The 2010 Chevrolet Camaro has taken so long to get to here we wouldn't be surprised if Caravaggio did the original sketches. We wanted the car when we first saw it back in 6 B.C. We drove prototypes sometime around the Norman Conquest. And now it's finally on the streets. It seems like a mighty long time, but a Camaro SS finally found its way into our hands and it was like being delivered a mail-order bride we'd been corresponding with for ages, begging, "Please, just get here." But how long would our honeymoon last? Or would there be one at all? We hit the road to find out.
Photos copyright ©2009 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.
The largest potential impediment to a successful honeymoon for us and our Camaro bride was the memory of our first date. See, we had met once, in a distant land – well, San Diego – for the car's launch. And we have to admit we couldn't get the hang of it. The Camaro felt awesome in a straight line, perfect for devouring long, Midwestern B-roads where its true base will use it to make the leaves and homecoming queens tremble. But then we'd get to a kink in the road and things would fall apart. Numbness seemed to be the order du jour and the next thing we knew we were veering off into the oncoming lane. After experiencing the same sensation time and time again, it was obvious there was a disconnect between what we were doing and what the car was doing, but were weren't sure if it was us or the Camaro. By the end of the day, we crawled through any sharp, high-speed turn in a haze of reluctant frustration.
But you can't give up on a three-year love affair after one lackluster afternoon. We had to get one at home, spend some time with it, "get to know it" and then we could see if we just shared an off day together.
The Camaro has done the show circuit so long that belaboring its looks would be treading through old oatmeal, so we'll just make a couple of points. When our man Nunez drove the V6 RS, he commented on how close the six-pot was to the SS in appearance, with the front chin spoiler and rear diffuser insert being the major differences. He's right. It's really the wheels that make or break the Camaro, and if you get the RS package on the V6 you'll get the big spinners. But those minor aesthetic tweaks – the chin spoiler and (yes) fake hood scoop – make all the difference. It's subtle. Big and angry, but subtle.
On the inside, however, it's a mixed bag, with a big lump of coal at the bottom being the center console – embodied by the kind of display we haven't seen since our sixth grade alarm clock. It's novel and it isn't ugly, but every time we look at the gauges they scream, "This is where your money didn't go." And while we dig the combination of large buttons and dials for the radio and fan, the eight tiny buttons inside the knobs for specific vent and A/C settings required us to decipher each hieroglyph before we could pull away. Granted, if you've had your deposit in since the Ice Age and have finally taken delivery, you'll adapt. But getting acclimated takes a few tries and an occasional blast in the face from the A/C when you meant to deploy the defroster. Otherwise, the interior is fine – as long as you don't mind a lot of plastic.
The seats are large and relatively wide, though plenty comfy and still supportive when you need a hug. While the back seats are fine places to sit for short periods, if you're taller than 5' 9" you'll have to cock your head to the side, and if someone in front is over six foot tall, leg room gets decidedly spartan in quick order.
Although one of the Camaro's defining design elements is its high shoulder line and low greenhouse, you'll have to endure a few functional trade-offs. The low roof frame caused an occasional (and painful) head-to-headliner encounter when we leaned forward to look left, something we've only experienced when manning the helm of the Lamborghini Murcielago LP640.
The lower deck brings up another issue in the form of visibility, or better yet, opacity. At the four compass points, everything's fine. The rear window is smallish and the rearview mirror is... quaint, but everything you need to see is present and accounted for. However, we'd advise staying back when you get to intersections equipped with high-mounted traffic lights, otherwise they're out of sight and the horn orchestra is all too happy to let you know when things have changed from red to green.
If given enough fluting and capital, the A-pillar could do double-duty as an Ionic column. It's positively huge, and on curvy bits it always seems to be perfectly angled to stay between us and easy sight of the road, causing us to juke and jive for a clear view during mountain runs. By the same token, the blind spots are tremendous due to the massive width of the C-pillars. You can still get a bead on everything at your 5 and 7, but this isn't a quick flick over the shoulder and lane swap; it's look, check the mirror, look again, then ease over and listen for a crunch. It's the same experience the first time you pull out of an angled parking spot when you realize all you can do is say a prayer, roll down the windows and listen up. Thankfully, many of these shortcomings fall by the wayside once pointed straight and underway.
Our SS tester was fitted with the six-speed Tremec 6060, and it is a sweet-shifting transmission. Combined with gearing that's neither too short nor too long and 426 hp, you've got long, deep pulls through every ratio up to redline. Sadly, when you really get on it, the exhaust and sound deadening muffles the noise so thoroughly you can't hear the forces at your disposal.
The suspension veers toward sportiness, yet there's a healthy range in terms of comfort. The car can swallow all manner of bumps without saying, "All right, that hurt," unless they are exceptionally pointed or the sheer frequency gets ahead of the suspension's ability to keep things smooth. Freeways and long macadam roads are a breeze, but the real test comes in the canyons.
The Camaro's final exam was conducted on one of our favorite mountainous roads, and after a handful of corners we realized: Yes, we can make this relationship work. The steering is a tad numb on center, but turn it just a couple of degrees and it weights up quickly and smoothly; you know exactly where the wheels are and exactly where they're going to be.
Normally, our hands are planted at the 9 and 3 o'clock position, but the Camaro's tiller is so big we dropped them down to about 4:30 and 7:30 and simply fed the wheel through. For switchbacks we could throw a hand up and pull down, but the rack was quick enough to allow almost every turn to be handled by merely feeding line.
The gearing encouraged us to keep the car in second or third if the straights really opened up between corners. You could do a lot of shifting if you were trying to take home a trophy, but we found it much easier and just as satisfying to let the 426 horses do a little extra work when the revs got down below 2,500 RPM.
The Pirelli P Zeros (245/45 up front, 275/40 in back) ate it all up and didn't so much as grunt during the meal. By the time we were able to get some "We're really working now" noises out of the rubber, we'd approached the upper reaches of the Camaro's mechancial grip and understeer would come on in a smooth progression. At that point, you're a few clicks away from folly, but even then, the six-pot brakes up front and four-pots in the rears haul things down stupendously, and never faded on our runs up and over.
It was a glorious morning, and we basked in the afterglow when we got back. Until we got to the pump...
Gas gauges are, to be sure, imprecise things, but we've run the same stretch of canyon in numerous cars and we have never run out of gas as quickly as we did in the Camaro. On our first run we had an indicated quarter of a tank, but we had to stop before we even reached the top of the hill because the low fuel light came on. That's never happened before, but we're simultaneously unsurprised that it did.
She'll take you where you want to go and even do it just like you like... but you better make sure she's got a full tank.
When Alex drove the V6 RS, he said that model was the one to have if you were going to drive a Camaro every day. While we can understand his points, all of them valid... we say, "No way, Nunez." The SS is the one to get. The V6 might be almost as good for less money, but you just can't fake a V8; and at $35K for the kitted out version and that syrupy smooth six-speed, why should you? It isn't almost the thing, it is the thing... until the Z28 comes out.
Photos copyright ©2009 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.