EXPERT REVIEW

The Detroit Newspapers's view


The 2010 Chevrolet Camaro makes the pursuit of happiness much easier — or at least much quicker.

Sure, you can chase the American Dream in a sedan or crossover, but who really wants to tool down the highway of life in a minivan with 15-inch steel wheels? This Chevy is good times on 20-inch rims — and as American as baseball, hot dogs and apple pies on the Fourth of July.

This car is what the Founding Fathers meant when they wrote about the inalienable right to burn rubber 233 years ago. No doubt, if they lived today, Thomas Jefferson would have a Camaro LT in his barn and Ben Franklin would invent traffic lights to justify launching his SS.

The return of the Camaro, at dealerships now, has stirred up quite the hubbub — it’s the last of the Big Three muscle cars — going head-to-head-to-head with the Dodge Challenger and Ford Mustang. It deserves every hub and bub. Fast and fun, the Camaro is coupe erotica in a parking lot of Puritan putt-putts. Yeah, I like it.

Arriving in a giant gold bow tie, the Camaro brings a look like no other car on the road. Big and brawny, it’s the futuristic interpretation of a 1967 SS, and it turns more heads than an unexpected fireworks finale.

The body looks buff with rippling muscles stuffed into sheet metal two sizes too small. The long hood, short deck and bulging fenders denote the power under the hood. The small windows and giant wheels (20 inch wheels are standard on the SS) exaggerate its proportions in a way that feels right. The Camaro is beautiful at every angle.

And it’s fast. During a week of test driving the Camaro 2LT, I couldn’t get enough of its quick acceleration. Highway entrances and exits became my favorite part of my daily commute and, a few times, I took exits just to get back on the highway. Plenty of power to please

Times have changed, too. Instead of lusting after a big honking V-8, I was pushed back into my seat by General Motors Corp.’s 3.6-liter direct injection V-6, which makes pedal mashing fun.

My test Camaro lacked that V-8 rumble, but it didn’t lack power. The V-6 produces 304 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque, which is more than enough ponies to push this 3,700-pound machine.

For those in need of more power, the SS comes with a 6.2-liter V-8 that pushes 426 horsepower, 410 pound-feet of torque and will go from zero to 60 mph faster than you can read this sentence. That’s Old School power.

But the Camaro carries a lot of new-world technology. The SS get 25 miles per gallon on the highway. My V-6 test vehicle, which gets an EPA estimate of 18 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway, averaged 22 mpg during my week of testing. That’s a very respectable number, especially considering the lead-soled Pilotis I wore to drive it.

All versions of the Camaro come with either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmission. In previous models I’ve tested, the automatic felt very smooth and adjusted quickly to aggressive driving, holding the gear to grab as much torque as possible before shifting. There’s also a manual mode that allows you to decide when to shift.

The manual feels more natural (despite getting 1 mile per gallon less in city driving) and fortunately, my test vehicle came with the manual: Vroooommm, click, vroooooooom, click. A Hurst short throw shifter is also available.

The independent suspension provides a very good ride on both the highway and around town. And while Camaros of lore may have had only good straight line performance, the new model holds its own on twisty roads.

The rack-and-pinion steering does feel a little disconnected from the road through big turns. I wanted stiffer feedback, but every time I barreled through a corner, the smile never left my face, thanks to this nicely balanced machine.

Really, there are few complaints about the Camaro’s performance. The lines of sight in the car are bad, however. Backing up, you can see nothing behind you, and the blind spot out to the front right could mean a lot of 1-year-old Camaros will have scratch marks from nicking a curb, pole or garage. Two-toned leather attractive

In the previous models I’ve driven, the all-black interiors made the interior feel like a cave, but the new Camaro had two-tone leather with lighter tones, which looked much nicer. Chevy continues to improve its seats, and these were some of the most comfortable I’ve tried, with nice bolsters to hold you in place.

There were some things in the cabin that felt unfinished, such as the recessed gauges and the giant swath of plastic on the dash in front of the passenger’s seat, but overall the interior was good. The brushed nickel trim and optional four-gauge cluster mounted at the base of the center stack feel right in this car. The simple stereo and heater controls are intuitive and easy to use.

At night, the interior shines with its LED ambient lighting package. It’s a small detail that warms the interior in cool blue lighting.

Chevy has also included a lot of technology, including Bluetooth connectivity, USB connection, 245-watt Boston Acoustics nine-speaker stereo and remote start. The one thing you can’t get in a Camaro is a navigation system.

And if you were hoping to cram three people in the back, you can’t. It seats only two in the second row, and those people need to be small. While there is 42.4 inches of leg room up front, there is just 29.9 inches in the back. I managed to climb back there, but didn’t want to stay very long.

The trunk has lots of space — 11.3 cubic feet — but has an odd opening that looks like it belongs on a submarine. It makes it difficult to load big things. Of course, this car was never meant as a grocery getter.

Behind the wheel, the Camaro is extremely comfortable and on the road it’s a true looker.

It will certainly get anyone noticed — all of the people giving me thumbs up along the highway are evidence of that. At least that’s the digit I think they were flashing my way.

But driving obliviously happy is a truth that the Camaro makes self-evident, and if you’re going to pursue happiness, you should at least be in a vehicle that can let you catch it.

sburgess@detnews.com (313) 223-3217

Report Card

Overall: *** 1/2

Exterior: Excellent: The stylish body looks modern and classic at the same time. It’s beautiful.

Interior: Good: Clean lines and well appointed, the interior is very comfortable. The optional ambient lighting package is a must get item.

Performance: Excellent: Loads of power even on the base model, independent suspension helps the Camaro perform well on twisty roads and the highway — 29 mpg on the highway is also an impressive number.

Safety : Excellent: Full complement of air bags, electronic stability control and other features: Pros: Fast and fun, the Camaro’s distinct looks will get you noticed.

Cons: Lacks practicality — but then, so what?

Grading scale

**** Excellent *** Good ** Fair * Poor

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