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Expert Reviews 1 of 8
By Jim Flammang
April 15, 2002
Vehicle Overview With a history that dates back to 1967, Chevrolets rear-wheel-drive muscle car is finally facing the end of the line. The 2002 model year is the last one for both the Camaro and the related Pontiac Firebird. Camaro sales have been on a downhill slide since 1994; they were up a bit in 2000 but then plummeted by 16 percent to 35,453 units in 2001, according to Automotive News. Rumors of its extinction have been circulating for several years, and theyre finally proving to be true. No replacement is planned. The Ford Mustang, archrival to the Camaro and Firebird, has been outselling the muscular GM duo by far.
Chevrolet has referred to the Camaros heritage as Performance, American style, blending traditional RWD with a pushrod V-8 engine. The Camaro comes in base V-6 and Z28 (V-8) forms and as a hatchback coupe or convertible. The hot SS editions also remain available.
During the Camaros final season, a limited-edition 35th Anniversary Package is available for the SS coupe and convertible, which get final assembly by SLP Engineering. SLP has announced an optional 20-horsepower increase in the SS, to 345 hp.
A four-speed-automatic transmission is now standard on convertibles with the V-6 engine. As before, the V8-powered Z28 can have either a four-speed-automatic or a six-speed-manual gearbox, while V-6 coupe engines team with a five-speed manual or the automatic.
The high-performance Z28 gains a power-steering fluid cooler. A Monsoon premium sound system with an in-dash CD player is now standard for V-6 convertibles and all Z28 models. Camaros now ride 16-inch, painted cast-aluminum wheels, and all models come with carpeted floormats.
Looking as aggressive and brawny as ever, Camaros and Firebirds which share mechanical components but have their own look rank as the last remaining remnants of the muscle-car era. At 193.5 inches long overall, on a 101.1-inch wheelbase, the Camaro coupe is just a few inches longer than the Chevrolet Malibu sedan. But the Camaro is a full 6 inches shorter than the Malibu and stands little more than 51 inches high from ground to rooftop.
Convertibles have a power top with a three-piece hard boot cover, as well as 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 at Chevrolets Canadian plant in Sainte Therese, Québec.
Painted aluminum wheels hold P235/55R16 tires on base Camaros. In addition to V-8 power, the Z28 has a performance ride and handling suspension and P245/50ZR16 tires. Developed by SLP Engineering, the SS option package for the Z28 brings a higher-powered V-8 engine plus a functional hood scoop, distinctive rear spoiler, tauter suspension and larger 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.
Front bucket seats hold two occupants, with enough legroom to stretch out a bit. By occupying a fold-down seat, two small people can fit in back, but even children are likely to 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 door locks, remote keyless entry and cruise control. All models except the base coupe have a 500-watt Monsoon sound system. Cargo volume in the coupe is 32.8 cubic feet with the rear seat folded down, but the convertible has only 7.6 cubic feet of storage space.
Under the Hood
Three engines and three transmissions are available in the Camaro. Base coupes have a 200-hp, 3.8-liter V-6 engine and either a standard five-speed-manual or optional four-speed-automatic transmission. Base convertibles are equipped with the automatic only. 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 an identically priced four-speed-automatic transmission. The SS package boasts the strongest powertrain: a 345-hp version of the V-8 that drives either a six-speed manual or an automatic transmission.
Daytime running lights and all-disc antilock brakes are standard. Side-impact airbags are not available. 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 that were capable of brisk acceleration with better gas mileage than those with a V-8. Those V-8 models were particularly crude machines, which were barely tolerable in polite society.
Today, even the high-performance SS can sound and feel relatively tame until you tromp on the gas pedal and feel the surge of shoved-back-in-the-seat power that emerges from the potent 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 then 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 speeds, and automatic-transmission shifts are crisp and positive.
A stiff ride is still part of the penalty paid for performance in the hottest Camaros, but it definitely could be worse. Engine noise is undeniably noticeable, but it never begins to blare annoyingly. Occupants remain prone to shakes and rattles, but the vibration is a lot less bothersome than in past models. Otherwise, Chevys long-lived pony car turns out to be almost civilized in its final form.
Getting inside is the first hurdle because Camaros sit low to the ground. Luckily, the task isnt really as difficult as it looks. Wide, heavy doors need plenty of room to the side before they can be fully opened. 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 due to big blind spots on each side.
The Ford Mustang is generally more civilized for day-to-day driving even when equipped with a muscular V-8 but the Camaro can still be appealing. But in their potent form, each of these RWD models can become mighty nasty and unable to gain much traction if the pavement gets slippery.