x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

2010 Chevrolet Camaro

The problem with "retro" cars are they are enslaved by the very same past they seek to recreate.

While its competitors are historically accurate representations of 1960s muscle cars, the Camaro's look is a more modern interpretation of a classic design.
While its competitors are historically accurate representations of 1960s muscle cars, the Camaro's look is a more modern interpretation of a classic design.

The problem with "retro" cars are they are enslaved by the very same past they seek to recreate. Like watching the Beach Boys sleepwalking their way through Good Vibrations for what must surely be the millionth time, looking back to your driving roots may indeed offer short-term comfort but still remains a constant reminder of just how arthritic you and your mojo really are. Say what you will about the gorgeous and historically accurate sculpting of Dodge's Challenger, but there's little doubt that the car is pigeonholed by the very faithfulness that fans of the famed pony car proclaim. Throw in a chassis better suited to a large four-door sedan as well as an interior that looks like Chrysler's ferocious cost-cutting occurred just as the stylists were penning the dashboard and the Dodge is more retro in more ways than just silhouette.

Chevrolet's Camaro, on the other hand, eschews the exacting resculpting so evident in the Dodge's lines. Indeed, the Bow Tie company has been castigated for not being faithful enough to the 1960s original. The die-hards loyal to the legendary Z/28 lament GM's "mistakes." I, on the other hand, rejoice. The new car is modern enough that the young won't brand it an old-timer's car. Of course, it helps that the bumblebee-yellow version of the car is the star of the blockbusting Transformers movie, ensuring that the kids will be almost as excited about the new Camaro as we fogeys.

Perhaps even better news is that the 2010 Camaro is truly a modern car underneath that skin. For instance, like its Challenger and Mustang competition, the most satisfying version of the new Camaro is the monster-motored V8. The 6.2-litre LS3, hooked up to the manual transmission, boasts 426 horsepower (and do you think that it's really a coincidence that it just happens to be rated at one more pony that Chrysler's Hemi), accelerates the 3,849 pound Camaro to 96 kilometres per hour in a truly scintillating 4.7 seconds and is relatively civilised to boot. Indeed, combined with the slick-shifting TR6060 six-speed manual transmission, the Corvette-based LS3 powertrain feels far more sophisticated than anything originally designed fifty years ago has a right to be. It's a triumph of development over engineering.

The top-of-the-line Camaro is also offered in automatic guise, even though the enthusiast in me hopes that those opting for the horsepower of the V8 would also insist on shifting their own gears. Although based on the same block as the LS3, the automatic's L99 6.2L features slightly lower compression and GM's Active Fuel Management (which effectively renders four of its eight combustion chambers inert when cruising at a steady speed), which lowers maximum output to a still-relatively-healthy 400 hp. GM says that Camaro V8s equipped with the six-speed Hydra-Matic 6L80 slushbox get 25 miles per US gallon, one better than the manual jobbie and a whopping six more than an automatic Dodge Challenger SRT8. In fact, GM says that none of the new Camaros are subject to the US government's onerous gas guzzler tax.

Nonetheless, where the Camaro absolutely kills its domestic competition (and almost keeps up with the best of its import competitors) is the performance of the base six-cylinder car. Both Dodge and Ford versions are anaemic beasts, meant (and please, forgive me) as chick cars, their V6s both sound weak. Not the Camaro's base engine. Essentially the same 3.6L double overhead camshaft, direct fuel injected V6 that powers the Cadillac CTS and other GM premium products, in Camaro guise, the variable valve-timed engine pumps out a thoroughly creditable 304 horsepower. That's enough to motivate the fairly light (at least compared with the Challenger) car to 96 kph in just a hair over six seconds, until very recently the measure of any truly sporting automobile.

Not only that, the 3.6L also feels lively. Once past 3,500 rpm, it revs freely and quickly, it sounds better than any V6 save the new Nissan 370's 3.7L and it gets decent fuel economy. The V6 Camaro's motorway rating is 8.1 litres/100 kilometres, better say the GM public relations flacks than Toyota's Camry and host of other vehicle you would think more fuel efficient than a lustful pony car. But that's not the biggest surprise with the new Camaro. That accolade would be reserved for the car's more than sprightly handling. Lighter than its domestic competition, it also sports the independent rear suspension the Mustang crowd so assiduously avoids, and it wears - in RS V6 and V8 guises at least - low (ish) profile 20-inch Pirelli radials. Save for steering being a smidgen overboosted, the better-equipped versions of the Camaro handle very well indeed. Even those used to such twisty road stalwarts as the Nissan Z car will be surprised at how well the Camaro tosses about. In V8 SS form, there's precious little body roll no matter how hard you corner.

The only change I would make would be in offering the V6 RS with the same lowered suspension as the V8. It already has the bigger wheels and the hardened suspension would show that sporty V6 to even greater advantage (though it would still lack the SS's Brembo brakes). Besides, an even greater surprise is that even the V8's lowered suspension is not harsh at all. Michigan's rural tarmac may look like a particularly rutty moonscape they failed to upset the Camaro at all. Extremely impressive.

The Camaro's interior, with a few caveats, fares pretty darn well. Despite the obvious budgetary constraints GM is under, the Camaro has its own distinct interior (the Challenger's is essentially identical to a Chrysler 300). The fit of the various body panels is excellent and there's more room than anticipated, especially in the rear, and the leather on the top-of-the-line model is excellent. There are a few gaffes, though. While the driver's side of the dash is well styled, the passenger's side is just one huge slab of plastic. As well, the four-face instrument pod - oil pressure, oil temperature, transmission fluid temperature and battery voltage - is only available on the top-of-the-line Camaros. Without it, the centre console of the base versions seem very bare. And, finally, the Camaro's boot is almost as comical as the Pontiac Solstice's. You could probably fit a couple of golf bags back there, but good luck angling them through the tiny opening.

Still, the Camaro surprises and delights and even the base V6 is worth the money. The Camaro will hit UAE showrooms in June.