aged buyers who might lean toward reliving their youth, Camaros arent quite what they used to be. Even in base form with a V-6 engine, Camaros of the past came across as raucous, noisy, hard-driving machines, capable of brisk acceleration with better gas mileage than a V-8. Those V-8 models were particularly crude machines, barely tolerable in polite society.
In 2001, even the high-performance SS sounds and feels relatively tame until you tromp the gas pedal on the highway and feel the surge of shoved-back-in-the-seat power that emerges from the 325-hp V-8. Tap the throttle a little too hard while rounding a curve, and the SSs back end is likely to skitter to the side, demanding swift correction at the steering wheel, which takes some effort to turn. On straighter pavement, the thick tires cling as if they have claws. Acceleration appears more vigorous from a standstill than at highway speed and automatic-transmission shifts are crisp and positive.
A stiff ride is still part of the penalty paid for the performance in the hottest Camaros, but it definitely could be worse. Engine noise is undeniably noticeable but never begins to blare annoyingly. Bodies remain prone to shakes and rattles, but vibration is a lot less bothersome than in past models. Otherwise, Chevys long-lived pony car turns out to be almost civilized but no less potent in its 21st-century form.
Getting inside is the first hurdle because Camaros sit low to the ground, but the task is not really as difficult as it looks. Wide, heavy doors, however, need plenty of room alongside before they can be opened fully. Exiting may actually be more of a challenge for the non-agile. Secured neatly in position for hard driving, the driver faces a strictly-business dashboard. Over-the-shoulder visibility is a serious problem with either body style, with big blind spots on each side. A storage well theoretically holds a modest amount of luggage, but the convertibles top boot takes up close to half of the available space.
Camaros definitely have their appealing points, but a Ford Mustang is generally more civilized for day-to-day driving, even when equipped with a muscular V-8. In potent form, though, each of these rear-drive models can become mighty nasty, unable to gain much traction at all if the pavement gets slippery.