Since its reincarnation less than three years ago, there's been a lot to like about the Chevrolet Camaro and a few things to hate. Two years in, GM has improved on a few of the muscle car's pesky faults, but the major drawbacks remain.
The 2012 Chevrolet Camaro is as badass as ever, but the car's principal shortcomings will remain at least until the car's next full redesign.
The four-seat Camaro comes as a coupe or convertible with a V-6 or V-8 engine. Changes for 2012 include a revised suspension for V-8 coupes, more power for the V-6, and improved cabin materials across the board. A 45th-anniversary option package includes a few cosmetic upgrades. There's also a Camaro to rule them all: the 550-horsepower ZL1, which you can read about here. We test-drove an automatic V-6 convertible and a stick-shift, 45th-anniversary V-8 coupe. Compare all 2012 Camaros here, or see all changes for the 2012 Camaro here.
Quick But Heavy
Fortified with a few extra horses this year — for 323 hp total — the rear-drive Camaro's V-6 howls a high-pitched-but-rich exhaust note, and it pulls strong at higher revs. You'll feel the car's weight around town, though. It weighs some 300 pounds more than a V-6 Ford Mustang, and it's about 350 pounds more than a V-6 Hyundai Genesis coupe; this keeps the V-6 from really showing its stuff. The 305-hp V-6 Mustang feels a smidge quicker.
Our convertible's six-speed automatic upshifted smoothly and kicked down to lower gears with little delay — not always a strong suit of GM's six-speed automatics. On the other hand, the V-8 coupe's manual, with its heavy clutch and muddy shifts, takes a lot of effort to work. The V-8 Mustang shifts more easily, as does the manual V-6 Camaro, which we've driven in years past. Its lighter, cleaner shifts evoke the smooth-shifting stick in Nissan's 370Z, which is a favorite of ours.
With 400 hp and 410 pounds-feet of torque — 426 hp and 420 pounds-feet in stick-shift cars — the Camaro's 6.2-liter V-8 blows the doors off most cars from a stop, on the highway and everywhere in between. Endless low-end reserves allow you to romp around in 6th gear as low as 45 mph, letting the V-8 muscle things forward from near-idle engine speeds.
Alas, weight does hurt the Camaro in the muscle-car wars. The 5.0-liter Mustang V-8 lacks the Camaro's low-end torque but makes up for lost ground at higher revs, and the Ford's weight advantage (as much as 377 pounds between the V-8 coupes) lets it beat the Chevy on the drag strip. Our friends at "MotorWeek" tested both V-8 cars in stick-shift convertible form, and the Camaro hit the quarter mile in 13.4 seconds, while the 'Stang blazed through in 13 flat. (Chevrolet does have the 5.7-liter V-8 Dodge Challenger beat, but that car is even heavier — and larger.)
Ride & Handling
The V-8 Camaro coupe gets a new performance suspension this year; V-8 convertibles and all V-6 models retain last year's setup. Despite their separate suspensions, our V-8 coupe and V-6 convertible rode similarly, filtering out small bumps just fine but chopping over ruts and manhole covers. Both test cars had 20-inch wheels, which are optional on the V-6 and standard on the V-8. If you swap them out on the V-6 for 18s or 19s, ride comfort may improve.
Broken pavement induces floaty, tentative body motions, though not noticeably more in the convertible, which stays as flex-free as you can expect from a droptop. Yet the Camaro lacks composure in spite of its independent rear suspension. While that setup gives the Chevy a theoretical advantage over the Mustang's non-independent rear axle, it's no better in practice.
The firmness pays off in handling, at least. Bomb into a corner, and the Camaro's nose stays on course, with little of the early push that would spoil the fun in any performance car. The tail slides out easily — not erratically, as the Hyundai Genesis coupe does — allowing graceful drifts on the backside of any curve.
The elephant in the room — or perhaps on the roof, given how low the damn thing sits — is visibility. You can't see out of the Camaro. The Mustang and Challenger are no sight-line champions, but both beat the pulp out of this. In the Camaro, a hulking rearview mirror obscures half the tiny windshield. The side windows are low, squeezed between a high belt line and a low roof. An optional backup camera, added this year, improves the rear view, but it only chips away at the problem — and only when parking.
Still, GM improved a few things for 2012. The gauges look less cartoonish, and a new stitched veneer across the dashboard adds an upscale vibe. The steering wheel is a stock GM piece, with easily reachable volume and cruise controls, rather than last year's style-beats-ergonomics wheel. (It seemed cool … until you tried to use it.)
The front seats offer decent legroom, and our moonroof-free cars had good headroom, despite the low roofline. Thanks to a thinner roof structure, the convertible has decent backseat headroom, but backseat legroom in both the coupe and the convertible is a joke — and not the sort your passengers will find funny.
Safety, Features & Pricing
The Camaro has not been crash-tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Click here for a full list of standard safety features, or here to see our evaluation of how child-safety seats fit in the 2011 Camaro.
Reliability has been above average so far. That's a victory for GM, a company that has been plagued on occasion by new products that seemed appealing until reliability data came in. The current Cadillac CTS and early versions of GM's large crossovers are prime examples.
Standard features on the $23,200 Camaro LS include one-touch power windows, 18-inch steel wheels, air conditioning, cruise control and power-reclining front seats. Opt for a higher trim, and you can get full power seats, heated leather upholstery and more. The 45th-anniversary package adds custom paint, unique 20-inch wheels, and enough red, white and blue decals to make you forget the Camaro is built in Canada.
Convertibles with the V-6 start at $30,100, and V-8 coupes start at $31,850. Check all the boxes, and the Camaro convertible tops out well north of $45,000.
Camaro in the Market
Shaving off a few hundred pounds and enlarging the windows could turn the Camaro into an outright winner — but GM can't address those issues without a full redesign (if it even chooses to). As it stands now, the Camaro still has plenty of appeal, outselling the Mustang, Challenger and other contenders by a comfortable margin. GM could turn a solid double into a home run with a few sweeping changes, but the car's current success is likely to put such improvements off for some time.
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