When I was in high school, most of my friends drove tweaked Chevy or Ford muscle cars. They'd go away for summer break, work for a few months logging, fishing, or in construction, and come back in September with a Mustang GT, Comet Caliente, Ford Fairlane GTA or Chevy Camaro. I, on the other hand, was usually puttering around on a bike or in a British car of one type or another that seemed to come apart at the seams every time I crossed a set of railway tracks or hit a pothole.
But I've always liked American iron. There's nothing quite like the in-your-face bellow of a big-displacement V-8 engine that can light up the rear tires faster than you can say "limited-slip differential."
In Pictures: There's nothing quite like the in-your-face bellow of a big-displacement V-8 engine
GM is banking on this kind of baby-boomer nostalgia with its new, fifth-generation Chevrolet Camaro, which debuted last year as a 2010 model. Aside from the fact that it delivers better fuel economy than its predecessors, has much better handling and braking, and is probably more environmentally correct, the driving experience is much the same.
The SS model, especially, is a big, get-outta-my-way muscle car that, depending upon the version you choose, is a bit of a handful and comes with more power than it knows what to do with. Tromp the pedal in this baby and you better have a good grip on the steering wheel and know exactly where you're headed, because it's going there in some kind of a hurry. Interestingly, this generation of the Camaro is based on the same platform as the no-longer-with-us Pontiac G8 and owes its existence to the Holden Commodore, which is sold in Australia.
There are five basic models of the new Camaro; three with a V-6 engine, two with V-8s. My tester was the 2SS, which is equipped with a 6.2-litre V-8 taken from the Corvette, and mated to a six-speed manual gearbox.
This engine develops a healthy 426 horsepower and will take the 1,746-kilogram SS from zero to 100 km/h in about five seconds. This drivetrain is a ton of fun, with neck-snapping torque and a spectacular exhaust note. How a car sounds in this market is almost as important as how it performs, and this one sounds boss.
There is also an automatic six-speed available with the SS, but it makes slightly less power and has GM's Active Fuel Management system, which shuts off half the cylinders under light load for improved fuel economy.
While we're on the subject of fuel economy, the six-speed manual transmission/V-8 combo has a slick feature in the form of a shift override, that, when you shift gears during low engine rpms, will automatically take the transmission from first to fourth, in an effort to cut down on gas consumption. When you have a V8 engine with this much torque, the powertrain can handle the low revs, no problem, and a dash-mounted graphic lets you know what's going on. It only comes into play below 30 km/h. Some models of Corvette also have this feature.
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I have mixed feelings about the styling of the new, made-in-Oshawa Camaro. To my eyes, it's kind of harsh-looking, with rough angles and bulges all over the place. I think the Mustang is a better-looking car, with much more evocative styling, but the Camaro does convey the requisite muscularity and bad boy persona. The SS model, in particular, is a blatantly high-performance automobile, aimed at those drivers who like to drive with enthusiasm and want everyone to know it. Time and conditions permitting, of course. My tester was painted in bright "Rally Yellow" paint, so those boy/girl racer opportunities must be selected with care, because this car is a ticket magnet.
A full complement of instrumentation, including engine temperature gauge, transmission temperature gauge, oil pressure gauge, tachometer and voltmeter let you keep an eye on things and the SS comes with XM satellite radio, leather upholstery, heated front seats, cruise control, air conditioning, keyless entry and all the other usual modcons we've come to expect these days. You can also get GM's controversial remote start feature and, muscle car status notwithstanding, the SS version is a well-equipped automobile.
Inside, the Camaro is kind of claustrophobic. It has an extremely low roofline, small windows, and feels like you're driving around inside a cave. Rear visibility while backing up is miserable, and this may be one of the hardest cars to parallel park I've ever driven.
And don't expect a slick, smooth-shifting transmission a la the Honda Civic here; the six-speed is heavy, truck-like and uncompromising. At the risk of sounding like a dinosaur, this is a man's transmission - pure '60s pony car and, to most typical buyers, probably right on target.
And, no doubt, most owners are likely to be baby boomers hoping to recapture their misspent youth. I have no way of confirming this, of course, but I'd bet money the vast majority of people buying this car are 50-year-old and up males, because every time I've seen one, some old guy is driving it. In fact, all things considered, the Camaro SS is a man's ride and I can't see many women behind the wheel of this particular car.
There, I've said it.
2010 Chev Camaro 2SS
Type: Two-door sports coupe
Base Price: $41,430; as tested, $45,455
Engine: 6.2-litre V-8
Horsepower/torque: 426 hp/420 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Fuel economy (litres/ 100 km): 13.2 city/8.2 highway; regular or premium gas
Alternatives: Ford Mustang GT, Dodge Challenger
In Pictures: There's nothing quite like the in-your-face bellow of a big-displacement V-8 engineReport Typo/Error