EXPERT REVIEW

The Detroit Newspapers's view


PLYMOUTH — The Camaro is back. Giddy up! This pony is ready to ride.

The 2010 Chevrolet Camaro is not perfect, but it’s perfectly enticing in all of the good ways that come with a classic car flexing its muscle after a seven-year rest.

Ever since General Motors Corp. rolled out the Camaro concept at the 2006 Detroit auto show, fans have clamored for its return. But delivering such an anticipated coupe leaves little room for mistakes.

And Chevy nailed the landing. The production version Camaro stays true to the concept’s carved-stone exterior, long hood, short deck and big wheels. It also offers enough high tech features to keep even an astronaut happy. The new Camaro comes in two versions: V-6 and V-8. Both engines are matched with either a six-speed automatic or manual transmission.

My personal driving peccadilloes suggest I would choose the Super Sport 6.2-liter V-8 with the short throwing manual gearbox as my favorite. That SS badge seduces you with the knowledge of a head-tossing 426 horses. Despite the engine’s strength, (all 410-pound-feet of torque), it never feels overbearing during acceleration. I expected raw rubber peeling muscle but found a refined responsive powerplant.

While V-8s remain the pulsing heart to purists, the direct injection 3.6-liter V-6 won me over. Its 304 horses are more than enough power to push this heavy sled but maintain gentle cruising. Chevy’s biggest coup arrived Monday when it announced the V-6 could hit 29 miles per gallon on the highway — besting many midsize sedans — and making it a fashionable daily driver. Good mileage in such a crisp package — who knew?

A classic evolves

While I love using a clutch, the paddle shifters and sport mode in the automatic provided clean shifting and plenty of pep. The V-6 doesn’t provide that gut-wrenching blast off taken for granted in the V-8, but it felt more nimble on the fast twisty turns around Dexter.

The new Camaro demonstrates how a muscle car can evolve — it may share its name with its predecessor but it offers a much smoother ride and more comfortable interior. The new Camaro is eerily quiet while cruising. The four-wheel independent suspension, as well as the car’s heft — it weighs 3,769 pounds at its lightest — smooth out the ride.

What I didn’t like was how loose the steering felt in my hands. I wanted more resistance and feedback while holding the wheel through turns. The return to center was fine, but I couldn’t feel the road as much as I would have liked. This attribute, however, may make the Camaro even better for daily driving, where mind-numbing commutes on highways fill our time (and not the fast, twisty roads leading us to Hell, or even Chelsea for that matter).

The Camaro felt remarkably agile on the road — perhaps a product of extremely sticky tires — 20-inchers on the SS and 18s on the base model LS. Whipping through a corner, the body stayed flat and the tires never lost their grip despite the power coursing through the rear axle.

Dash detracts from looks

There’s something reassuring when you sit behind the leather-wrapped steering wheel of this futuristic muscle car. You look out the small windshield and see the bulging hood and fenders. The cabin is dark and comfortable.

But the dash, especially on the passenger side, felt like there was too much plastic and the muted chrome finish, which is also plastic, took away from the deeply recessed speedometer and tachometer. The touch points are soft and even the two main control knobs are covered with rubber.

There is a back seat and it can fit an adult, but with 29 inches of legroom, I don’t think he or she would want to stay there very long. And if you’re the one stuck in the back of any muscle car, you really aren’t that important.

Chevy excelled at offering useful and friendly technology in the cabin. There’s Bluetooth connectivity for hands-free phone use. And the compact center stack includes XM Satellite Radio, an auxiliary jack and USB port for your personal music device and an optional nine-speaker Boston Acoustics stereo that will crank out 245 watts. Loud music seems appropriate for a Camaro. With additional controls on the steering wheel, everything is right at a driver’s fingertips.

Now, I can see the flood of e-mails coming: Why build this car? What is Chevy thinking? My guess: Chevy wants to sell cars. And people will buy this one. If you’re not a fan of beefy machines or just can’t remove that stick jammed up your attitude, don’t buy one.

But when you see those squinting headlights and the slit of the scoop accenting the V-shaped hood in your rearview mirror, and you hear a deep-throated downshift, please edge over to the shoulder and let it pass. Trust me; it’ll only take a second.

Scott Burgess is the auto critic for The Detroit News. He can be reached at (313) 223-3217 or sburgess@detnews.com.

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