2002 Chevrolet Camaro Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Bye, bye, Miss American Pie.
After years of hints and rumors, the show is finally over. 2002 will be the last model year for the Chevrolet Camaro, at least for the seeable future.
The Camaro is a big-engine, heavy-metal throwback to another time. That, of course, is the source of its appeal.
The Camaro is leaving in style, featuring a dazzling 35th Anniversary edition in its final year.
Coupe and convertible models are available. And they come in base and Z28 trim.
The base coupe lists for $18,080, the convertible for $26,075. Z28 models retail for $22,495 for the coupe, and $29,590 for the Z28 convertible.
Base models come well equipped, and are powered by a 3.8-liter V6. Standard for 2002 are P235/55R16 tires on painted alloy wheels. An automatic transmission and cruise control are optional on the coupe, standard on the convertible.
To hear real V8 thunder, you must opt for the Z28, with 5.7-liters of 310 horsepower prime mover. We called it a 350 in the olden, pre-metric, days. No matter what you call it, it rumbles. The Z28 also adds the appropriate performance suspension, along with a heavy-duty automatic transmission and power steering cooler. Like the base Camaro, the Z28 has grown wider tires this year: big, sticky P245/50ZR16 Goodyear Eagle RSAs. The Z28 convertible gets a six-way power driver's seat. A six-speed manual gearbox is offered as a no-charge option.
An SS Performance/Appearance Package ($3625) is available for the Z28 models. SS ups the horsepower ante to 325, thanks in part to forced-air induction and a wide-mouth, low restriction, dual-outlet exhaust. An SS-only rear spoiler adorns the back deck. Big 17-inch aluminum wheels shod with enormous P275/40ZR17 speed-rated Goodyear Eagle F1 tires are mounted on the corners. They complement a High-Performance Ride and Handling Package that further stiffens the Z28 suspension with beefier shock and spring rates.
If that's not quite enough, SS buyers can add the 35th Anniversary Package ($2500), featuring traction control, a Hurst short-throw shifter, and a 12-disc CD changer. All 35th Anniversary Camaros will be painted Bright Rallye Red and decorated with broad silver racing stripes; black-accented, machined-face alloy wheels; special identification; and ebony leather with gray inserts for the interior.
A Sport Appearance Package ($1345) dresses up any Camaro with unique front and rear fasciae as well as a rear spoiler extension. Base Camaros can be beefed up with a $275 Performance Handling Package that adds a Zexel-Torsen limited-slip differential, dual exhausts, and a faster steering ratio.
Rounding the corner of the new Millennium, the final Camaro still retains the long hood/short deck pony car proportions of the 1967 original. Only everything else has changed.
With a sloping nose, deeply raked windshield, the Camaro sports a dart-like profile. Alloy wheels with painted surfaces freshen the 10-year-old body style. Up front, a wide, blacked-out grille gapes between narrow, oval headlamps. The hood is crowned by a functional fresh-air scoop, giving this aging muscle car an appropriately menacing look.
A distinctive black roof treatment marks the Z28 coupe. The SS-specific, low-rise rear spoiler sets off its tail end nicely.
The cockpit of the Chevy Camaro, especially Z28 and SS models, is oriented around the driver. The six-way power driver's seat provides good support for spirited driving. The speedometer and tachometer form two large, overlapping arches centered in the instrument panel, framed by supporting gauges. Lights and HVAC controls are of a straightforward, rheostat style.
The sound system is a little button-busy to deal with while driving, but redundant controls mounted in the steering wheel lie within easy reach of one's thumbs. Speaking of sound, a Monsoon AM/FM/CD stereo with 500 watts, eight speakers and an auxiliary amplifier is now standard issue on all Camaros. A great feature that's been around a long time is GM's speed-compensated volume, which turns down the sound level as you slow down. We found this particularly handy in the convertible, where wind, engine and traffic noise could otherwise have you constantly fiddling with the loud knob.
The front passenger must contend with a large hump in the floor that cuts into available leg room. The back seats are best thought of as a nicely upholstered parcel tray, just about useless for the transport of people. Coupes offer slightly more rear seat room than convertibles, but not enough to make a difference.
