You know you're off to a good evening when it starts with the delivery of a Victory Red pre-production 2010 Chevrolet Camaro SS. I hadn't even pulled away from the parking garage where it was waiting for me, and it was already causing a ruckus. A young boy, waiting with his extended family for their car to be retrieved, saw the ponycar roll up. His eyes turned into saucers. "Dad, it's the car from Transformers!" he sputtered, tugging on his father's sleeve. Dad immediately chimed in with, "Whoa. Niiiice car." Grandpa looked at the car, locked eyes with me, broke into a grin and just gave a thumbs up. The Camaro elicits those sort of responses a lot. You know, because it's awesome.
Photos Copyright ©2009 Alex Núñez / Weblogs, Inc.
I can't recall the last time I've seen such a purely visceral, positive reaction to a car. People don't simply like the Camaro – they adore it... and they let you know. The best reactions of all came from a pair of NYPD officers I happened upon when pulled over to use the phone and snap some photos. "Whoa! Look at this!" I heard, as the two unis approached. Turns out, one was a Corvette driver, and he was floored by the Camaro. He and his partner circled the car, commenting on everything. F-bombs dropped repeatedly, but only in the most complimentary of fashions. They checked out the interior. They walked around some more. "I may have to put up my 'Vette and get one of these," the first officer said with a look of resignation on his face. He was totally serious. Eventually, they thanked me for letting them poke around and retreated back to their Crown Vic parked across the street.
I was done too, so I clambered back into the Chevy and fired up the LS3, ready to head to a pre-show shindig with some of the Autoblog crew. As I was about to pull away, the first officer called out, "Hey, do me a favor."
"Sure thing," I replied.
"When you leave, give it a little extra. I wanna see it."
Pause. Think. "You got it," I said, confident in the knowledge that this was the best possible encounter involving a 426-horsepower muscle coupe and the Boys in Blue.
The first officer's partner, riding shotgun in the Vic, looked at his rear-view mirror, then turned his head to double-check for oncoming traffic. "You're clear," he said. He was smiling. At this point, I was, too. So I put the shifter into first, turned away from the curb and punched it. This is a language the Camaro speaks fluently. Down the street I went, wheels spinning. No red-and-blue lights. No nightmarishly-expensive ticket. Hell, if there had been room, I think the cops would have had me do donuts.
The happy encounters continued throughout the evening, with drivers hanging out of their windows, giggling like kids, quizzing me about the car. At stoplights, people did double-takes as they realized what was in front of them. Phone cams were whipped out like switchblades. And yes, more than a few Transformers references were made by random bystanders. That particular product placement deal seems to have worked rather well for The General. Throughout all this, the happiest guy in the picture was me. Nevermind the attention it draws, the Camaro is just a ball to drive (Full Disclosure: This, coming from a Ford Mustang GT owner).
Power is simply monstrous and on-demand. The Camaro SS is so testosterone-infused, the FDA ought to regulate it as a male-enhancement product. Shifts with the manual gearbox are reasonably short and crisp. The subdued, muscular burble at idle turns into a full-throated bellow when you mash the loud pedal. And mark my words: with an aftermarket exhaust, this thing's going to sound utterly malevolent. Children will cry.
And though the Camaro will drag knuckles at stoplight showdowns with the best of 'em, it's very drivable. Yes, it's a big car, but it feels smaller than Dodge's Challenger. The SS suspension is admittedly punishing on pothole-strewn pavement, and trundling along on lower Manhattan's cobblestone streets, I felt like a bobblehead doll in an earthquake. But the minute you get onto a better surface, all that stiffness translates into solid road road feel, and on the highway, the Camaro's a perfect partner. It just tracks and goes. You look forward to sweepers as if they're presents. Long straightaways are as good as Christmas morning. Speed limits? The Grinch. The Camaro just gobbles this stuff up, and the Brembos tucked behind the factory 20-inchers rein it all back in.
Inside, you get a straightforward, simple cabin. No, it's not as well-detailed as the new Mustang's -- so let's get that piece of business out of the way. I liked it anyway. My red 1SS-trim tester was fitted with grippy and comfortable cloth-covered sport seats. Instead of the four-gauge rally cluster on the center console, there was just a small storage tray in its place. The instrument panel is all hard plastic, but it looks fine, and the unique-to-Camaro stereo and HVAC controls manage to look cool while being intuitive to use. The retro-style cluster ties everything in, with blue-lit numerals housed within conical surrounds and red needles angling towards the driver, the whole package is both deep and legible. One of the things we all gripe about here is when stuff like the gauges or stereo are obviously parts-bin materials. In this case, GM gave the Camaro unique instruments and accessories that are both attractive and functional. It's easier to live with the other less impressive plastic bits when the automaker goes out of its way to give you model-specific elements for the things you look at the most. Sure, you can find vehicles with a nicer interiors, sharper handling, and more power. And yes, the trunk opening is surprisingly tiny and the low roofline that makes the Camaro look wicked while standing still doesn't exactly help outward visibility. But fair is fair: GM nailed the important stuff with the Camaro. This is a car that grabs you on an emotional level. It is relentlessly, unapologetically, unequivocally badass.
At the end of the night, I drove the Chevy home -- a nice, light-traffic drive on the Merritt Parkway. I made one last pit-stop at a gobsmacked buddy's house before easing the big red beast into my own empty garage bay, where it spent the rest of the night. Come the next morning, it was time to drive back into the city. The auto show was beginning, and I needed to return the Camaro on my way to Javits. It was snowing when I rolled back up to the parking garage. With regret, I handed the key fob to the parking attendant, flagged down a cab, and joined the rest of the gang for the show. I thought about the Camaro all day. I need another shot at it. Less than 24 hours with it was just a tease. This was a one-night stand that I could see turning into a full-blown affair.