Photos Copyright ©2009 Alex Núñez / Weblogs, Inc.
To recap: the 2010 Chevy Camaro SS is a glorious case study in politically-incorrect motoring, dripping with attitude and a ferocious 426-horsepower V8 punch that feels like it's delivered with brass knuckles. Some folks will hate what it represents. Its drivers will just smile as billows of tire smoke pour out of the wheel wells and into the ozone layer. Conversely, the V6 offerings have always seemed like lame afterthoughts, but with the 2010 Camaro, GM has flipped the script. You see, you can make a pretty strong case that the V6 is really the better car.
In fact, if you're going to drive the Camaro every day, the six-cylinder car is almost certainly the better pick. It looks fundamentally the same as its hairy-chested big brother, save for some subtle visual differences. There's no false hood scoop and the V6 lacks the SS's more pronounced chin. Out back, there's a different diffuser insert in the rear bumper. Otherwise, the six-cylinder Camaro is every bit the head-turner as the SS. The casual, untrained eye won't even tell the difference, especially if you doll up the V6 car with the RS package, as our tester came equipped. That adds red grille and trunked badges, 20-inch SS-lookalike wheels, HID lamps with halo-effect lights, and a rear decklid spoiler.
Turning the ignition switch (the Camaro uses a flip-out, Volkswagen-style switchblade key fob), the car comes to life with all the aural mayhem of a Buick Enclave. There's no telltale "you really don't want to step to this" exhaust burble as with the SS. Instead, the 304-horsepower, 3.6-liter, direct-injected V6 idles quietly like an altar boy on his best behavior. Pull the six-speed automatic down into "drive" and get into the throttle, however, and you find that the six-equipped Camaro has a growl all its own. But it's fleeting; that's because in regular drive mode, the HydraMatic upshifts early and often as it attempts to maximize fuel efficiency. This is much appreciated on the highway, where we averaged a little over 26 mpg on a one-way, 60-mile commute into Manhattan. But when you're cruising locally, not so much. Obviously, if you don't check the slushbox option in the first place, this isn't a concern. If you do pony up for the auto, however, fret not: the solution is just one notch away on that console-mounted gear selector.
Below "D" (which may as well stand for "dull"), you'll find "M" (which probably stands for something like "manual" but could just as easily be shorthand for "much more fun"), and that's the place to be. In one of life's great mysteries, choosing "M" displays an "S" on the multifunction display in WALL-E-esque* primary gauge cluster (*hat tip to SS post commenter Ed for that Pixar-perfect description). This begs the question as to why GM doesn't put "S" on the shifter, too. I'm sure there were several rounds of meetings during which people wearing ties argued this very point, and that somewhere in the bowels of the Renaissance Center there exists a Powerpoint slide that makes sense of it all. To someone. But we digress.
Once you have the transmission in Sport mode (that's what we're calling it henceforth), you can begin to appreciate what the V6 Camaro brings to the party. For one, it holds onto gears as long as possible, and as the car builds up a head of steam, you notice that while it's about as noisy as a librarian at idle, under power, the exhaust belts out a nicely-tuned, Nissan VQ-ish honk. A V6 Camaro that actually sounds cool? Knock us down with a feather – GM really did take this seriously.
And it's plenty quick, too. It accelerates nicely right out of the gate and GM says 0-60 takes 6.1 seconds, which seems ballpark-correct based on our seat-of-the-pants impression. Paired with the automatic tranny, the V6 may as well have "Burnouts for Dummies" molded on its plastic engine cover. Disable traction control, apply brake, depress accelerator, and the Camaro lays down a smokescreen that would make the guys at Q Branch jealous. Note, however, that same seat-of-the-pants impression we just mentioned also tells us that aspiring stoplight heroes may still want to think twice before goading Mustang GT drivers in the adjacent lane. The temptation to do so will surely be there, as the 3.6-liter DI V6 is no pretender, but an S197 Mustang still feels a shade quicker than the heavier, autobox-equipped V6 Camaro does. Then again, we're comparing a base-engined, six-cylinder Camaro to the V8 Mustang GT on equal ground. How times have changed – for the better.
With 300+ horses underhood and a net loss of around 130 pounds compared to the manual-equipped SS model, it's no surprise that the Camaro V6 performs so admirably. In many respects, the V6 model feels remarkably similar to its V8 sibling from behind the wheel. Throw out the obvious power differential, which isn't a big deal from a practicality standpoint (not that 'Merican Muscle is practical, mind you), and you're left with most of the thrills for less coin. Road feel is basically the same, thanks to communicative, nicely-weighted steering that's not over-assisted. The suspension's dialed in more for sport than comfort –- again, like the SS –- and in this case, the car wore essentially the same wheel/tire package to boot, thanks to the RS option. On smooth pavement, it's very well-mannered, but when you traverse choppy surfaces, you'll look to see if there's a seismograph among the trip computer's features. The bottom line: whereas the Camaro SS feels like a fullback ready to blow through defensive linemen, the V6 car is more like the little halfback who's happier to turn the corner and let his athleticism win out. Both cars play the same game and share a lot of attitude, but their gameday approaches differ. As a result, the SS is a brute that lives to roar forward as if it's been jabbed with a cattle prod. It's basic, visceral power. The V6 is a little lighter on its feet and more refined in its quickness.
Driving the Camaro in full-auto mode is engaging enough that it's easy to forget Chevy lets you shift the car manually, too. Shift paddles peek over the unique steering wheel's wide spokes: a minus-sign on the left and a plus-sign on the right. Only they're not really paddles, as we discovered on our first pull. Instead of paddles, you get shift buttons mounted behind the wheel. They work as advertised, and on manual downshifts, you even get a little throttle blip, but we still yearned for a "real" set of paddles to complete the package.
Our tester was a 2LT/RS model, so it featured better interior appointments than the 1SS we drove the prior week. What was different? The comfy sport seats we enjoyed in the SS are now leather-covered. Additional controls for the phone and audio features adorned the front of the steering wheel thanks to the car's electronics package. Inside the center console, a USB port joins the standard AUX jack. The HVAC interface adds nicely-integrated seat heater buttons, and the Rally Pack-inspired supplemental gauge cluster was installed ahead of the shifter.
We checked out the back seat of the Camaro this time around, and came to the rapid conclusion that if you're an adult, there may as well be a "KEEP OUT" sign hung back there (at 5' 9", I'll never be described as tall, but my noggin still rubbed up against the headliner in the rear). On the other hand, kids fit fine, even when seated in boosters. That back seat flips down, too, expanding trunk space when you need it. Of course, you need to get your gear into the trunk through its tiny opening first.
Our opinion on the instrument panel layout remains basically unchanged: we like it for its simplicity. The two primary gauges are eminently readable and the radio/HVAC unit is intuitive to use. The supplemental console-mounted gauges, however, aren't really well-located. Sure, they look cool and we understand the heritage motif the General is after, but the need to look down and away from the road to get info is an ergonomic artifact that probably should have been left in the past.
Despite its quirks, we're thoroughly impressed with the new Camaro. Even in non-SS trim, it's a muscular-looking stunner, especially in the Aqua Blue Metallic finish this tester sported. It's every bit the attention magnet the SS is, pulling mechanics out of their shops for a closer look, and causing other motorists to crane their necks in full-on tributes to Linda Blair.
The best news of all is that the V6 Chevy Camaro is a good car with a terrific engine. Yes, it's less powerful than the SS, but for the first time in forever, that doesn't mean that it's the lesser car. With the 2010 Camaro, "I have the V6" is something you can say with your head held high.
Photos Copyright ©2009 Alex Núñez / Weblogs, Inc.