Trunk space measures 7.6 cubic feet in convertibles, which turns 'pack light' from a suggestion to a mandate. Coupes fare a little better than ragtops, with 12.9 cubic feet in a multi-level trunk. However, the Coupe's trunk also holds the optional T-tops when they are not in place, thereby eating up more space, and there's a 'watch your back' alert posted for the high lift-over height.
Camaro convertible drivers must contend with large rear blind spots, a problem common to many drop-tops. Fortunately, it's easy enough to fold the top out of the way: Just pop the two release latches and press the button. A hard plastic boot lends a finished look with top down. It is a three-piece unit, which stores in a bag in the trunk when not in use; although we suspect that most of these boots and bags will be given the boot, out of the trunk and into the garage, preserving scarce cargo space.
A brochure included with our Camaro Convertible advised owners to avoid high-pressure 'touchless' car washes, as they might induce leakage. They do. A trip through such a wash will lead to water dribbling in along the side window seals. Those Camaro owners who can't resist brushless automated washes will learn to take a towel along.
Raise the hood on a Camaro Z28 or SS, and you'll find Chevrolet's familiar 5.7-liter V8. It's tucked so far back, it looks as though you'd need to open the glove box to change a rear spark plug. But while it appears to be hiding, the 5.7 is hardly a shrinking violet.
Rated at 325 horsepower and 350 pounds-feet of torque in the SS (310 and 340 in standard Z28), this aluminum-block motor shines brightly. Its broad, smooth power band launches the Camaro effortlessly, whether from a standing start or for a fast highway pass. A slight nudge of the throttle yields added oomph in any gear. Dig your spurs in its side, and the SS responds with sufficient thrust to shove you back in your seat. Top speed is governed at 160 mph in SS models, 108 in Z28s, unless you opt for speed-rated tires.
Both Z28 and SS models serenade the driver with a vintage V8 soundtrack, the classic, throaty rumble that is music to the ears of muscle-car buffs.
The SS motor is virtually unstressed at speed. At 80 mph, it's turning just 2400 rpm, a step above slumber. Thanks to this intelligent gearing, the SS is able to offer respectable highway fuel economy. EPA ratings for the automatic version are 18 city/26 highway: impressive, considering the engine's power output.
The engine in base Camaros is GM's popular 3.8-liter V6, tuned in this application to produce 200 horsepower and 225 pounds-feet of torque. The 3800 V6 is found under the hood of countless GM products and seems to perform well no matter where it turns up.
A four-speed automatic transmission is standard on Z28 and SS, though buyers can opt for a six-speed manual at no additional cost. The automatic works well with the V8, with smooth shifts up and down.
In previous-generation Camaros, handling was a one-way street, with super-heroic cornering power purchased at the expense of riding comfort. So these latest models are a pleasant surprise. Even the ultra-performance SS does not does not unduly punish you for the privilege. Standard Z28 models are tuned for a more compliant ride while still offering very capable cornering.
The convertibles were engineered from the ground up for roofless duty; they are not simply hardtops with the roof sawed off. Cowl shake on our convertible was unnoticeable on smooth pavement, and never more than moderate on any surface. That was a pleasant surprise.
All-speed traction control is standard on Anniversary Camaros, and offered as an option on all other models ($250 with a V6, $450 with a V8). But even with it, we wouldn't relish driving a Camaro in snow or sleet, given its rear-wheel drive, light tail, wide tires and (in V8 cars) high power. For the parts of the country where winter weather brings bad driving conditions, the best solution for a Camaro is hibernation.
The Camaro Z28 and SS stand apart in a crowd. They are a good performance value. For the price of a much smaller-engined sport coupe or convertible, they offer real, vintage American muscle. But act now if you want one, because this retro, rough-around-the-edges rumbler won't be with us for much longer.
Coupe ($18,285); Convertible ($26,280); Z28 Coupe ($22,700); Z28 Convertible ($27,975).
Boisbriand, Quebec, Canada.
Options As Tested
SS Performance/Appearance Package ($3,625) includes 325-hp V8, forced-air composite hood, SS badging, specific rear spoiler, wide diameter dual exhaust, high-performance ride and handling package, 17-inch aluminum SS wheels with speed-rated Goodyear Eagle F1 P275/40ZR-17 tires.
Camaro Z28 Convertible ($27,975).
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