Despite some published reports, the 2010 Camaro SS is not really what you’d call a sports car, unless you tend to shave with a chain saw or sign your name with a piece of burning timber or make scrambled eggs by dropping a piano on a chicken. The consonant quality of this car, from the moment you turn the key to the moment you gratefully leave it in the chiropractor’s parking lot, is a wanton and cheerful disregard for finesse and delicacy.
This is exactly right.
You have to understand, after four decades in the market, the Camaro nameplate stands for something: 40-ounce beers, mullet hairdos, barbed-wire tattoos, that trick where you put cigarettes out on your tongue. If you ever stole cable TV from your neighbor, own more than two stuffed deer heads or have ever confused your girlfriend’s birth-control pills for Skittles, you might be a Camaro prospect.
Oh, please, don’t even start with accusations of cultural stereotyping. I’m from North Carolina. A telephone pole with a Camaro wrapped around it might as well be the state tree.
While it would have been easy for Chevrolet to build a sleek, high-revving sport coupe, something to thrust-and-parry with the Nissan 370Z or Mazda RX-8, that would not honor the Camaro’s rightful heritage as the Molly Hatchet of sport coupes. And so the company went the other direction: a big lummox of a car powered by thudding 6.2-liter pushrod V8, an engine that is to acceleration what dynamite is to fishing. This detuned version of the Corvette LS3 engine produces 420 pound-feet of torque at 4,600 rpm, which — channeled through the Tremec TR6060 six-speed manual transmission — is quite capable of making an evil stinking unholy mess of the rear 20-inch Pirelli P-Zero radials.
Now, given that I live in California and I was fearful of the Air Resources Board’s black helicopters, I never dumped the clutch with the engine at full honk and the traction control disabled. I am assured by one of my colleagues, however, that the car will leave 50 feet of smoldering, bubbling brimstone on the pavement, burnout tracks so lurid that my colleague actually went out and bought gray spray paint to cover it up. It didn’t help.
The SS is equipped with a launch control function, built into the traction and stability control’s Competitive Driving Mode. The system automatically manages wheel spin in first gear, so there’s less smoke and more hooked-up thrust. All you have to do is romp the throttle and hang on. Zero-to-60-mph acceleration comes in at 4.6 seconds; from there it’s all gear-grabbing and clutch-humping until the car crosses the quarter-mile stripe in fourth gear at 13 seconds flat. So it’s respectably quick. Indeed, the SS zips down the speedway on pace with the Subaru WRX STi. The difference: The Subie sounds like an RC airplane and the Camaro sounds like a gasoline-powered Gatling gun.
Here’s an odd thing, though. The SS’s is a thrumming, slow-revving engine, with a redline barely at 6,600 rpm (actually, it seems the rev-limiter is set artificially low in the interests of durability). Meanwhile, the fifth- and sixth-gear ratios are way into overdrive range (sixth is a super-tall 0.57). The result is that the car starts to feel soft and leisurely above 100 mph or so. Ahem. At least that’s what my colleague tells me.
To create this four-wheeled affront to decency, GM turned, inevitably, to that island of hardened miscreants, Australia. The new Camaro is a shortened version of the Holden Monaro/Pontiac G8 (Holden is a GM subsidiary down under). The Camaro shares the Holden/Pontiac’s MacPherson Strut front suspension and multilink rear, abetted by anti-roll bars, flinty damper settings and slamming wheels and tires. All of that makes the Camaro SS a very capable courser, but as I said, it’s certainly no lithe and nimble sports car. You can blame the nearly 3,900-pound curb weight. The speed-variable power steering is light and a little watery on center, firming up as you turn in. However, the brakes — 14-inch Brembos on the front — certainly git ‘er done.
Now for some shopkeeping. The Camaro comes in three flavors: LS, LT and the SS. The LS and LT come with what most would consider a proper modern engine: a direct-injection, dual-overhead cam, 3.6-liter V6 with variable valve timing. This engine provides a herd of ponies itself — 304 at 6,400 rpm — and can be had with a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic with manual-shift mode. The SS is also available with a manual or auto. The auto-equipped SS employs a detuned version of the pushrod V8, good for 400 hp; the SS with manual gets the LS3 and all 422 snot-flinging horsies.
Remarkably, wonderfully, all Camaros get limited-slip differentials in their ring-and-pinion bits.
With the arrival of the new retro-modern Camaro, the Class Reunion of 1969 Pony Cars is complete. Last year Dodge brought out its Challenger and Ford re-birthed the Mustang, with vastly improved interior and recalibrated suspension. Of these three cars, the Mustang is by far the best driving and handling car, even if it isn’t the fastest (a review of the Shelby GT500 is coming soon). I’d also note that the Mustang is the only properly sized pony car of the three; the Challenger and the Camaro are retro-themed re-skins of big, gallingly heavy sedans.
Yet, in terms of styling, of capturing the ineffable cues of the classic — in this case the 1969 Camaro SS — Chevrolet and lead designer Sang Yup Lee absolutely knocked it out of the park. Mean and coldly futuristic, with a cannibal’s smile and superhero’s visor for a windshield, the Camaro SS is pitch-perfect for the class and segment.
Strange visitor from the Planet Petroleum, the Camaro will doubtless strike many as exactly the wrong kind of car that GM needs to be building. Well, it wasn’t when it was green-lighted back in 2006. Nonetheless, the car has a profoundly anachronistic feel to it. The Camaro certainly can’t deflect the avalanche of bad news for the parent company back in Detroit. The Camaro reminds me of the joke: What are a redneck’s last words?
“Hey, y’all, watch this!”