This modern muscle car does so much more than just live up to its roots, finds Neil Vorano.
2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS
I feel like I've been swimming in testosterone lately. I feel like more of a man; a hairy-chested, big-fisted, steel-glare sort of man. In fact, I've got a stack of brochures on my desk about lumberjacking in the Canadian northwest. Certainly, I've not been my usual self. And I attribute it all to the latest Camaro SS, the revived muscle car from Chevrolet. Because sitting behind the wheel of this car and feeling the raw, brute power under your right foot will make anyone - woman or man - start turning their noses up at tofu and reaching for a rare steak.
This is the top tier of the car maker's Camaro line, designed to compete head to head with the Ford Mustang GT - just like the two cars have been doing since their inception in the late 1960s, when they basically created the muscle car genre. This SS version gets the huge and very American 6.2L V8 under the bulging hood. I say very American because of the way it delivers its power - massive torque available at low speeds. In fact, it's what makes this car rather brutish to drive; even in city driving, the car bucks and snorts like a bronco bull waiting for the gate to open. For many reasons - temptation being one of the top ones - it's very difficult to drive this car in a calm, reasonable manner.
Even in seemingly innocuous acceleration from a stop light or turning onto a street, you can feel the traction control kick in to keep the rear wheels from losing their grip. With such immense power so easily available, it's a car that demands respect from a driver - it can easily bite you if you're not careful. The V8 gets this Camaro up to 100kph from a standstill in less than 5.0 seconds, better than many cars costing tens of thousands of dirhams more.
The sound coming from the tailpipes is certainly that typical American V8 sound. At low speeds, it still has a savage aura that warns a driver there is much, much more to give. The six-speed gearbox adds to the car's sporting nature, but it's rather clunky, making it necessary to really put some muscle into shifting. But what really gives you a workout is the stiff clutch pedal, which also has varying rates of spring stiffness that makes it difficult to shift smoothly - easy pushing down, stiff in the middle, then easy again to the floor. It all sort of adds to that "raw" muscle car feeling; refinement is for those European sissies.
It also makes driving this car in a disrespectful manner all the more easy. Easy in that you don't want to shift up right away under throttle, just to hear the exhaust roar, watch the revs climb and feel the power punch you back into your seat. And it makes you want to practise your heel and toe downshifting, blipping the throttle as you row back down the gears slowing for a corner. Unfortunately, that also affects the fuel economy. While the Camaro has been given comparatively good (considering its massive engine) fuel economy ratings, with 14.7L/100km in the city, I was regularly getting readings in the high teens and low twenties from the on-board average fuel economy readings, numbers that hark back to the pre-oil shortage 1960s. Yes, that's directly because of the way I was driving it; take it easy with the throttle and those numbers will drop.
But what is decidedly not a throwback to the muscle car era is the handling. Back in the day, the muscle car recipe was to hang a monstrous engine onto what was basically a carriage chassis, strung with leaf springs and likely to slide off the road in tight cornering. Not anymore. Unlike the new Mustang, in which Ford decided to stick with a solid rear axle, the Camaro has modern independent suspension all around. It may not be as lithe as a Porsche, but it's cornering is exemplary, staying flat in the curves with good throttle and steering feedback for the driver.
The ride may not be luxurious, but it's not too bad; firm but not giving too much up to its sporty nature. It could be a car with which to enjoy a long trip; preferably one that ends at a racetrack. When the Camaro first came out as a concept vehicle at the 2006 North American International Auto Show in Detroit, I was a little sceptical about its design, but that's changed now. Its fat rear end has really grown on me, and it's got a mean stance to it, even parked and quiet. But perhaps the greatest testament to its looks was the constant gaggle of teenage boys congregated around it every time it was parked in the office lot - truly a sign that this car is cool.
Inside, it feels like a bank vault. The windows are narrow and the A pillars are massive, and with the long hood, it makes parking a bit of a guessing game. At least the parking sensors in the back help out a bit, and the optional sunroof this tester had lightened up the cabin. But forget about this being a practical cargo hauler - the boot is not only small, its opening is comically tiny. The dash and doors are comprised of cheap, hard plastic, but at least it's done up creatively. The black that dominates is broken up by panels of sparkly, beige plastic - OK, that doesn't sound so appealing there, but trust me, it works. The gauges were clear and funky, the buttons for the stereo (which features an iPod plug-in) and climate controls were tight and manageable - all very businesslike. At night, there is a touch of teal accent lighting for mood.
And the cluster of four gauges at the end of the console under the dash, which include transmission oil temperature, engine oil temperature, oil pressure and voltmeter, is not only a nod to the cars from the 60s but also gives a feeling that the driver is in charge of something mechanical; it's a connection to the car itself, even if you don't really know what the gauges are telling you (here's a hint: keep them out of the red).
The Camaro SS is a car that can both make you giggle and scare the life out of you. With the clunky manual gearbox and immense power, it takes a certain amount of concentration to control it; it may not be a car I'd want every day for a commute. But it would be a car I'd want for fun, especially considering other vehicles with comparable performance can cost so much more. I've given the Camaro back to the company, and already I can feel that new growth of hair on my chest receding. Sigh. firstname.lastname@example.org